Technology Addiction: Is it Happening to Us?

Do you (or someone you know) carry your cell phone charger with you wherever you go? Do you plug it in while in a public place (bar, restaurant, etc.) to ensure you don’t lose battery life before you return home? Do you get upset when the internet is going slower than usual or goes out completely? Do you get annoyed at sporting events, concerts, and other large gatherings because it is impossible to get a signal? Do you text and drive? Do you text and drive despite people asking you not to? Despite near-accidents? Do you continue to bury your face in your phone even when others complain about how much time you spend doing so? Is your first thought when something happens in your life that you need to text someone or post it online to tell others about it?

To be addicted to an activity, habit, or substance means to be dependent on it. To need it. To not feel complete, satisfied, or calm without it. On a physical and psychological level, your body and mind crave the very thing it is being deprived. Even when we have it, the craving is only partially and temporarily satisfied. To the addicted individual, there’s no such thing as “too much,” only “not enough.”

There are some addictions that are more common and more well-known: alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling. The list goes on.  Receiving much less attention, however, is our society’s ever-growing dependence on technology and the associated negative consequences. But don’t just take my word on it.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is the Bible of mental illness. It is the reference guide that all mental health professionals (including social workers, counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists) use to diagnose psychological and psychiatric disorders, including addictions. This manual creates consistency across professionals when diagnosing a patient’s symptoms or problematic behaviors; it is not one person’s opinion. It is science.

One category that the Manual specifies is referred to as Substance Use Disorders (read: addictions), and they all carry the same set of criteria. The only thing that varies from one to the next is the name of the substance. I have included these criteria below and inserted the word TECHNOLOGY where it would normally read “alcohol,” “tobacco,” etc. To be sure, “technology” is a terribly broad term and encompasses everything from television and video games, to social media outlets and texting, to our phones and the internet in general. For each individual, it will vary. Think about which aspect of technology you or someone you know uses the most, and insert that as you read the following criteria. Keep count of the number of items that apply.

1.  TECHNOLOGY is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended. For example: frequently being late to scheduled activities due to distraction from technology use.

2.  There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control TECHNOLOGY use. For example: aiming to minimize use of technology, or perhaps avoid a certain aspect of technology for a certain period of time, only to be unsuccessful in that attempt.

3.  A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain TECHNOLOGY, use TECHNOLOGY, or recover from its effects. For example: time spent desperately trying to get a cell phone signal , charge your phone, or locate a Wi-Fi hotspot.

4.  Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use TECHNOLOGY. For example: having difficulty waiting until a class, meeting, work, or other event concludes so you can check your phone, social media page, or browse the internet.

5.  Recurrent TECHNOLOGY use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home. For example: consistently not meeting appropriate deadlines for assignments or tasks as the result of distraction by the use of technology.

6.  Continued TECHNOLOGY use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of TECHNOLOGY: For example: your family, friends, or significant other regularly complains about the frequency and/or timing of your technology use.

7.  Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of TECHNOLOGY use. For example: skipping lunch with co-workers or a weekend night out with friends in favor of upgrading your phone or updating or checking in on your social media outlets.

8.  Recurrent TECHNOLOGY use in situations where it is physically hazardous. For example: texting while driving!

9.  TECHNOLOGY use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by TECHNOLOGY use. For example: continuing to dive deeply into your friends’ social media pages despite feeling worse about yourself as you compare your life to what you see of theirs.

10.  Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

              A) A need for markedly increased amounts of TECHNOLOGY to achieve the desired effect.

              B) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of TECHNOLOGY

For example: the need for ever-increasing speeds of internet connection as Google introduces the new fiber internet. Anyone remember dial-up?

11.  Withdrawal as defined by a physiological reaction to the absence of TECHNOLOGY, or the use of TECHNOLOGY to avoid the experiencing of such effects. For example: anxiety-laden reactions to having to turn off your cell phone during an airplane flight and having to wait until you land to be able to text, tweet or post about the smelly guy next to you.

Now for the sobering news (no pun intended): Saying “Yes,” to just TWO of the above items is enough to meet diagnostic criteria for a Mild Use Disorder (addiction). Saying “Yes,” to 4: Moderate. Saying “Yes,” to just 6 of the 11? Severe.

In many ways, technological advances have been, and can continue to be, incredibly beneficial to us. Now, petitions, protests, and calls to action can reach millions of people in minutes. Information can be disseminated with a click or push of a button. Heck, advances in technology are the only reason that I am able to produce this blog and you are able to have immediate and free access to it. So don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate technology. I am concerned, however, with how we’re using it and the effects it is having on us as individuals and on our relationships with others.

The unfortunate truth is that anyone can become addicted to anything. It is not a matter of will power. It does not mean someone is weak. Addictions are diseases. They grab hold and don’t let go until there is an intervention.  The first step to solving any problem is to recognize it. Let’s solve this problem together by first helping everyone recognize its severity. I recognize the irony in asking my readers to e-mail, tweet and post on Facebook about this article. At the same time, consider the most common place to see a “1-800” telephone number to call for a gambling problem: in a casino. We must first reach everyone where they already are before we can lead them anywhere else.  Be a leader.

This is the first installment of the Psychological Effects of Technology series. Future topics will include how we have come to be so dependent on technology, the effects technology is having on us individually, the effects technology is having on our relationships with others, and what we can do about our reliance on technology. Help these conversations happen. Please post your comments and questions to my Facebook Fan Page, follow me and tweet at me  on Twitter @Bevacqua_PhD, or simply print these articles and share them with loved ones.

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  1. 3 Reasons We Have Become Obsessed with Technology | Frank Bevacqua, Ph.D. - […] degree that this affects each of us varies. Previously, I wrote about how we are becoming addicted to technology. …
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