Tech addiction

With advancements everyday in the world of technology, it can be hard to see how better smartphones and tablets and video games could possibly be a bad thing. Interactive whiteboards in schools and online homework make education so much simpler while the tiny computers in our pockets make communication across the globe the norm. Fifty years ago such things were a vague dream up there with flying cars and commercial space travel, but now it can be hard to escape the wide reach of technology. We are – quite literally – living the dream.

But now some people are worried that the dream is turning into a nightmare.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meth addicts,’ says Dr. Nicholas Kandaras, internationally renowned speaker and one of America’s foremost addiction experts, ‘and what I can say is that it’s easier to treat a heroin addict than a true screen addict.”

Technology addiction, or internet addiction, is a fairly new phenomenon but is often described as a serious problem. Put simply, technology addiction is the inability to control use of various kinds of technology.

Various cartoons and TV programmes have included sketches or episodes which present technology addiction as amusing and not a serious issue. Unfortunately this is the opinion shared by a large percentage of the population.

Even more unfortunate is the large numbers of people who are addicted or dependent on technology. A survey by Stanford University School of Medicine in 2006 showed 1 in 8 Americans have at least one sign of problematic internet use. In Europe the figures vary, but it’s generally agreed to be between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffering. Phil Reed, a professor of psychology at Swansea University, estimates 6 to 10% of smartphone users display signs of internet addiction.

But what are the signs you’ve gone beyond normal technology use and into addiction?

Technology addiction is an umbrella term that covers a vast variety of addictive and obsessive online behaviour. This means there are no set rules that apply to each individual. To make matters even more complicated technology addiction isn’t recognised as an official mental health condition.

Signs of technology addiction can manifest both physically and emotionally. In brief they include:

  • Feelings of guilt about the time spent online;
  • Euphoric feelings when in front of the computer;
  • No sense of time when using technology;
  • Being unable to keep schedules and avoiding work because of internet use;
  • Isolation;
  • Defensiveness;
  • Agitation;
  • Depression;
  • Anxiety;
  • Neglecting friends and family;
  • Withdrawing from other activities that were once pleasurable;
  • Backache;
  • Headache;
  • Blurred or strained vision;
  • Weight loss or gain;
  • Disturbances in sleep;
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.

This is not a complete list nor will these symptoms apply to everyone suffering from technology addiction. For more information on identifying technology addiction, click here.

In this writer’s opinion, technology addiction isn’t that scary in itself. What terrifies me is the way it is actively encouraged.

Dr Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens ‘electronic cocaine’ while Chinese researchers prefer to compare with ‘digital heroin’. Excessive technology use affects the brain’s frontal cortex (the part which controls executive functioning and impulse control) which can catastrophic effects on developing brains. Technology is extremely hyper-arousing and raises dopamine levels, the feel-good neurotransmitter involved in the addiction dynamic. To put it simply, your brain feels like you’re having sex all the time.

But this is no accident.

Game developers use tests to measure the dopamine and adrenaline levels in their beta-testers. Galvanic skin responses, EKG and blood pressure gauges are all employed. If the game doesn’t spike to 180 over 140, its back to the drawing board. Unfortunately this has the effect of creating a fight-or-flight response which throws of your H-P-A Axis, or Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as you calm down as soon as you escape the danger but sitting there for hours with your adrenaline elevated to fight-or-flight can’t be good for you. It affects the pleasure/ reward pathways.

While all this is extremely thought provoking, in a world of high paced communication and information, you can’t afford to go unplugged. Most people try it and don’t get to far, returning to their precious phones and tablets with in a week.There’s just too much temptation to stop using technology then again that might just be the problem.



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