Technology Addiction: Tech, the New Drug.
As a licensed professional counselor who has worked in the field of addiction for over a decade, I am concerned about a relatively new drug. This drug is not smoked, injected or drank. It doesn’t have the direct physiological effects of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs.
It doesn’t even really have chemicals in it at all: the drug of technology. It has led to a relatively new trend, Technology Addiction (TA!), and this drug is for sale everywhere.
From an addiction standpoint, the actual chemical components of addiction are only part of the full picture. The behavioral side is often more consequential: An alcoholic becomes physically dependent on alcohol, as well as psychologically addicted. Ask any addiction counselor — psychological addiction is often much more challenging to break. Drinking becomes a way of life for an alcoholic, and tech addicts are the same.
We have very little research on the long-term effects of technology addiction, as this is a relatively new construct. People have been addicted to alcohol and other substances for hundreds of years. The modern form of tech addiction became most evident when smart phones became mainstream. Before that, Internet addiction was present, but much different than it looks today. For more than a decade, it required a computer, a phone line and lots of time. Now, we have it available instantly in our pockets.
TA knows no age — toddlers, teens and senior citizens each have tech addiction issues. Excessive technology use can lead to the development (and eventual worsening) of many conditions — autism, ADD/ADHD, conduct disorder and depression — not to mention that it often means less exercise and time outside. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension rates are all at all-time highs right now. TA is not the only cause but is a factor.
ROTARY DIAL TO CELL PHONE
When I was a small kid (I am just a tall kid now), we had a Nintendo that I loved. The night my sister and I beat “Zelda” is still one of my favorite nights ever! But, my parents never once had to tell me to go out and play, never a “Why don’t you go play some soccer and get away from the TV?” I went outside, got muddy, dirty, bruised, bloodied. I made up games, imagined, exercised, had fun. We never would have chose technology over these adventures. Technology was just something we engaged with when it was dark, and all outdoor time was finished for the day.
I don’t sound like a kid — more like an old, cranky curmudgeon. That shoe also fits me well. But, there have been several major changes in technology over the last 20 or so years that make TA more prevalent. “Super Mario” was cool, but it can’t hold a candle to modern video games. Until recently, phones were something that had a long cord, a rotary dialer and lent themselves to awkward conversations near mom and dad, rather than a mobile device connected to our hands at all times.
Please do not think that I am anti-technology. In fact, I would fail the technology test. I support and encourage technology education, implementation and use in many areas of life. My only concerns are the misuse and overuse of technology. I do see the value in staying connected to the world through technology — I get it. Just don’t ignore limits.
THE ALLURE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS
Here’s the issue: We are losing connections with the people right in front of us. Maybe we are “connecting” with more people on Facebook, Twitter and the other medias-of-the-moment, but is it more valuable to have 1,000 Facebook friends or a few close friends to invite on a hike? Why is this happening? A sad reality: Phones are more interesting than people. This pains me to my soul, but it is true.
Disagree with me? Think that is asinine? I hope you are right. However, I feel that my friends’ phones are more interesting than I am, and for good reason. Phones have the Internet, which has videos of animals doing cute things, pretty much every fact known to humankind and photos of the ex-boyfriend you’re still stalking. I can’t compete with that!
Best of all? You control where the technology goes — a choose-your-own-adventure of self-indulgence, gossip, guilty pleasures and useful knowledge. I lose, you lose, we all lose to the infinite wisdom of the Internet. (Cue the world’s tiniest fiddle.)
This is a harsh reality. While we may not be able to match the Internet pound for pound with factual knowledge, adorable puppy videos or creepiness, it is missing real connection. We have something that the Internet never will: human emotion. Human beings are inherently pack animals, like wolves. The direct interaction with others of the same species is paramount to our progression as a society.
A good friend of mine is recovering from alcoholism. He once told me, “Addiction is addiction.” While the specific symptoms for each vice may vary, addiction remains constant. Are you addicted to technology? If you said, “No, how dare you!” let me point out one thing about addiction: Self-awareness is the first thing to go.
I created a test for those of us who may be in denial. I suggest first taking the test for yourself, then asking a friend or loved one to take it about your technology addiction. Then, compare the answers to see how your perception of tech addiction compares to a loved one’s perception of your possible addiction. And be honest!
I failed. But, there is hope! For any level of technology obsession, a digital diet can be a great thing. A digital diet is, in essence, simply stepping away from technology or at least modifying your technology use.
Tips for digital dieting:
Set healthy boundaries or limits on your tech use. (Example: no tech after 9 p.m., no tech in bed, no tech at meal time, staying off your phone in front of friends, etc.)
Tell your friends about the changes you are making. And, not Facebook friends — your human friends, like with your mouth and their ears.
Single-task. Focus on one thing at a time, rather than trying to constantly divide your attention.
Work on building self-awareness about your tech use. When and why are you using?
Read a book. It should be one with pages and that magical, real smell of an old book from Ole Man Berkins.
Be active. Pick up an old hobby, do something outside, practice yoga, run, bike, ski, hike — anything!
For those with a more severe addiction, an extensive, cold turkey, no-tech diet may be necessary. For others, just setting a few concrete limits can do the trick.
I sure as hell didn’t move from Ohio to Colorado to be on a screen. I did it for the mountains. Limiting technology will improve many areas of your life, so put your phone down and get outside, Summit County!
Mikita, D. (2015). Technology addiction: Tech, the new drug. Retrieved from Free Psychology Help: http://www.freepsychologyhelp.com/?p=7.
This article was originally published in the Summit Daily News on August 24, 2015.