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Is Technoaddiction Real?

3-18-19



I'm not sure there is an official definition for the word "technoaddiction", so I'll define it as a condition enabled by technology that is severe enough to cause a person to compulsively waste time and/or money to the point of significantly negatively impacting his life. That's a pretty broad definition, so I'll try to narrow it down for the purposes of this article. One aspect of technoaddiction is related to compulsive buying disorder, which is defined as "excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment". Compulsive buying disorder affects about 5.8% of the US population at some time in their lives. Another aspect of technoaddiction has to do with the compulsive consumption of social media. Although I have been thinking about writing this article for a few months, I was reminded of the topic today by an article about British government officials who believe that so many children are addicted to social media that it should be considered to be a disease. At this point, "social media disorder" is not formally considered to be a disease, but it is similar to "internet gaming disorder", which is listed as a condition meriting further study. Some people use the terms "technology addiction", "internet disorder", or "internet addiction disorder", none of which are listed in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM), which psychiatrists and psychologists use as their definitive manual of mental disorders worthy of treatment.

Health professionals have been aware of something going on in the way people use the internet since the 1990's. In 1995 the first center for internet addiction was created, and the first treatment plan was instituted based on cognitive-behavioral therapy. Surveys have shown that between 1.5 and 8.3% of the US population is negatively affected by this problem. This is remarkably close to the number who have a problem with compulsive buying disorder. Are both just symptoms of the same larger problem? An article in Psychology Today states, "Self-proclaimed Internet addicts report feeling a pleasurable mood burst or "rush" from simply booting up their computer, let alone visiting their favorite websites - just as shopping addicts get a thrill from scanning sale ads, putting their credit cards in their wallets, and setting out on a spending spree." Another article claims that technology is addictive because it "fulfills our natural human need for stimulation, interaction, and changes in environment with great efficiency". This could also be said of entertainment in general. Why don't psychologists and psychiatrists talk about "entertainment disorder"?

Whether technoaddiction should be classified as a sickness or not, I have been noticing something going on in my environment for decades. At work, I see people using computers in ways that don't make sense. For example, my fellow engineers seem to me to waste large amounts of time with overly complicated office programs that make their jobs harder rather than easier (a full account of which would be an entire article in itself). They also seem to spend large amounts of time simulating and studying problems via computer methods that could more easily be studied by other methods. I have also seen large amounts of money being spent by many organizations for new computer equipment, when in my opinion, it was not justified. Many of my coworkers have walked into their offices or cubicles to find their computer missing, with a note saying that it was taken for "upgrading". The company just decided this without asking, and sometimes despite the coworkers protests that messing with their computer would mean the loss of days of productive work. When actually given a choice, one of my coworkers, an engineer, chose to continue using a Pentium 4 desktop computer as his only work computer until after 2013, nine to ten years longer than most companies would have allowed him to keep it. He had good reasons for doing this. And he remained productive! I'm not sure whether all this time and money wasted by companies and their employees stems simply from a lack of knowledge or from a need to buy and use new stuff just because it's new. It may simply be a symptom of laziness and the general predilection of most people who are holding a hammer to see every problem as a nail.

What about consumers who buy new computers and smartphones which are no better than the old ones, and sometimes even worse than the old ones? I think most of us are more familiar with this phenomenon than the ones previously mentioned. My opinion is that much of this is due to lack of knowledge. But how much is due to simple boredom with their current gadgets? Should this boredom be considered a symptom of technoaddiction, or is technoaddiction a symptom of boredom? Since I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I won't be the one to answer that question. But based on my own experiences, I can give some advice about how to deal with a possible techoaddiction that you may be suspecting in yourself.

My advice is simple. Before you spend ten hours on Facebook, buy that cool $3000 laptop, or stay up until 3 AM on a Tuesday reading Reddit posts, think about what you're doing. Ask yourself if this is a productive use of your time or money. Do you really need that $3000 laptop? How will it improve your life? Be honest with yourself. What are you getting out of all the time you're spending on Reddit? What would happen if you stopped using Facebook so much? If you can't logically justify what you're doing, maybe you should consider doing something different. Maybe you should instead devote your time and effort to finding something more productive to do. If you are having difficulty seeing a way of solving this issue in your life, schedule some time with trusted friends and family members and ask for their thoughts. Then realize that while there is nothing wrong with doing what you want with your time, it takes self control and a clear view of the consequences of your current actions to decide to do something maybe less fun but better for you in the long run. As a result of changes that you make in your life, if you begin to experience internet withdrawal symptoms, remind yourself that you expected this and that it takes time to change the patterns that have formed in your brain over an extended period of time. In the Summer of 1999, I decided I was wasting too much of my time in front of the TV waiting for something good to come on. So, I threw my TV in the dumpster. I had very noticeable withdrawal symptoms for the next two years. But, eventually I found other things to do. And I can honestly say that I have never for one moment regretted that decision, hard as it was to make and to continue to make every day for the next two years. Once you've decided to go a different path, if it turns out to be the right path for you, you may discover that it's even more fun than Facebook or Reddit or whatever else you've been wasting your time on. And you may find that you have more cash in your bank account.



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