New year, same old stories, as Tuesday’s Guardian recycled last year’s claims by Deborah Taylor Tate of the US’s Federal Communications Commission that games like World of Warcraft are so addictive that college students are dropping out of their courses to devote themselves to them. There’s a rather more balanced response today from Aleks Krotoski pointing to the likelihood that an innate predisposition towards excessive behaviour coupled with poor parenting or poor self-control result in behaviour which appears addictive.
Students have always dropped out, so perhaps we should have learned by now to look for the underlying causes rather than how they manifest. When I was teaching, the most common causes of students dropping out were financial, such as being obliged to take on increasing amounts of part-time work in order to be able to afford to attend university – a nightmarish, catch-22 situation that government policy actively encourages. Illness, either their own or a family member’s, or simply being completely unsuited to their course and having very little interest in the subject matter or faith in the mythical graduate employment market were also recurring factors. Too many students are pushed into higher education straight from school by parents and other social factors, rather than waiting until they as individuals are in the best place to benefit most from higher education, while others are pushed (or push themselves) into academic rather than vocational courses because academic snobbery is allowed to take precedence over common sense.
This same snobbery appears to dictate what forms of excessive behaviour are and are not considered problematic: avid reading and extensive involvement in athletics, for example, are approved and indulged, while avid television viewing and extensive involvement in gaming are frowned on. Ultimately, however, the book worm and the couch potato are the same creature, displaying the same basic behaviour in different forms. Surely it’s time to stop blaming the way in which an individual’s unhappiness, discontent or psychological makeup manifest, and to try to address the actual causes of those truly undesirable feelings and problems.