You’re glued to your smartphone. But you can put it down anytime… right?
You’ve just sat down to have lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in years. You’re raising a glass to toast your friendship when a sudden buzz makes the silverware shimmy. “Sorry,” you say, diving for your phone and jotting a quick text reply in one swift move. “Work stuff.” Minutes later, you sneak a chance to peek at your phone, just making sure you haven’t missed any new messages. And when your friend steps away to the bathroom, you lunge for your phone before she even slides her chair back. Hey, that’s modern life. It’s not like you have an internet addiction, or anything…
According to the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (yes, that’s a thing), 6% of people worldwide do have an internet addiction, though the way it looks in my local Intelligentsia, or heck, even in my house, numbers are higher than that. While experts disagree about whether Internet or tech addiction can be classified as an actual mental disorder, everyone agrees that if your device-checking is at point where it’s getting in the way of your offline life, then you may be in trouble.
Isn’t checking email normal?
Of course it’s normal to want to check email during stolen moments (getting a pedicure… in a doctor’s waiting room… in the carpool line)— between the desire to see what our friends are posting on social media and the pressure to be ever-connected at work, it’s become the new normal. But you might want to look closer if you get a distinct thrill or a rush when you’re online, and tend to feel irritated, depressed or even panicked when you’re away from your devices. Most of all, it’s a problem if you’re impulsively or uncontrollably checking your devices, especially when you know it’s not a good time (say, while you’re watching the baby) or dangerous (while driving). And yes, we’re all online for hours each day, but if you’re so plugged in that you’re starting to isolate yourself from live humans, that is a problem. A European study from 2012 found that out of almost 12,000 adolescents, more than four percent had “pathological Internet use,” meaning their online time got in the way of their offline lives.
Is going online often really that bad?
Psychologist and professor Kimberly S. Young, creator of The Center for Internet Addiction and NetAddiction.com, explains that checking social media, or the “ding” of a new text message brings on a dopamine high similar to what a drug addict experiences. Take that in for a second. And as with drugs, when addicts aren’t feeding their addiction, they’re obsessing about how to get back there. In extreme cases, addicts can reach a point where they no longer distinguish between virtual reality and real life. “It can create job loss, divorce, or academic failure, as would any addiction,” says Young. Add to that carpal tunnel syndrome and irregular eating habits because the addict is too sucked into the computer to come up for air, and you’d think everyone would see there’s a problem, except for one thing: “It’s a socially acceptable addiction.”
What to do
If you suspect that someone you love, or even you, might be in danger of tech addiction, there are things you can try. First, “Check your checking of digital devices,” says Young. “Stop—tell yourself to go for a walk, talk to your husband or wife, or play with your child. It should not be automatic to keep checking.” (How many times have you clicked a device without realizing you were doing it? Guilty.) Second, “Set time limits. I challenge everyone to take a 48-hour digital detox.” Can you disconnect for two full days? Finally, “Disconnect to reconnect,” says Young. “Go out to dinner without devices, or spend quality time with your family talking instead of using media.” In other words, walk up to your spouse and ask if he’ll please pick up some eggs… instead of texting him a grocery list.
Do you think you could be addicted to tech? How do you know? Tell me in the comments!