So, I was at the gym the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice this twenty-something year old guy next to me who was lifting weights…and then sitting down on the bench for several minutes periodically to play Clash of Clans. If you don’t know about that game, just ask kid or teen! This is the first time that I’ve seen someone playing a game during their workout, but I see people texting all the time at the gym during their workouts…including group fitness classes. I even saw one woman texting while doing a side plank! Observing the behavior of others…well, I admittedly must include my own behavior here…it sometimes seems like we all are tethered to technology in ways that seem like an addiction. I’ve blogged a lot about technology in the past couple months, and I want to tackle the question of: Can technology be addictive?
What Do We Mean By an Addiction?
In order to discuss whether technology can be an addiction, we must first define what we mean by the term “addiction.” First of all, the term “addiction” is a hypothetical construct. We can’t touch it or observe it under a microscope. There’s no way to definitively diagnose any addiction – gambling, drugs, smoking, pornography – you name it. While a medical doctor has some definitive ways to determine whether a patient has the measles, mumps, or chicken pox, diagnosing “an addiction” is more challenging. There are symptoms of addiction that many types of clinicians commonly view as hallmarks of addiction, but determining whether a person has crossed a defined threshold (defined by whom?) is quite tricky and inherently subjective.
With that preface, here are some of the symptoms that many professionals commonly consider signs of addiction. In this case, we will use drug addiction symptoms because most everyone agrees that people can indeed become addicted to drugs. I’m referencing the Mayo Clinic for this list, which is a respected source, but not the definitive to source. There is not a definitive source because no one person or group owns the definition of “addiction”:
- Experiences physiological withdrawal when attempting to stop
- Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect (increased tolerance)
- Have to have the drug regularly
- Intense urges to use it
- Driving or doing other risky activities while using
- Not meeting responsibilities and other obligations associated with use
- Negative effects in major domains of functioning like sleep, social relationships, mood
If we substitute “technology” for “drug,” we can see that people’s use of technology can share many symptoms of a drug addiction.
One symptom we see with technology use that is similar to nicotine/smoking addiction as well as gambling addiction is a compulsive behavior is involved. In the case of technology, it is checking and using. The most common medium is our cell phones, and we check our texts, email, news updates, social media feeds such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, news feeds, game activity such as Clash of Clans, and so on. Since we carry our cell phones with us wherever we go, and we almost always have access to cellular service or Wi-Fi, we always have the opportunity to check our devices. But it isn’t just that we choose to check our devices – it feels more like a compulsion – we have to check our devices. I can feel it – and I’m sure you can too. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched or a thirst that needs to be quenched. Why is that? I will cover the reason for this compulsion in my next blog!