Watch CBSN Live

Social Networking: An Internet Addiction?

Social networking Web sites like MySpace and Facebook have never been more popular. As CBS News National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, some worry the sites are perhaps too popular... maybe even addicting.

Students busily typing on their laptops are a common site on campuses like UCLA. But could it be they're avoiding a textbook by logging onto Facebook?

"I'm wondering if you've ever thought, 'Am I spending too much time on these sites?'" asks Kauffman.

"Yes. I have thought that!" graduate student Jessica Doing admits. "I've been trying to finish my thesis for awhile now, and Facebook, being on the computer -- it's sort of addictive."

Herman Rosiles Rodrigues, a 21-year-old graphic design major agrees.

"There were nights where I, like, spent the entire night just, like, customizing my page."

On Web sites like Facebook and MySpace, users can instantly see what their friends online are doing and can keep them updated on their every move. Most users know it's not a substitute for face-to-face communication, but they say it's the next best thing.

"Friends are kind of scattered all around the country," says graduate student Chris Beitel. "So it's just kind of nice to be able to keep in touch with people."

MySpace says a quarter of all Americans use the site, with 300,000 more joining every day.

"It's a really comprehensive snapshot of what everyone that's important to your life is doing at any given time," says MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe.

"I think what kids and what adults are doing with Facebook and MySpace, is they're extending their sense of identity, their sense of self," says Psychiatrist Dr. Jerald Block.

Dr. Block treats patients who use the Internet excessively -- more than 30 or 40 hours a week. Studies suggest Internet addicts' number in the millions.

"It's not just involving the Internet," Block says. "It involves the computer more generally. You can be checking e-mail excessively; you can be playing computer games excessively."

Not to worry, says the co-founder of MySpace.

"I don't think it's a concern at all," DeWolfe says. "I think it's more substitutional. People are spending less time watching television, and they're spending more time on MySpace."

Users say they end up connecting with many more people than they otherwise would; however, some wonder if all that instant information has a down side.

"It can really get addicting," admits Adriana Manago, a graduate student in psychology. "You start to want to stalk people. You kind of follow their every move. People who normally wouldn't be stalkers might even find themselves kind of following people online."

So where's the dividing line between having fun and having an addiction? Senior Editor Natali del Conte says the American Psychiatric Association is starting to recognize Internet addiction as a real affliction.

There are signs. Del Conte says if you find you can't function in your real life without the social networks, then there's a problem.

How can you prevent Internet addiction? Del Conte offers a few recommendations:

  • Set limits: Associate your social network as a leisure activity, not something you need to accomplish every day. Set aside a time of day, for example your lunch or coffee break, to visit the sites.
  • Turn off e-mail notifications: Many sites send e-mail alerts when someone posts a message on your social networking page. Getting lots of these e-mail alerts can tempt you to visit the sites more often, so its best to disable this feature.
  • Don't leave your social networks open: People using tabbed Internet browsers may tend to leave windows open. It's best to close out those windows when you are through with your alloted time. Del Conte says released a study last year that found, on average, Americans are spending 1.7 hours of their work day fooling around on the Internet.
  • Don't network on your phone: Many social networking sites have mobile applications. If you feel you are on the verge of addiction, you should ask yourself if you really need this on your phone.