Updated: Aug 3, 2019
By: Shaila Anjum
Many technology tycoons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are known to limit tech time for their kids and have age restrictions for various tech like cell phones. They know very well the nature of technology is to be addictive by feeding on human convenience and insecurities.
Ever feel anxious when your phone is away from you for too long? Find yourself worrying about whether your friend or partner replied to your text? Or if you should turn your social media back on after trying to stay away for some time? Are you having trouble focusing on a conversation with your family because you haven’t looked at your phone all day? Are you trying to come up with excuses at work to find a hidden place to check your phone? Are you out having a good time and still need to check your phone? Don’t forget the selfies for your Instagram and Facebook! Having a bad day? Post a tweet about it! The list goes on and on … and on some more.
I definitely have experienced most if not all of the things above. The truth is, many of us are beginning to realize the ever-grasping metaphorical hands that our tech and social media have on us. In turn, many of us try to limit it by reducing time on tech. Sometimes reducing time means hiding away our phone for some time; other times it means getting rid of the thing on your phone that's causing you to stay on it – e.g., various social media platforms.
Types of internet addictions
First, it is important to acknowledge that there are different types of technology/internet addictions:
Cybersex Addiction - Individuals fixated excessively on pornography websites may fall in this category (Talbott Recovery, 2019).
Cyber-relationship Addiction - This becomes a problem when people begin to prefer their virtual relationships over in-person relationships (Talbott Recovery, 2019). This includes both friendships and romantic relationships.
Net-Compulsions and Gaming Addiction - All Compulsions become problematic when they begin to impede your ability to live your daily life (Talbott Recovery, 2019). Often, net-compulsions lead to financial troubles from either missing work or being fired from work for spending excessive time on the internet (Talbott Recovery, 2019).
Information Overload and Computer Addiction - Similar to net-compulsions, excessive net surfing can impede an individual's ability to live their daily life (Talbott Recovery, 2019). For example, someone who needs to find the details to a post and ends up from one thing to another, then they realize they missed their plans with their friends and maybe several phone calls – and these are just the beginning stages before it gets ugly.
How do you know if you have an addiction?
Addictions normally result from an excessive usage that inhibits you from living a fulfilling life. Often times you will distance yourself from your friends and family. However, we all know teenagers are very good at locking themselves in their rooms for hours on end, glued to their technology. Other supporting factors help us decide if this is a problem. Spending too much time with your tech means losing track of time and falling behind on your responsibilities. It means getting defensive or even aggressive when confronted about your excessive usage, which mostly stems from guilt. When technology takes over human contact, it's problematic. If technology starts bringing you gratification and happiness, both sexual and non-sexual, it can become problematic. Sometimes you may even acknowledge that there is a problem and attempt to cut back – but to no avail. Technology addiction is not a physical addiction, but it can have physical side effects like “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, headaches, back or neck aches, unexplained weight gain or loss, dry eyes, strained images and sleep disturbances” (Talbott Recovery, 2019).
Where’s the science?
All types of internet/technology addictions vary in several ways but also have other factors in common. Unfortunately, as with any addiction, there are repercussions of technology addiction. In addition to impaired cognitive function, depression, and anxiety, some other repercussions include:
Brain Structural Damage
In severe cases of internet addiction, the longer an individual spent on their tech, the greater the structural damage in the brain (Yuan et al., 2011). A study with 18 people underwent a voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to asses grey and white matter in the brain (Yuan et al., 2011). The results showed altered grey and white matter in the brains of those with an internet addiction in comparison to a normal brain’s grey and white matter (Yuan et al., 2011). Decrease in both white and grey matter may mean a decrease in neural activity along with a decrease in brain functionality (Walton, 2012). These same brain alterations account for depression, anxiety, impaired cognitive functioning, and more.
Early Tech Exposure
Dr. Dimitri Christakis and his team conducted a study that shows an increase in childhood attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in young children who have an early exposure to media (2018). Though ADHD is often genetically predisposed, there is a significant increase in the rise of non-genetic related ADHD. And according to Dr. Christakis’s team, technology can be pinned as one of the key factors (Christakis, 2018).
It’s not all bad – I promise!
In moderation and for education purposes, technology has proven to aid in intelligence. Addiction occurs when one's internet usage goes far beyond the normal levels and one develops a dependency. The scary part is, when you build a dependency, addiction may be right around the corner. As long as you build important and strong relationships within the real world, you should be A-OK!
Christakis, D. A., Ramirez, J. S., Ferguson, S. M., Ravinder, S., & Ramirez, J. (2018). How early media exposure may affect cognitive function: A review of results from observations in humans and experiments in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(40), 9851-9858. doi:10.1073/pnas.1711548115
How Internet Addiction Affects Your Brain (2019, March 05). Retrieved from https://talbottcampus.com/how-internet-addiction-affects-your-brain/
Yuan, K., Qin, W., Wang, G., Zeng, F., Zhao, L., Yang, X., . . . Tian, J. (2011). Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder. PLoS ONE, 6(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020708
Walton, A. G. (2012, Jan. 17). Internet addiction shows up in the brain. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/01/17/internet-addiction-shows-up-in-the-brain/#176e012e10b7