Using World Wide Web, social media and electronic communication devices are amongst the most common activity of today’s world. Digital devices are designed for rapid access to information and enhance connection amongst people. Unsurprisingly, their use has dramatically risen, but aren’t we too reliant on them? Latest research and data is already raising alarm bell of new age addiction.
Technology-aided interaction is inevitable in urbanized fast-paced isolated lives. We are connected more than ever, yet feel lonelier, overloaded with unnecessary information and disconnected from those with and right next to us! Perhaps, these aids are already outliving its purpose. For e.g. social media is a communication enhancer not a substitute for real-world interaction. Likewise, it has also become a source of propaganda, misinformation, rumours and fake news.
The ‘swipe and type’ generation desires the world in their pocket and demands instant access to everything. Repetitive use of personal devices is turning into compulsive checking, even in a social setting or in the middle of a conversation. And with an ever-increasing list of application (apps) to use, these gadgets have become a constant source of distraction. Is smartphone use turning into a menace? Are we addicted to technology?
What is digital addiction?
It mainly covers dependence on the Internet, social media, other electronic communication devices.
Digital addiction is understood on the same behavioural basis as most other addiction and is characterized by four principal features (4 C’s): A compulsive manner in pursuing the activity, craving to engage or consume (substances), difficulties in controlling its use (amount and frequency), a continuation of use despite adverse effect on work and life. Besides, the individual prioritizes it over other more important activities and obligations, develops tolerance (need to increase the activity or quantity of drug to achieve the same effect), and physical withdrawal state (e.g. irritability, restlessness and agitation) when unable to access the said activity or the drug.
Although not recognised by the diagnostic manual yet, studies are pointing to risks and detrimental impact of virtual lives.
Emerging stats of the problem
A Mobile Marketing Association (MMA, India) study in 2016 reported that on an average consumer spends 3 hours per day on their smartphones (an increase of 55% from 2015), which surpasses time spent on TV or any other media. Social media and messaging apps were the accounting for almost 50% of all time devoted to smartphones. Women spend 2 x more time on their smartphones compared to Men.
UK adult counterparts spend on an average 8 hours per day staring at their screens (more time than they sleep). Other studies have reported that people check their smartphone over 150 times per day.
Another data suggest that we are phone obsessed. About a third (37%) of us feel the need to carry backup – 14% take battery backup, 14% keep a spare handset in case of the primary mobile runs out of juice (!), and 9% have mains or car chargers.
Impact on mental health
A study by the National Institute of Mental Health (UK) has found a robust and significant association between social media use and depression. Perhaps the pressure of constantly monitoring our statuses and endlessly documenting every aspect of our lives on social networks is taking its toll. Equally the ‘show and tell’ culture is fuelling the narcissistic drive. Surely, knowing everything about everyone must be stressful.
Other studies found a link between heavy Facebook use and depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem. And that those who use 7-10 social media platform where 3 x more likely to report depressive symptoms.
Further data suggest higher mobile phone use increases anxiety. Other potential problems being ‘cyberbullying,’ ‘sexting,’ and exposure to ‘inappropriate content.’
Our personality, sense of ‘self’ and emotional resilience is a consequence of healthy consistent (real world) attachment. It’s what enables development of coping resource for a harmonious life. Perhaps, our increasing reliance on technology aided interactions is compromising this real-world resource acquisition.
It’s time for a digital detox! Some tips
- Be a role model by reducing time spent on the devices. A parent who uses their phone excessively is the first to complain about their children doing the same. Remember “Monkey See Monkey Do!” Put it down and see the results for yourself.
- Educate and encourage kids about healthy use of social media, reduce time spent on it and monitor for potential exposure to inappropriate content.
- Avoid Phubbing, a practice of ignoring one’s companion or companions to pay attention to one’s phone or other mobile devices. Decrease the number of social media apps, so you are not compelled to update or catch up all the time. And refrain from accessing these apps when in a social setting.
- Come out of groups on Whats app/ FB, once the purpose of the group is served.
- Avoid mindless updating/forwarding/sharing of information that will only clutter your mind and others inbox, and discourage others where possible.
- Real world ‘meet & greet’ to be preferred over messaging/texting. Call people or better meet them in person, and the quality of relation will get better.
- Leave the phone behind when you go for walk or jog. You deserve some time with yourselves without being interrupted or disturbed.
- Pedestrian accidents are on the rise as people are texting and messaging while walking. Avoid ‘walking distracted’. Switch from phone to this beautiful world around.
- ‘Digital free dinner’ will facilitate quality time with family and friends. Consider ‘digital-free homes’, where you have automation but not distracting technology in family spaces.
- Sometimes we just need to switch off! Consider Unplugging, much in line with UK’s largest digital detox movement – National Unplugging Day (held on 25th June 2017 this year). A gadget free day of celebration and fun, where everyone to come together and break free from technology to reconnect with themselves and those they love. Perhaps, we do this once a month if not every week!
- Above all reconnect with nature and choose a real-world activity. See the world through your eyes and not via a small screen.
- And if the digital preoccupation overwhelms and change is difficult, then seek professional consultation for motivational intervention to address ambivalence and being initiated on up on the cycle of change, as well as a prescription of anti-obsessive medicine.
Locking technology away, even if just for a short period, brings you far closer to friends and family than possible when you’re always glued to your screen. Time is ripe to take charge, declutter and reclaim your lives. Put the phones down, live in the moment and reignite your passion. The Formula is relatively simple – unplug to reconnect!
© Dr Roshan Jain 24 September 2017