“God Only Knows What It’s Doing to Our Children’s Brains": A Closer Look at Internet Addiction Discourse

  • Katie Mackinnon
  • Leslie Regan Shade University of Toronto
Keywords: youth, media, internet addiction, tech humanism, tech regulation, discourse analysis, social media, mobile media


This article examines the current discourse of “ethical technology” or “tech humanism” as it relates to young people’s use of mobile and social media. Reminiscent of earlier moral and media panics surrounding the use of communication technologies by young people, the current rhetoric focuses on “internet addiction” and other health aspects, and whether and how tech companies should be responsible for the use of their products and services. It is a contested debate that has brought together reformed Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs, policy-makers, health specialists, academics, educators, and parents. In this article we demonstrate the range of stakeholders deeply engaged in these debates to argue that while there is genuine concern about the power and influence of social media and digital technologies, fears about young people’s relationships with digital technology has been profitable, and discourse on “internet addiction” has worked in ways that protect corporations and redirect condemnation away from them and toward the young people they are claiming to protect. In making this argument, we trace a history of “internet addiction” research in order to situate the current discourse, examine the rhetorical shift that emphasizes the health effects of technology on young people, survey the stakeholders leading these debates, and assesses the corporate responsibility of tech companies that depend on the commodification of young people’s content for their bottom line.


DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2020.0003

Author Biographies

Katie Mackinnon

Katie Mackinnon is a Ph.D. candidate at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. She researches histories of the web, including early uses of the internet by young people in the 1990s and the popular web-host GeoCities. Her research interrogates ethical approaches to web archives research on young people and explores social, infrastructural, and policy aspects of the web.

Leslie Regan Shade, University of Toronto

Leslie Regan Shade is a Professor at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. Her research and teaching focuses on the social and policy aspects of information and communication technologies, with particular attention to issues of gender, youth, and political economy. She is a Co-Investigator on The eQuality Project.

How to Cite
Mackinnon, K., & Shade, L. R. (2020). “God Only Knows What It’s Doing to Our Children’s Brains": A Closer Look at Internet Addiction Discourse. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 12(1), 16-38. Retrieved from http://jeunessejournal.ca/index.php/yptc/article/view/549
Articles for Special Issue on Youngsters