Our “always on, always connected” virtual lives should have come with a health warning. We are now slowly discovering that the digital era is giving rise to both physical and mental aliments, and doctors are only starting to understand the magnitude of this growing problem.
The first physical manifestation of our cyber lives started out with incidents of carpal tunnel syndrome. A painful condition is felt in the hand and fingers, and caused by a compression of a nerve where it passes over the carpal bones in the wrist. The cause? Too much typing on a keyboard with your wrists at an unnatural angle. Now that many people have migrated to mobile devices, a new set of physical ailments has surfaced, one of which is, “iNeck” pain, aka “text neck”: a result of always having your head bowed while interacting with a Smartphone.
While these physical ailments are easily treatable, the mental or psychological aliments are not only harder to treat, but also harder to identify because the ripple effect of the technology we constantly adopt and adapt to, is so new.
iDisorder, is a term coined for digital addiction by Dr. Larry Rosen. He claims that, “people are attached to their devices and oftentimes driven to use them obsessively by fear and worry. Missing out on social information, work information, and our personal pursuits can put us in a state of anxiety and even cause panic attacks.” This is FOMO (fear of missing out) at a higher level and linked specifically to your attachment to your Smartphone or any other device.
Dr Rosen claims that many of us are on the verge of an iDisorder, “Our daily interactions with technology cause us to show signs and symptoms of one of many psychological disorders including: narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, attention-deficit disorder, antisocial personality disorder, hypochondria and even, body dysmorphic disorder”.
All of these symptoms point to a new concept of digital addiction. Can we really be addicted to our digital lives? Apparently, we can.
Although digital addition is not (yet) officially classified as a ‘real’ illness, many psychologists are now saying that it sparks the same brain chemistry as ‘real’ addictions, which can result in the same addictive behaviour. A “pleasure pathway” in the brain lights up when we experience pleasure as the body releases a combination of neurochemicals, including dopamine and opiates, which give us a “high”. This “high” can be brought about either by ingesting certain psychotropic chemicals found in alcohol or drugs, but they can also be triggered by thoughts and activities, like falling in love, a gym workout, gambling, gaming or surfing the net.
For people driven by social media experiences, it is possible that their ego or narcissistic tendencies will be fed the same “high” when they receive social media responses – likes, comments, increased follower count, etc – which adds to the dopamine addiction. When you become addicted to a digital experience, simply touching your gadget or opening up the Internet can trigger this subliminal “high”. These cravings can become so strong they override the part of your brain that makes rational decisions.
Research is already underway to measure Mobile Addiction, specifically. An average Smartphone user checks their device 150 times a day and launches apps 10 times a day. A “Mobile Addict” can be defined by someone who launches apps 6 times more than the average (ie: over 60 times per day) and would therefore be checking their phones over 200 times in a day. According to analyst and Internet trends expert Mary Meeker, the number of mobile addicts surged to 176 million people – a 123% increase from 2013.
In Asia where there are many tech driven societies, the issue of Digital Addiction is being taken more seriously. Psychiatrists in Singapore are urging medical authorities to formally recognise addiction to the Internet and digital devices as a disorder. 87% of Singapore’s 5.4 million population own Smartphones, and there are already 2 counseling centres dealing with digital addiction. In Mainland China, there are already around 300 Internet addiction centres open. A recent survey shows more than 24 million young Chinese have been classified as addicted to the Internet. Here, digital addiction is defined by the following symptoms: the inability to control craving, anxiety when separated from a Smartphone, loss in productivity in studies or at work and the need to constantly check one’s phone.
While the ripple effect of Digital Addiction is only just being explored, the number of new iDisorders grows daily, which now include the following:
- Phantom call syndrome: Hallucinations that the phone is in your pocket rings or vibrates, but nothing actually happens.
- Nomofobiya: the fear of being left without a mobile phone
- Kiberbolezn (or cyber sickness): dizziness, disorientation and nausea when interacting with electronic devices
The Luddites will feel vindicated by these new trends, parents will be even more concerned about iDisorders for their children, while tech savvy Smartphone owners should take the following test to check if they aren’t already a digital addict:
Take the test: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/netaddiction.htm
By: Dion Chang
Image credit: expatlingo.com