The right hand was a dead giveaway. When a 31-year-old man reached for his temple and tapped, he wasn’t just strumming his fingers in deep thought. He was going for his Google Glass. One problem. He wasn’t wearing the high-tech device.
Not only did the man continue to use the phantom device out of instinct, but he experienced withdrawal when his Google Glass was taken away from him in what is believed to be the first case of its kind, according to a recent study.
Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is not an officially recognized clinical diagnosis by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), although many experts believe it merits inclusion.
In what is essentially the first validated sighting of Bigfoot on the Google Glass addiction landscape, Patient 1 entered treatment at the United States Navy Substance Abuse and Recovery Program in San Diego earlier this year. While being questioned by a therapist for his alcohol abuse, the patient would reach to the side of his face in an attempt to access information from the Google Glass that he wore at all times, except for bathing and sleeping. That, according to Dr. Andrew Doan, sparked an a-ha moment.
“It helped him be smarter and better at his work, and people would pat him on the back for how great a job he did,” said Doan, one of the authors of the study. “When he wore the Google Glass, it made him more approachable and it instilled confidence in him. It was like someone who’s drunk who feels a little sexier. …
“He was using it to catalog inventory” in which he would take a photo of a truck and its inventory, “and he was able to access that information super fast. He was using it as an electronic notecard that could travel with him everywhere. He got a dopamine rush from completing the tasks and from approval of other people.”
The patient’s withdrawal was such that he craved the Google Glass even more than the alcohol, Doan said. Without the device, the patient was also in an argumentative mood.
Internet addiction disorder is characterized by the problematic use of mobile devices, online video games, and computer use. The afflicted usually have severe emotional, social and mental dysfunction in several areas of daily activities due to their reliance on technology and the Internet.
The Google Glass addiction was noticed after the patient checked in with severe alcohol and tobacco use disorders. Additionally, the case study notes, the patient had a history of mood disorder that was most consistent with a substance-induced hypomania overlaying a depressive disorder.
The man underwent residential treatment for 35 days in which he was unplugged from devices such as phones, computers and television. According to Doan, author of Hooked on Games and head of Addictions and Resilience Research for the Navy, the time away from technology allowed the patient’s neurochemistry to reset.
After undergoing treatment, the patient noted a reduction in irritability and movements toward his temple to use the device with his forefinger. He also showed improvements in short-term memory and clarity of thought process, but continued to experience dreams on an intermittent basis as though he were looking through the device with its HUD in the upper right corner.
Google did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Doan said Patient 1 won’t be the last, and there is a need for more research on what Doan calls “Digital Potency,” the on-screen media – ranging from dopamine-inducing pornography and Angry Birds to the far less potent Excel spreadsheet – that lure users to lose control of their lives.
“There’s not anything inherently bad about Google Glass or technology, but how we use it,” said Doan, a former video game addict. “We need more research to find out what turns people on and what makes them abuse it. Most don’t, but there’s a large percentage that does.”