Are We Actually Addicted to Technology?

I ran across an interview with Adam Alter who has just released a new book called:

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

He considers addiction to be something we enjoy doing but is actually bad for us in the long run.

His essential argument is that if you spend several hours a day on the Internet this takes time away from "real" interaction.

Is this, in fact, true?

Long before the Internet people interacted remotely by telephone and before that by letter. Using those tools it was simply not possible to interact except with a very limited number of people other than those who lived nearby. It was also very hard to keep up with news and developments outside one's immediate community.

He goes on to one that there is a private school in the Bay area that prohibits ally technology and that 75% of students have parents who are executives in the high tech area and that Steve Jobs would not allow his kids to use iPads.

The medical profession seems to be taking the matter seriously and Internet addiction is actually classified as a disorder.

Is this all really true, or is the author and others just trying to make an issue out of something for their own benefit?

Speaking as a man who is intimately & personally experienced with many types & facets of addiction, I answer this query thusly:
Yes...sort of...

My 'yes' comes very easily as I just look across the room at someone who sits at a screen voluntarily on all 'days off' for 12 hours or more, non-stop - and aside of that ONLY tends to basic bodily needs & on other days goes to work after some hours doing this to start the day - but is often late for work too due to 'being busy' with this other non-activity.

My 'sort of' in this comes from several angles which seem to differ from person to person, such as:
1 - The extreme desire for convenience;
2 - Communicating via internet proxies being misconceived as actual connections with other folks;
3 - Desiring to make things happen with the least amounts of effort - example: doing marketing vs. ordering from Amazon.
4 - Other electronic/gadgety/proxified substitutes for actual, in person experiences.

None of this type of addiction is new - nor does it stand alone.
In previous times there were a great many TV addicts - and even folks who were powerfully addicted to the earliest video games to the exclusion of all else (Atari 2600, anyone ??).

These new forms of it just make it more obvious as it is easy to see in anyone who sits alone in a darkened room with just a glowing screen to keep them company, endlessly.

Also - terming something 'internet addiction ' seems inaccurate as these activities are present in so many different methods of access now due to convergence;
Phones, tablets, TVs, cars, refrigerators - even the pumps at fuel stations are festooned with the stuff now.

To me it seems more accurate to consider that it may actually be 'media addiction' in its many, varied forms.

Just a few of the results from being overtaken by this 'media addiction' may be:

  • The need for social contact being superficially satisfied by any sort of contact with (usually forever unmet...) 'online friends';
  • The delusion of 'learning stuff' whilst one sits in a chair without EVER making use of the info one sees online;
  • Emailing, IMing/SMSing/chatting, messaging via (anti-)social platforms;
  • 'Attending meetings' via internet proxy whilst sitting in one's chair at home;
  • 'Playing games' alone, yet being convinced that one is playing with others who are never even there with them;
  • Attending any sort of gathering - even family meals, for example - and using one's phone, etc. for any of the above rather than being present and truly socializing with one's own family;
  • Bowling anyone ??
    Sure, just open your bowling game and do it ALONE without needing to pay any bowling alley...pool too, if one wishes it - or any of thousands of other entertainments we used to do together with other folks present for shared experiences.
  • An almost unlimited number of other former activities which are now commonly pursued in solitary with imaginary 'friends' whom folks pretend are present - but they really are not.

All the above has been very obviously leading to diminished social skills by way of voluntary isolation - and for at least an entire generation (or more ??) already.

The truly precious connections that my generation made in our youth which helped us in finding & following our own paths in this life have simply not happened for the folks I am trying to describe here - leaving so very many just lost as to what opportunities they've never even seen or even known to exist for them.

I speak to this subject as an older career tech consultant who has been in the IT world since the initial joining of computers to CRTs which took over from the teletypes with card readers.

I have watched in amazement as the deliberate convergence of technologies has blurred the lines between real living and simulated living all this time since then - only getting stronger & more pervasive as time has passed.

My observations of these phenomena came up in conversations with clients over 20 years ago.
This was when folks started emailing friends rather than going visiting to each other's homes - but after too many folks looked at me as if I had 5 heads sitting on my shoulders (all with green & purple hair & crossed eyes), I chose to abandon speaking of the subject entirely...while remaining on watch for it all this time.

And here we are.

The tendencies to be drawn into addictions and obsessions are quite common & rather natural to our species - along with the resistances to breaking free of such 'normal' aspects of this life, so just adding new varieties of such things to the already rather lengthy list of available options cannot be too surprising.

The big question here as I see it:
What further results of all this stuff may we see and in which directions will this expand ??

I'd say it's true. Small "events" when using technology, whether they are clicks, searches, rewards in games, social media notifications especially on mobile devices, all stimulate pleasure centers.

We're being trained to need these constant hits and consequently have short attention spans.

It's not a different mechanism to things that we were addicted to in the past eg pinball machines, smoking, slot machines. It's just a different platform with enough ever evolving newness and variability that people are able to move onto something else when they get bored. The social media aspect of it is the biggest revolution. People participate with the sole goal being to participate. If you don't participate, then the punishment is that you're not part of the crowd which makes you feel left out. So you almost have to participate.

This is a really tough situation for kids. Everybody wants to feel accepted and the technology means it's harder to come up with excuses not to participate. And once you start, it's hard to stop for social reasons.

Yes...sort of...

Thanks for posting your reflections on the topic. I have been thinking about the things you said and they do closely match what I have observed.

In particular, your point about "None of this type of addiction is new - nor does it stand alone" really hits the nail on the head.

Take the case of commuters. Years ago, they read the paper or a book, napped, and rarely chatted with a fellow passenger. Today it is pretty much the same except that the paper and book have been replaced by phones and tablets.

For most people before the Internet, as you say, movies and TV were the main forms of entertainment and now there is no need to watch TV in a group or at a specific time or even go out to see a movie because in will soon be available on Netflix or some similar service.

At the same time, the Internet does allow people to do things they are interested in a much more intense way. Some people I know are really into sports and are able to both keep up with several games at once and chat with friends about them in real time. Without the Internet, they probably would spend as much time following sports except they would be limited to what is only the local TV or radio channels. So whether they are really "addicted to the Internet" or are simply using it to do what they would anyway is hard for me to say. They still meet up for watch big games as they did before.

The issue of "social media" is one that seems very complicated. Some people seem to take it very seriously while others see it just as a way to keep in touch more easily with casual acquaintances, former colleagues, and others who live far away and with whom they otherwise would lose touch entirely. A few people I know have talked about how they were able to reconnect with people they had lost touch with years ago. A family member was able to find a former classmate from years ago and arranged to meet and catch up and has renewed a friendship.

In looking at the medical research on all this, I get the impression that what seems to be the main concern is whether Internet use is associated with "problem behaviors" such as failing to meet work or social obligations or to engage in questionable online activities. If that is the case, one has to wonder whether such behavior is really an "Internet addiction" as opposed to a person having a problem anyway.

I suppose what is really hard to know is whether the Internet has truly changed us or whether we are simply using different tools to do the kinds of things we would anyway.

"The social media aspect of it is the biggest revolution"

This is the part I have the hardest time trying to understand. It is really something totally new or is it simply a different way for people to interact. In some ways, it is just like a huge gathering for a group. In the past, these activities, for instance, a company picnic for employees and families, were in a given location during a set time. Now, in essence, it is just one continuous virtual picnic, or is it something else?

As I see it=>

It is merely another substitution.

From my own POV:
When I was still a kid I quit HS, went to work at a horrid job during my days, then spent the nights drinking massively with my 'social group'.

This lasted a couple of months until I looked at myself & what I was doing - and stopped - and no longer had those 'friends' that very day. (Went back to school too, as stacking oil cans 8+ hours/day was a poor choice.)

The core subject in this matter is the addiction rather than WHAT anyone may be addicted with.

If someone is inclined towards addiction (as I was myself), NOT having something take over one's life requires vigilance, dedication & the willingness to face one's own weaknesses in order to avoid them all one's life long.

The many folks I've known & seen who have been consumed by this latest thing have also and/or previously been eaten alive by other things like alcohol, drugs, smoking, etc. .

Active addiction has many visible behaviours & common facets and all addicts not only suffer from such common woes, but usually impose their suffering upon anyone who is trying to remain close with them.

A very sad part of this life - and this latest 'drug' fad is just another added to a very lengthy line of previous others.