The technological trappings of the modern age may be opening up a door to a new type of addiction. The evidence is increasing that people are showing signs of addiction to the Internet, smart phones, and videogames, but it’s unclear whether it’s an addiction to technology itself or an underlying problem such as anxiety manifesting itself in a different way.
Troubling new statistics indicate technology addiction is a serious problem. These include that more than half of young people are actively connected more than 10 hours a day, and that 89 percent of college undergraduates report having experienced “phantom vibrations,” when they mistakenly thought that their phones were vibrating.
Some of the most compelling evidence for addiction to modern technology is withdrawal. In a study in which students from 10 countries were asked to avoid computers, mobile phones, MP3 players and TVs for 24 hours, more than 50 percent were unable to do so. In describing their experiences, they employed the “rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression” in describing their experiences. The withdrawal symptoms included irritability, loneliness, anxiety, and even heart palpitations.
Physical signs that the brain is dependent on these specific activities were once thought to occur only when an individual was ingesting a physical substance. Gambling and shopping addiction, however, have also shown psychological stimulation. With these facts combined, the fact that withdrawal symptoms are reported when people are separated from their phones and the Web show that a real problem is developing.
The phenomenon of phantom vibrations is a relatively new one, but it is further evidence that something psychologically deeper is going on, particularly for young people. Psychology professor Larry Rosen, the author of iDisorder, suggests the problem is related to anxiety. He claims that people are so eagerly and anxiously anticipating a communication on their mobile phones that even a slight brushing of their trousers against their legs can be mistaken for vibrating phones. Similarly, he argues that regularly checking one’s phone is a method of reducing this anxiety, likening it to obsessive compulsive disorder.
Whether this means it’s technically an addiction is something of an academic question, however, since many cases of substance abuse are related to an individual’s ability to deal with things such as stress, depression or anxiety. In this way, any addiction could be classified in a similar way – as a mere manifestation of a deeper and more wide-ranging problem. Clinical psychologist Michael Fraser points out that in relation to compulsive gaming (video game addiction), the actual video games can be blamed only as much as a bottle of beer can be blamed for alcoholism.
How to Recognize Problematic Technology Use
Regardless of the specific definition, there is obviously cause for concern regarding how we use technology and the ways in which it could contribute to or even exacerbate psychological issues. This means that being able to spot when you or someone you know is developing what could be deemed a technology addiction is extremely important, acting as a potential tip-off to a more serious underlying problem.
The most obvious sign of technology addiction is the need to respond to every communication instantly. Regardless of the situation, if you or someone you know ignores everyone who is present or anything he is doing and responds to a text message, email, or social media message instantly, it’s a sign that he ranks his inbox as an urgent consideration. You might notice him checking his phone regularly, or constantly browsing his Twitter or Facebook feed. This can lead to ignoring friends or family and letting personal, face-to-face relationships deteriorate, much like what happens in cases of drug or alcohol addiction.
For video games, many of the same things can occur, just in different ways. For example, a teenager might opt to play games rather than pursue his other interests or talking with friends or family. Technology addicts will also display some form of anxiety if their access is reduced or cut off. In the same way, children or teens might neglect school work and start to receive lower grades as a result of a technology addiction.
Conclusion – Getting Help
For those combatting technology addiction, among the things Rosen advises is regularly stepping away from the computer and connecting with nature; just standing in the driveway and staring at bushes, research shows, has a way of resetting our brains.
Although addiction to smart phones, video games or the Internet might not seem like a serious issue, it appears to be closely tied to other psychological issues that could have more serious consequences. Likewise, any addictive behavior could indicate a developing mindset that may result in experimentation with or addiction to substances. For these reasons, it should be addressed if you notice a problem. In many cases, simply becoming aware of it can help people use technology less, but if you or your loved one is unable to cut back, psychological treatment should be a genuine consideration.