The subject of technology addiction is relatively new as compared to drug or gambling addictions. This leads to a heated dispute over whether we need to consider the fervent need for technology and the monotony that the lack of technology causes, as an addiction. There are several qualifications that a craving needs to be termed as an addiction.
What Makes an Addiction?
The human state survival works on a simple reward system. Every time you attain a biological requirement like food, sex or lactation, the body releases a neurotransmitter called ‘dopamine’ (in this case, into the brain) that helps us decide the approach to something to be rewarded. This means the phase of wanting something and getting it, and the eventual liking of it is controlled by dopamine. It is this that fuels an addiction. Once you start using a piece of technology (like video games) and eventually start to like it, release of dopamine in the brain creates a reward system for it, which creates an addiction for it. The same example works for cigarettes – nicotine induces a dopamine release, creating the craving for more. An important point here is that people who seek more satisfaction from things, actually are seeking more in terms of dopamine release, and therefore require a larger release of the neurotransmitter, which in turn requires you to pursue that thing even more.
Apart from dopamine, there’s also ‘serotonin’, the neurotransmitter that’s involved with mood control and sensory perception. Serotonin imbalance is a major cause of depression, suicidal tendencies and aggression. Norepinephrine is another mood control neurotransmitter that also can work as a hormone. It is directly related to stress.
Traditionally, all this was considered to apply to sectors that involve more physical activity (like sex) or actual substance consumption (food and drugs), which later translated to gambling too. We are now at the verge of seriously considering the very gadgets that help in making life easier as the gadgets that mark the very difference between success and failure. There have been many arguments over this issue – one side stating that technology addiction satisfies the scientific qualifications (dopamine release), while others say that overusing technology is only a phase that is a let go of the moment we set on something more challenging. But there lies the downside of calling something an addiction. When you’re ‘addicted’ to something, you forget all other needs and wants, concentrating solely on satisfying your now first priority, craving.
Students of the International Center for Media & the Public Affairs (ICMPA), along with the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, conducted an online study, asking over a thousand students in ten countries across five continents to refrain from using any form of media for 24 hours. A majority of students considered this an impossibility in this modern age. Most kids today have grown with console and a cell phone in their hands, making them take technology for granted and completely shirk the idea of living without it. Most students failed to complete 24 hours, some described signs of withdrawal and early stages of depression, shocked by their total dependence on cell phones, computers and the TV. Only a small minority actually pulled it off successfully. It may thus be said that even if technology addiction cannot be called a medical condition, the cravings and the anxiety related to an addiction still exists.
Types of Technology Addiction and its Symptoms
An addiction to a piece of technology can be different, depending on the technology. But most of the symptoms remain the same.
Internet Addiction is the largest among them all. This includes online gambling, multiplayer gaming, social networking and cyber-sex (porn sites and adult chat rooms). You can tell if you can’t live off the grid if:
You lie about the time you spend online. Spending 4 hours online and telling your friends that it was only for 4 minutes means you know what you’re doing is wrong in some way. This is the major cause of depression due to excessive times spent online.
You feel that the Internet provides what real life can fail to. In a way it’s true, the fictional characters of ‘World of Warcraft’ are much more alluring than your school professors, because they are designed to attract. This can start off as something you use to take your mind out of a muddle. You slowly start drifting further away from all contacts to reality without you even realizing it.
The time you need to spend online keeps increasing. This means what satisfaction you used to get from 1 hour of online free poker now needs 4 hours. You start to develop a tolerance to the virtual treats and start to think you can spend an eternity online. The effect is strikingly similar to smoking cigarettes, the process that converts a cigarette a day to one every half hour.
Performances degrade in real life (whatever is left of it anyway). This applies to education and work alike. The effect is more pronounced in kids and students than an adult employee. The ratio leans towards the former because of the amount of responsibilities on both sides. This is one reason why technology addiction (or gaming addiction, rather) can be thought to be ‘cured’ as a person grows older.
It leads to intense withdrawal symptoms resulting in a feeling of a loss-of-self, depression and aggression. There have been reports of subjects who said they felt suicidal simply because their computer would crash at times. You may also keep getting frustrated because of lack of good bandwidth.
Internet addiction is now starting to gain acceptance as a disorder (maybe even calling it a compulsion than an addiction), with reSTART, an Internet addicts clinic outside Seattle, USA (2009).
Video Games has always been a cause of concern for most parents whose kids may spend hours in front of the TV, holding the console in their hands and concentrating on nothing else but infiltrating the enemy headquarters. You’re a video game addict if:
You are too preoccupied with the game to notice anything else around you. The difference between Internet and video game addiction is that video games give you almost no contact with time in real life. You can spend five or six hours at a stretch on the console, thinking only an hour has gone by.
You show a general lack of control whenever you see your PlayStation lying there, unable to handle it and eventually starting to play. The addiction has a large negative impact on your life as you remain completely unaware of anything that goes outside. You won’t even be connected by the daily news or even your family.
A similarity between Internet and video gaming addictions is that both are designed to attract you in any circumstance and once you’re hooked, give you a constant sense of being undermined, eventually making you run around the place trying to find the hidden sword that helps you kill the final boss, or spending hours on making social profiles and making yourself look better in your online avatar. It is designed to make you euphoric at the beginning, making you constantly turning towards it for more and more.
You start to become more and more apprehensive towards anyone passing judgment on your habits. This works the same way as lying, you feel defensive and in denial of spending excessive hours on the console because you’re made to feel that it’s wrong.
The Smith and Jones Addiction Consultants opening a video game addicts treatment in Amsterdam, Europe (2006) signifies the public acknowledgment of this addiction.
Social Networking Addiction is another form of technology addiction, which includes overuse of networking sites leading to Twitter and Facebook addiction. This means you are hooked to your cell phone texting and incessantly updating your Facebook status. You’re a social networking addict if:
You think social interactions are much better than real life interactions. Abusing the fact that you can rephrase anything you said before you hit enter, or the fact that who you’re talking to can’t see you, can put you in this category.
There’s a constant feeling of inferiority, forcing you to stay on top of everything. You feel the uncontrolled urge to update your profile image and status all the time. You need to keep checking what your friends are thinking about on the networking site, rather than having to meet them in person.
You start feeling anxious when you’re not with your cell phone or the computer.
When your modem breaks down in the middle of a conversation on Facebook, you switch to your cell phone at the speed of light. If for some reason you can’t, a strong sense of loss takes over, making you wallow in emptiness and increasing your aggression.
One reason why this is not rampant is the actual need of technology in the modern age. This is why people don’t realize they are in too deep until they realize they can’t pull out. It is much harder to hide drug addiction than social networking addiction. The ultimate dependence on technology that we are steadily moving into creates the need to redefine technology addictions constantly.
It is evident that compulsive technology overuse is not defined as an addiction because of the need for it. It falls into such a unique category – it does not directly have an impact on health conditions like drinking, smoking and drugs do, it is also not possible to let go of it completely because we always need it. It is this cyclic relation of man and technology that makes it so hard to not get used to it or refrain from using it.