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Technology Addiction Is More Than A #FirstWorldProblem

We’ve begun to see addiction applied to more and more situations as time goes on. For instance, relationship addiction and exercise addiction are two forms of addiction that have joined some of the more established addictions — alcoholism, heroin addiction, benzodiazepine addiction, etc. — over the years. As we progress deeper into the Digital Age, we’re seeing more technology-related addictions than we would’ve ever thought possible even just a few years ago.

Technology has become thoroughly ingrained into our daily lives. Typically, technology is created to make us more productive, efficient, safer, and to help us stay connected to others. Sure enough, we’re able to do things on-the-do today that never would’ve been possible before the advent of portable technology; however, many of the devices we use have as many non-productivity-related functions as they do productivity functions. A prime example is gaming: Although we tell ourselves that the purpose of our smartphones are to allow us to take important business calls and respond to important business emails and to be available to loved ones in the event of an emergency, we’re also using them to play games, indulge in some frivolous shopping, and take pictures of ourselves in bathroom mirrors.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using technology for fun and leisure, but it quickly becomes a problem when the use of electronic devices for leisure begins to interfere with our responsibilities and obligations. This is where smartphone addiction enters the picture.

Smartphone addiction might seem to be a sensationalist way to draw attention to our overreliance on technology, but there’s more and more evidence in support of the reality of smartphone addiction. According to research, there are a number of similarities between our use of smartphones and the effects of alcohol or drug abuse; when a person plays a game or makes a purchase on his or her smartphone, there’s a flash of satisfaction and enjoyment that’s short-lived and causes the individual to want to repeat the activity, which is virtually the same situation as individuals who find themselves wanting to abuse alcohol or drugs more and more frequently. In short, many of the enjoyable activities in which we partake on our smartphones cause a quick burst of dopamine in the brain. Over time, the individual repeats these activities with increasing frequency while also developing a much shorter attention span.

Of course, we tend to associate habitual smartphone use with younger generations, which is why current research often focuses on adolescents, teens, and young adults. Isaac Vaghefi, an assistant professor of management information systems at Binghamton University-State University of New York, and a group of his colleagues recently conducted a survey in which a sample of nearly 200 college students were surveyed on their smartphone use. The students’ responses to each of the prompts on the survey corresponded to one of five different levels, which were (1) thoughtful, (2) regular, (3) highly engaged, (4) fanatic, and (5) addict. As well, “thoughtful” represented the little to no smartphone addiction and “addict” representing smartphone addiction. Accordingly, about 19 percent of the respondent qualified as either fanatic or addict, which means that their smartphone use causes personal, social, academic, and workplace problems. As well, these users often exhibited signs of depression, shyness, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and impulsivity.

Neither smartphone addiction nor technology addiction are mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but awareness and acceptance of both addictions continues to grow. For the most part, smartphone addiction is considered a subset of a bigger umbrella disorder, which is technology addiction. By most standards, technology addiction encompasses smartphone use, social media, and excessive online shopping. It’s possible that other addictions, including some that a more established, may be added to the roster of technology addiction; other possible inclusions include video game addiction, pornography addiction, and gambling addiction. It will certainly be interesting to see if/how continued research in this area changes the way we use technology in the future.