China has banned the use of physical punishment to cure Internet addicts, according to a report in CIO, a publication of the International Data Group. But was there ever such a thing as Internet addiction in the first place?
According to IDG, the Chinese clinics are frequently used to treat distant, isolated, or academically lazy students. The "boot-camp" style institutions came to the attention of Chinese officials after reports of severe beatings and at least one death. They are also known to use electro-shock therapy and periods of solitary confinement as treatment.
But social isolation may not share a causative correlation with heavy Internet use after all, according to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. According to the Pew study, which surveyed over 2,500 American adults, online activity actually expands a user's social graph.
"Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds," the study said. "For instance, frequent Internet users and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party."
The study also says that about 6% of the country suffers from some kind of social isolation, but that the rate hasn't increased with the proliferation of the Web. Furthermore, the popularity of laptop computers has come to mean that Internet reliance doesn't automatically mean a hermetic lifestyle, either; many Web-lovers report frequenting libraries, cafes, and bars with laptops in hand.
The full text of the study can be found here.