Tech addiction, as real as ever

The World Health Organization recently announced that, like being addicted to sex, food or shopping, we can also find ourselves constantly hooked to technology.

Can we be literally addicted to technology?

The word “addiction” might be a humorous term for some of us. It is even used in romantic occasions as a pick-up line, “I’m so addicted to you,” and to make humor of something funny, “Milk Teas are so addicting.”, but what’s behind this vaguely used term, both in medicine, business, and day-to-day life.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, UCSF endocrinologist and author of “The Hacking of the American Mind”, tech dependency is as real as sex or gaming addiction, and in July 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) included a section in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) about “Gaming Disorder.” The aforementioned section focuses on disorders caused by the addictive nature of excessive playing of video games regardless of system or platform. According to Joy of Android, the World Health Organization considered this addiction as a disorder due to the emerging of technology, more specifically, the demand and popularity of mobile gaming in the past recent years and up to this day.

As time passes, we have come to understand addiction is not exclusively towards chemical devices, as there are also behavioral addictions that defy our health and well-being the way heroin or cocaine would. Like being addicted to shopping, gaming, sex or food, we can also find ourselves submerged many hours a day in modern digital products, and video-games are no exception despite being one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sectors, providing more than 220,000 jobs in communities across all 50 states.

Constantly hooked

The constant rising tendencies make up an ambient of consistency that tag us to our devices as we’re biologically prone to getting hooked on these sorts of experiences, according to psychologist Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”.

Alter, who is also an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, said to The New York Times in a March 2017 interview:

“If you’re someone who compulsively plays video games — not everyone, but people who are addicted to a particular game — the minute you load up your computer, your brain will look like that of a substance abuser.”

Every addiction, no matter its lure, pulls us out of the present moment—away from important real-world activities—and technology is no different, it activates the same regions of the brain and is fueled by the same basic human needs as drugs and alcohol, such as social engagement and support, mental stimulation, and a sense of effectiveness.

According to Chris Kresser, founder of Kresser Institute, and co-director of California Center for Functional Medicine, also states that technology use also shares the same key characteristics of substance-abuse disorders, meeting clinical criteria such as excessive use, tolerance, withdrawal, and negative repercussions.

A large body of scientific data has suggested teenagers are especially prone to developing disorders such as anxiety and depression as a result of tech overuse, and that tech dependence could even be contributing to adolescent suicide rates, perhaps driven by extreme cyberbullying, public shaming, and other emotionally abusive social behaviors that have been well documented.

Other previously published systematic researches have reported a clear correlation between problematic internet use and symptoms of ADHD, musculoskeletal symptoms like “text neck”, hearing damage and eye problems.

How is tech addiction being dealt with?

Our modern, technology-attached lives has inevitably become a source of bad health and habits.

In an attempt to revert this dangerous landscape, Dr. Lustig called out companies at the Truth About Tech conference in Washington, D.C. to recognize technology as a tool and the fact that it must serve as such, rewarding users immediately instead of variably, independently that that’s what “drives the dollars” for the industry.

“Think of Google Maps how many of you use it? You open it to get information on how to get where you need to go, by the time you arrive to your destination, you close the app, it’s helpful because the app gets you the information you really need and then you’re done with it, you close it, that’s what we need from apps and that´s how we need to shift our attitudes towards them.”

As for Dr. Jenny Radesky, developmental behavioral pediatrician, and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she concluded her Truth About Tech participation saying apps should serve as a form of engagement between parents and their kids, a form of coding the ethics of the future, and the best way to boost education skills among kids. She continued to explain that starting conversations between different agents and specialists is vital to understand what type of activities and tendencies kids are doing and looking for in their devices, therefore, data will play an important role.

In a more personal and immediate way to battle device addiction, beginning a meditation or mindfulness practice to train your attention can help you avoid getting distracted by technology. Stand up, stretch, practicing walking every 10-15 minutes to counter-effect the ill consequences of an obsessive sitting conduct.

Take some time to sit back and relax. Let your devices rest, you too need to recharge, but both your body and your mind. Limit your device use before your device use limits you.

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