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File Sharing, BitTorrent Linked to Depression

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Earlier this week we talked about ‘90s band the Counting Crows’ stunning return to near-relevance through the magic of online file sharing. The band’s lead singer compared BitTorrent to the radio, and hopes that giving away a few songs will serve as an effective promotional tool.

Unfortunately, just as the world was getting excited about the Lazarus-like effects of sharing things online, here comes a new study out of the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The results? In the paper’s own words:

“We have identified that average packets per flow, peer-to-peer (octets, packets and duration), chat octets, mail (packets and duration), ftp duration, and remote file octets show statistically significant correlations with depressive symptoms.” 

Or, more simply, more time spent illegally downloading music, chatting online, and checking email, among other things, generally means more depression. To be clear, the paper does not state that any of these activities cause depression. It’s just that people who do them all the time are more likely to be depressed. summarizes the study’s methodology here. Basically, researchers followed 216 undergraduates on-campus Internet usage. It then compared its usage findings with a self-rated depression test to come up with these results.

The key difference between this study and similar efforts conducted in the past is that it uses actual Internet use data instead of surveys filled out by participants. In theory, this should make it more accurate.

The paper draws a couple of conclusions from the results, most of which can basically be summarized as “what do you expect when you spend all day alone on the computer.” More seriously, the study suggests that heavy Internet use, even ostensibly social use like chatting, can have an isolating effect.

Of course, none of this is new. People have been crowing over Facebook (FB)-related depression for a while now and a study published a few months ago pointed out that people with low self-esteem tend to rely more on online interactions.

What we’re left with is a question of causality, a question which the researchers don’t really try to answer. They do suggest monitoring Internet use as an early indicator of depression symptoms, a move that has also been suggested for Facebook.

Seems a little intrusive, but you never know what’s going to work.
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