Despite the benefits of the internet and other digital technology, the online world has been associated with a negative impact on university student wellbeing. Many university students report symptoms of pathological internet use. Internationally, further research is needed to understand what student users of technology perceive to be problematic internet and/or digital use. The current study explores the range of perceptions that university students hold about 'digital addiction'. We recruited 33 participants from a UK university into a Q-methodology study. Participants sorted, ranked, and commented on fifty-two statements representing the concourse of 'things written or said about digital addiction'. The statements were identified from a comprehensive search of a wide variety of sources (e.g., newspapers, academic articles, blogs, and YouTube). Principal Component Analysis was used to identify four distinct viewpoints of 'digital addiction': (I) digital addiction is differentiated by the negative consequences experienced by addicted individuals; (II) digital addiction comes from our fascination with the online world; (III) digital addiction is an attempt to escape real world problems and impacts on mental health and relationships; (IV) digital addiction is defined by the amount of time we spend online. All four viewpoints share the perception that people do not realize they are digitally addicted because using and having digital devices on you at all times has become the social norm. There was also overall agreement that that those with 'addictive personalities' were more likely to be 'digitally addicted'. Despite these similarities, complexity and contradictions within the viewpoints surrounding what digital addiction is and how it might be defined are apparent. The information found in this study provides important suggestions of how we might frame prevention and early intervention messages to engage students and ensure they develop the skills necessary to successfully manage their digital lives.
Keywords: Q method; digital addiction; internet addiction; problematic internet use; student perceptions.