For example, in South Korea, roughly one in five students is addicted to smartphone use. The addiction is defined as spending more than seven hours daily using the phone and experiencing anxiety when cut off from it. This is happening because the phone can offer immediate entertainment, and people are not forced to use their own thoughts to keep themselves entertained.
Having immediate and unlimited access to Wi-Fi is mostly what attracts people to smartphones and other devices; and on average, teenagers spend over 44.5 hours per week in front of a screen. A recent study in the United Kingdom by the Huffington Post revealed that 95 percent of UK teens are online much of the day. In that same study, in which 2,200 teens were interviewed, almost 40 percent admitted to fearing that they were addicted to the Internet, and those who felt addicted said that it intensified with age.
Although the psychiatric community hasn’t officially recognized “Internet addiction disorder” as a disorder, an increasing number of people show signs of what appears to be addiction to the online world. Young people seem to be especially vulnerable, and case studies highlight students whose academic performance worsens as they spend more and more time online. Some also suffer health consequences from the loss of sleep, as they are glued to their devices almost 24/7.
“With connectivity so widespread, and tantalizing online activities constantly emerging, young people are spending more and more time online—studying, learning, communicating, creating, and entertaining themselves. That is certainly not a disorder, but for a small number it may be a slippery slope when combined with psychological and environmental variables that increase risk for addictive behavior,” writes PhD. Patricia Wallace.
Another fact is that devices and the Internet provide an ever-increasing sense of connectedness to the world and to the people in one’s life. Posting a Facebook status or tweeting about one’s day serve as some sort of social validation. “Social validation is important; a Facebook ‘like’ is a social signal. It affirms our existence the same way that someone nodding at you on the sidewalk does,” states Dr. Pamela Rutledge, a Media Psychologist, for CmsWire.com. Consequently, social validation helps people overcome the feeling of loneliness.
“We have a brain wired for collaboration, compromise, restraint, comprehending and managing one’s place in shifting-alliances. We notice when others are doing something that excludes us. It will trigger primitive survival responses. People under 30 are still in the period when they are establishing their own lives, developing personal and professional identities, becoming economically viable (creating alliances), etc. Their focus will of necessity be social,” states Dr. Rutledge.
However, some experts suggest that using technology is more of a symptom than a cause of people’s difficulty with entertaining themselves on their own. Timothy Wilson, a leading researcher at the University of Virginia, recently explained to The Atlantic that focusing completely internally for several minutes is unnatural, as mammals have evolved to monitor their environments for dangers and opportunities at all times. In order to support his idea, Wilson has conducted several experiments where subjects were told to monitor a computer screen that would occasionally display relevant messages. The results of the experiments were mixed, as subjects tended to enjoy this task more, less or the same amount as the regular task of thinking. According to Wilson, there is yet no strong evidence to support his theory, although he is convinced it is correct.
Some further facts seem to confirm Wilson’s theory. Several studies have demonstrated that difficulty with entertaining oneself doesn’t lie in indecisiveness about where to steer one’s thoughts. Even though the subjects of the experiments were given topics to think and fantasize about, this did not lead to any increased enjoyment of the thinking process. Moreover, enjoyment was unrelated to age or the use of smart phones or social media.
Therefore, the fear of isolation and being left alone isn’t always the driving force behind people’s need to reach for their devices when bored. It might be people’s search for a constant flow of stimulus. In today’s fast-paced world, the brain is used to being ceaselessly confronted with new information. “We crave peace, but when we get it we get the jitters. When we aren’t interrupted, we interrupt ourselves to look at the phone and to check our messages again and again. If there’s nothing, we wonder why we haven’t gotten a message. We find out the truth — what we really crave is the chattering world that these devices bring us,” writes self-described Internet addict Jim in his blog “Change the Game”.
What, then, is the solution? Contributors to the US magazine Psychology Today recommend that you examine yourself to determine whether you notice the following symptoms:
- A feeling of anxiety when you don’t have a smartphone around;
- A constant craving to check the chat for new messages;
- A feeling of “false vibration”: when it seems that someone is calling you but it is not so;
- An inability to pay attention to what your interlocutor is saying because you are checking your social media accounts;
- A willingness to turn around and go back to fetch a mobile phone that you left at home, even though you are halfway to work.
If the symptoms of smartphone dependency are apparent, you should act without further delay.
- Forbid yourself to write messages while driving;
- Cease all use of mobile phones while taking a bath or shower;
- Don’t use smartphones while handling negotiations with clients;
- Before going to bed, make sure that there is no smartphone around;
- Turn off your smartphone while socializing with friends;
- If you, having followed the above mentioned recommendations, don’t experience panic attacks, shortness of breath or dizziness, you should try and leave your smartphone at home. Think of it as your final examination. Begin to refrain from using the device for 2-3 hours a day, then extend this period of time up to one full working day, and you will realize that the world hasn’t turned upside down!