With all of this in mind, it is impossible not to ask: Is our generation addicted to technology?
The most frightening aspect to this question is not how pervasive technology has integrated into our world, but rather why we are inescapably dependent on it throughout our everyday lives. Modern technology is today’s wonder drug: a social, intellectual, and creative limb; a means of instantly killing boredom via constant, bright stimulation; and a way to cut, paste, and crop reality as needed. Though it can help us connect with people at the edges of the Earth, technology dependence ultimately leaves us vulnerable and isolated. Disguised as sleek, seductive, pacifying content, technology addiction is a fruitless search for emotional comfort that can consume the meaning of an individual’s family, friends, and even dreams.
Is technology’s presence in our society really an addiction? China, Taiwan, and Korea believe it is, and in 2013, the forthcoming DSM-V (American psychology’s “Bible”) is anticipated to include Internet Addiction Disorder for the first time, defined thus:
A preoccupation with the Internet or Internet gaming (38 hours a week or more)
Withdrawal symptoms when Internet is not available
Tolerance (spending more time to achieve the same “high”)
Loss of other interests
Unsuccessful attempts to control use (Relapse)
Use of Internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood
The technology industry itself can be viewed as addictive. Powerful and engaging products cyclically replace older ones each year, causing users to experience “gadget envy.” This refers to a desire to have the newest, fastest products with the widest variety of features including cameraphones, games, e-readers. By design, technology allows for somewhat benign behaviors, such as watching TV or movies, shopping, or even keeping up with news, to become excessive, overwhelming, and inappropriate compulsions. Technology also provides new, anonymous avenues for gambling, pornography, and sex addicts.
Are You A Functioning Technoholic?
Because abstinence from technology is virtually impossible in modern life, tech dependence is similar to chronic overeating in the sense that it is distinguishable only to the extent that the behavior interferes with normal, productive, healthy life. Like chronic overeating, the physical effects of technology addiction are a heavy and visible burden on society. Sedentary lifestyles and hypertension are a leading cause of preventable death worldwide, and cases have emerged where people have died from neglecting their physical needs due to prolonged online gaming. Unlike addictions to heroin, alcohol, or prescription painkillers, tech addiction is the irrational longing for lack of substance—like all addictions, it’s still an escape from reality for the addict. But the emotional effects of technology addiction—passivity, detachment, isolation, emptiness—are critically reshaping modern social interaction.
Today’s youth begin interacting with technology at a very young age, and their identity is partially formed through online profiles and interactions. Young people are also the biggest consumers of technology, but the disturbing trend in America is how they are substituting their organic reality for alternate, online lives, especially among children who create multiple Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Attention spans are getting shorter, and in the last decade, the amount of time spent multitasking with media increased 120 percent—a link closely associated with higher rates of depression, bipolar disorder, insomnia, and comorbid addictions.
A recent study of college freshmen found that students who reported higher levels of anxiety, insecurity, and alcohol use appeared to be more emotionally connected with Facebook. The brain interprets online social interactions slightly differently than real ones, causing the sense of relaxation and satisfaction from Facebook to be distorted. Because social media is free, more accessible than any substance, and socially acceptable, it can easily become habitual or compulsive. This is the paradox of all addictions: the more you use, the worse you feel; the worse you feel, the more you use.
The same study also found that when people who are emotionally connected to Facebook view pictures and statuses of their Facebook friends using alcohol, they are more motivated to engage in similar online behaviors in order to fit in socially. Facebook abuse has also been shown to:
Lower school grades and work performance
Lower self-control, increase occurrence of eating disorders in teenage girls
Lower self-esteem, increase narcissism
Increase jealousy toward romantic partners
The first step and often the most difficult part of recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem. A popular method of treating technology addiction is the tier method: the individual averages their current daily amount of time spent using technology and the Internet, then resolves the cut back (often by half) each day or even each week, if needed. The goal is to reduce harm, replace the addiction with other positive fulfillment such as exercise, creativity, or other hobbies, and continue to maintain a healthy balance.
If you find that you can’t moderate your behavior on your own, which is common and should not have any associated guilt or shame, there are many treatment options available to you.