China is the first country to declare internet addiction as a serious clinical disorder. They even have treatment facilities that claim to help you kick the habit. Using the internet has become a necessity in many of our lives; we rely on it to keep in touch with people, entertain us and even buy our food. It seldom fails to meet these needs and many more, so why is our dependency on it constantly framed as a negative that we should seek to avoid? 

 

As part of the public programme for upcoming exhibition Group Therapy, FACT will be screening Web Junkie, a movie about the effects internet addiction is having on the 21st century Chinese communtity.

 

While there are downsides of using the internet, on the other hand you can easily find a place to belong. For example, people with a mutual admiration for a TV show or music might have a fandom they could join. Social networking sites like Tumblr and Pinterest usually host such groups and offer fans a space to be themselves and interact with like-minded others.

 

Frequent users of social networking sites tend to extensively craft an online persona or virtual life, however, this virtual self can start to replace the real person. Online gaming is an example where a character can be constructed online and then taken through tasks, advance in levels and even socialise with other players after, encouraging pride in these 'virtual' achievements and increased social activity online, rather than in the real world. 

 

Elsewhere, video hosting sites like YouTube are a platform for individuals to upload vlogs (video diaries), sometimes daily, giving viewers the opportunity to gain insight and intimacy into their life. The problem here is that this supposed intimacy is really intangible. It cannot replicate the feeling of being around real friends, with all of you in the same room, and it most definitely cannot evoke the same level of emotion in you.

 

In both cases individuals can end up becoming so engrossed in the online world that they start to neglect themselves. This could be by failing to sleep, failing to eat and failing to maintain relationships. These are just a few of the symptoms people suffering with Internet Addiction Experience. The rewards of being active online soon start to diminish and leave the individual wanting more from the experience. It can be hard to find the right balance between the two very different worlds, but being cautionary and aware of how much you use the unternet and how it affects your behaviour can go a long way in trying to achieve this balance. 

 

Technology, like the internet, in relation to effects on mental health is not a new concept. This fact will be highlighted in the upcoming Group Therapy exhibition, where an electroconvulsive therapy machine will on display. This, presented in stark contrast to Katriona Beales' new installation, which responds to the emerging field of internet addiction (created in dialogue with Henrietta Bowden-Jones, neuroscience researcher and specialist in Internet addiction), will deomonstrate how technology, in all its historical forms, has always had a direct relationship to our mental health adn wellbeing.

 

Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age opens at FACT on 5 March 2015.