Technology addiction — sometimes called Internet addiction, Internet Use Disorder (IUD) or Internet addiction disorder (IAD) — is a fairly new phenomenon. It’s often described as a serious problem involving the inability to control use of various kinds of technology, in particular the Internet, smartphones, tablets and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Now that it’s effortless to text and access the Web and social media from almost anywhere, more of us are dependent on communicating via the tiny computers we carry with us. So it’s no surprise that health experts are seeing a rise in addictive tendencies that involve technology. (Technology includes, of course, video games, cybersex/online pornography and online gambling, and these addictions are explored in more depth in other sections on Addiction.com.)
Technology addiction, and the related and more common term Internet addiction disorder, aren’t recognized as addictions or disorders in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the reference used by health care providers to diagnose mental health conditions. (That said, Internet Use Gaming Disorder – excessive playing of video games — was added to the DSM-5 in 2013 as a condition “recommended for further study,” and in 2014, San Diego doctors treated the first reported case of IAD brought on by excessive use of Google Glass.)
Even if addiction to different types of technology isn’t yet a recognized disorder on its own, the problem has been on the radar of health professionals since the 1990s. In 1995, Kimberly Young, PsyD, established the Center for Internet Addiction and created the first treatment plan for technology addiction based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. That same year, the term “Internet addiction disorder” was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Goldberg.
The way tech addiction is diagnosed can differ from country to country, but surveys in the U.S. and Europe show that between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffers from Internet addiction. In 2006, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a telephone survey that found that one out of eight Americans have at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use. Solid statistics in the U.S. for addictive behavior specifically related to smartphones, texting and social media are harder to come by. Technology addiction is recognized as a widespread health problem in other countries, including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, which have established dedicated clinics to address this growing issue.
Like other types of addiction, technology addiction can range from moderate to severe, and some researchers say that like other addictions, people who use their phones or stay online for many hours a day experience a similar “high” — and also feel withdrawal when cut off. It’s not simply the amount of time spent with the digital device that defines an addict, though, but how excessive use adversely affects someone’s mental and physical health, daily life, relationships and academic or job performance.
According to Hilarie Cash, PhD., co-founder of the ReSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program, symptoms can include:
1. Compulsive checking of text messages
2. Frequent changing of Facebook status and uploading of “selfies”
3. A feeling of euphoria while on the Web
4. Social withdrawal
5. Loss of interest in activities that don’t involve a computer, phone or gadget
6. Feelings of restlessness when unable to go online
7. IAD has also been linked to stress, sleep disorders and depression. Check out the section on Symptoms for a full list of potential warning signs.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one is addicted to technology, it may be time to reach out to a health care professional or psychotherapist who can evaluate symptoms, make a diagnosis or rule out an addiction to technology and recommend a treatment plan. The good news is that there are a variety of available resources to help, whether you’ve just noticed the problem or have seen it worsen over time.
Even the Tech Elite are Worrying about Tech Addiction
Your phone buzzes. A message, an Instagram post, a tweet — some bit of digital effluvia has come in, and it’s right there, promising a brief but necessary hit of connection. All you have to do is look.
But, just as an experiment, how long can you resist looking? A minute? Two? If you make it that long, how do you start to feel? Can you concentrate? Does your mind wander at what you’re missing? And if you give in — as you surely will, as you probably do many times a day — how do you feel about yourself?
THE ISSUE OF “tech addiction” has been a staple of tabloidy panics for as long as anyone can remember. Yet this ancient worry has now taken on a new and more righteous flavor.
What is interesting is who has been pushing the issue. Several former Facebook executives, the very people who set up the Like-based systems of digital addiction and manipulation that now rule much of online life, have begun to speak out in alarm about our slavishness to digital devices.
And their worries seem resonant. Now that we all have phones, and we’re all looking at them all the time, how can we deny that they hold some otherworldly, possibly unhealthy bondage over our brains?
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop,” Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, told Axios in an interview in November. He described Facebook and other social apps in terms once reserved for cigarettes — as products specifically engineered to exploit addiction pathways in human psychology. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Others have echoed his sentiment.
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” Chamath Palihapitiya, who once led Facebook’s efforts at global growth and is now a venture capitalist, told an audience at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in December. The Guardian, meanwhile, found a handful of former Facebookers who said they would quit using social media for fear of being programmed by the social giant.
Even Wall Street has weighed in, with two large investors asking Apple in January to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads.