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