But the web has a dark side, too — cyberbullying, internet gambling, and social media addiction are just a few of its many pitfalls.
Now, a team of European researchers plans to figure out just how much psychological harm the net can cause — and how we might be able to help the people it hurts.
On Monday, the scientists announced a new group called the European Problematic Use of the Internet (EU-PUI) Research Network. That's a mouthful, but the idea is to create a hub to better understand psychological problems linked to internet usage.
"Problematic Use of the Internet is a serious issue," said the network's chair, Naomi Fineberg, in a press release. "Just about everyone uses the Internet, but much information on problem use is still lacking."
Existing research is very fragmented, according to Fineberg. It focuses only on specific behaviors, geographical regions, or segments of society. This international collaboration, she hopes, will help researchers identify "big picture" takeaways about the internet and mental health.
The group outlined its goals in a manifesto published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.
With the document in place, researchers can begin the task of using approximately $600,000 in funding from the European Union to tackle its objectives. Those include everything from figuring out the role genetics might play in problematic internet usage to how website design might affect it.
Now that the EU-PUI Research Network is in place, researchers can use it in a number of ways. They can access resources that could help with their research, or share what they've learned about problem behaviors, such as gaming addiction and compulsions related to shopping and social network use
After that, the next step will be figuring out the best ways to prevent and treat these issues, which could ensure the internet is a positive force on the mental health of all — not just some — of us.
More on internet addiction: Apple Unveils Tool That Cuts You off if You Spend Too Much Time on Your iPhone