Internet addiction had a big year in 2013. The U.S. saw its first hospital-based inpatient clinic to treat Internet addiction open. The American Psychiatric Association who publishes the bible of American psychiatric medicine, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders included Internet Gaming Addiction under section 3 as a condition for further study. Internet addiction had been registered as a condition by the World Health Organization and now new digital detox camps have sprung up in China, Korea, Australia, the UK, and Japan to treat what has become a recognized disorder.
The media covered news of my new inpatient clinic at the Bradford Regional Medical Center. It actually trended on national and international news. Time Magazine ran a cover story on Candy Crush Saga addiction and outlets such as CNBC, ABCNEWS.com, and several other magazines ran year-end reviews asking how people in general – not addicts – can achieve a digital diet in 2014.
The issue of Internet addiction hit a psychological nerve. People weren’t just talking about addicts but they were taking a deeper look at their own behavior – asking if we have all become way too dependent on our gadgets and digital devices. After each interview, it became clear to me that the lines between what is healthy technology use and what is addiction were now blurred.
Prescriptions for 2014
The debate is no longer if Internet addiction is a clinical disorder. It is. The debate is about how much technology is too much. We rely it on almost like breathing.
Yes, we can accomplish great things using technology. We have an app for anything and everything! What is there not to like? We have a convenient and portable tool that performs almost any functional and practical task. Again, when does it become too much?
How do we become good consumers of technology without becoming consumed by it? To help us all become a little more balanced, I developed three key prescriptions for maintaining a healthy digital diet.
Prescription #1: SLOWDOWN
New research shows that workaholics are twice as likely to develop Internet addiction. This is staggering. Think about it, we work constantly because we can. Technology allows us to work 24/7 during the evenings, weekends, and on vacations. We never have time to fully rest. Every meeting and every place I go there are people on their devices. That’s okay, but we need to slowdown and not work so hard. I know that sounds crazy, but we need to take breaks from work and when we do, we need to fully rest. Just because we can check our social media at any hour, doesn’t mean that we should. Unplug and stay committed to that for specific periods of times, especially when you are at home with your family or on vacation. Take weekends away from your smartphone and limit your overall use. Studies show that people going a few days of technology-free life enjoy their time more, feel happier, less stressed, and more focused on their primary relationships.
Prescription #2: MAINTAIN FACE-TO-FACE CONTACT
The cover story in the January 2014 issue of The Monitor, the major trade publication of the American Psychological Association was titled Friends Wanted: New research by psychologists uncovers the health risks of loneliness and the benefits of strong social connections. In short, the story shared new research on the impact of loneliness and how a lack of social support will cause physical and psychological problems. Sadly, loneliness is a problem I often hear about from Internet addicts. I have repeatedly found that lonely people are more likely to become addicted to the Internet only to become more socially isolated. It is a vicious cycle. Even if they spend all their time on social media, they are still physically alone. This behavior is compounded by those with social difficulties or phobias who turn to the Internet as a safe way to communicate without face-to-face contact – yet they never learn how to overcome their fears of dealing with people.
If all your needs are fulfilled online, there is little chance that you will explore beyond it. Some people fell disconnected or left out because they don’t know how to approach or contact others socially. Many fear being rejected so they don’t attempt to make friends or develop relationships. They would rather ‘talk’ with people online. This isn’t really talking as it is typing, minus Skype or webcams, we type.
This is a time to talk instead of type and make more face-to-face contact. In 2014, take time to develop personal interests that you may not have had time to before. Get involved in activities you enjoy and that will put you in a position to meet, work, and socialize with others. Get involved with campus activities, volunteering, or working for a cause that you believe in. This will help you to meet people with similar interests and values. Join a gym and exercise to increase your energy and help you to feel better about yourself. The bottom line is the less time you are tied to your gadgets, the more time you will have to develop face-to-face relationships with others.
Prescription #3: LESS SELFIES, MORE MEMORIES
Normally, I don’t get too fussy over selfies. I wish I took more at times because selfies always look like the person is having fun. But, I am writing about technology addiction so I am limiting my focus to the growing narcissism among Internet users who constantly post selfies. Interestingly, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2013 was “selfie”—a recently invented word for self-photography from smartphones. Sharing too much of oneself, and getting constant feedback for it, is likely to give a person a heightened focus on themselves, leading to negative introspection, low self-esteem, and a host of other issues.
Studies show that those seeking reassurance and approval through selfies consistently take themselves out of social interaction. The concern lies when people are using selfies to create a persona that will be approved of, i.e., how many Facebook or social media clicks, ‘likes,’ and approvals they get. Facebook and other types of social media create a feedback loop, and some people take more pictures to feed their self-esteem, which can become more important than simply documenting the experience.
Taking selfies is fine but keep it in perspective. Don’t post away your entire life, keep some things private. Instead of taking selfies, enjoy the moment. One new study showed that selfies are making our memories worse. The study conducted by Fairfeld University in Connecticut showed that people are losing their memories due to all this digital picture taking and sharing. Researchers hypothesized that “we are less likely to remember information if we think we can retrieve it later.” It seems that we are counting on our technology to keep our memories and we collect photos almost as if they’re trophies, or evidence, but that’s not the same thing as trying to capture the experience.
As we grow more dependent on technology, it is important to keep a check on reality and remember that there is a world outside of ours gadgets. While instant communication is rewarding in many ways, we must not forget the downsides to this phenomenon, and strive to keep a balanced outlook on life. Read more at http://netaddiction.com