Gadget Addicts?

16 02 2010

As I drove home from work today for a quick lunch, I almost got hit. Twice.

Both times, the almost-perpetrator was an ordinary-looking, middle-aged mom or dad in a car, barreling right through a red light and blasting within inches of my car.

Yikes. What is this world coming to? Really—when I think about it, I see at least a handful of people every day (in my five-minute commute) blowing through red lights. I’ve said for years that this is a definite by-product of our super-high-speed society. People don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything that is on their plates.

Ironically, the solutions we’ve come up with to save us precious time—email, iPhones, PDAs, laptops, Facebook, Twitter—just suck up even more of our time. I can’t tell you how often I see people glued to their phones, checking their email away from the office, endlessly updating Facebook, and generally wasting a lot of time on “time-savers”.

This thought brought me back to an article I read a few months ago by journalist Lucy Taylor, who posed the question, “Are we becoming a gadget-addicted generation?”

Here’s an excerpt from her October 2009 article of the same title, where she talks about how she couldn’t stop herself from incessantly checking her email while on vacation:

“I don’t do an important job like run a country, or a bank, or a company, or a newspaper. Yes, I sometimes have dead-addicted-lines to meet. But the people I work for knew I was on holiday.

There was absolutely no rational reason for me to need to check my messages and emails. But there was a powerful, irrational one and I couldn’t seem to ignore it. I suppose it was separation anxiety. I was like a baby whose favourite teddy had been taken from her. Inside I felt lost, disconnected, distressed. Pathetic, I know.

It made me think back to the days before we had the internet and mobile phones. How did we cope? Were we all so much more relaxed?

It also reminded me of a recent night out I’d been on with a group of girlfriends. Two had their iPhones on the table and repeatedly checked them. One, I later discovered, had sent several boring tweets during the meal.

I know I’m guilty of treating my mobile like a vital appendage. But I saw that night how rude and anti-social it can be to engage so enthusiastically with a piece of electronic gadgetry when you are in company.

No wonder Jennifer Aniston ditched John Mayer (if the rumours are to be believed) because of his ‘obsessive use’ of Twitter.

I also read about a woman who had deactivated her Facebook account because she was worried about the amount of time she spent on it. This woman said what had started as her favourite waste of time – an urge to share and compare – had turned into a demanding and anti- social addiction that had practically taken over her life. She said she had also become fed up with the fakery and the cultivating of one’s online ‘brand’, in which people posted anything and everything.

The turning point for her came when she completely forgot about a long-planned reunion with a friend one evening because she’d been sidetracked by ‘mindless Facebook mulling’.

So are they, am I, are we all addicted to technology?

Or is this inability to put down our gadgets a modern-day equivalent of, and no more worrying than, having your nose stuck in a book?

At the moment, there is much debate among psychiatrists and psychologists about this issue: whether there is such a thing as internet addiction. Some experts say it is becoming a major problem, and can be as destructive to a person’s life as an addiction to alcohol, gambling or pornography. They worry about online games, social networking and virtual relationships replacing real-life friendships.

But others say that the very idea of being to a medium of communication is ludicrous. They claim it is like saying someone is a ‘language addict’ or is ‘addicted’ to transport, and just makes no sense.

On the surface, this may appear to be a petty, insignificant debate. But it is an important one. In addition to internet addiction, psychiatrists are also considering whether other newly diagnosed conditions – night eating disorder, embitterment disorder, apathy disorder, pathological hoarding disorder, compulsive shopping, sex addiction and partner relational disorder (a pattern of interaction between spouses or partners characterised by negative or distorted communication) – should be considered fully fledged psychiatric illnesses and included in the next edition of the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders. This manual is the bible for mental health professionals worldwide, and is used, not only to treat patients, but also by insurance companies deciding which disorders to cover, as well as courts, prisons, pharmaceutical companies and agencies that regulate drugs.

When the handbook was first published in 1952, it contained 112 disorders. Now it has 374.

Questions have been raised about whether we should take them all seriously. Or whether the addition of new disorders is little more than a pretext for prescribing profitable drugs. With one definition of an internet addict being someone who spent more than 40 hours a week online, what this means, in effect, is that an awful lot of us could end up diagnosed with a serious mental health problem.

Kimberly Young, director of the The Center For Internet Addiction and author of Caught In The Net, says that internet addiction may not yet be clearly defined, but you know it when you see it. She says people who use computers excessively suffer many of the same problems as other addicts: failed marriages, lost jobs, neglected children and sleep deprivation.

Some addicts – whether their problem is gaming, pornography, gambling, social networking, day trading or shopping – spend up to 18 hours a day online, which can lead to physical problems, such as back strain, eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. ‘Some describe the internet as just being a tool, but if it is causing detriment to your life, then you have a problem,’ she says.

Part of the difficulty of acknowledging the problem is that the internet has had a ‘halo effect’.

Most people praise technology as a means to eradicate drudgery and improve productivity, she says. The internet has made many things, from banking to communication to accessing music and movies, more convenient.

Any problems, she says, are viewed as paltry compared with the benefits. ‘The internet has inherent value and utility, and there are many good things about it, but there is this dark side.’

It is a debate that is set to intensify. Like all things in life the key is moderation but, as any addict will tell you, moderation is even harder than abstinence. A scary thought for all of us who feel a pang of anxiety when we’re separated – even momentarily – from our electronic toys.”

(read the full article here)

Sure makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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