Is tech addiction really a thing?

As someone who has worked in technology in one way or another for decades, it is hardly surprising that I have occasionally had people call me a tech addict. I have even jokingly referred to myself as a tech addict on occasion. But is tech addiction really a thing? Can someone truly become addicted to technology in a bad way?

For a long time, I completely dismissed the notion that tech addiction actually exists. I assumed that tech addiction was more of a label than an actual problem. Part of my reasoning behind this is that like any other industry, the medical community seems to go through various fads. There are certain conditions that have over the years been way over-diagnosed, only to eventually vanish into relative obscurity, and be replaced with another over-diagnosed condition. I assumed that tech addiction was just the latest trendy diagnostic label of the moment. Even so, I decided to take a more objective look to see if my ideas were based in reality.

A quick disclaimer

So before I get too far into this, I need to clarify that I am not a physician. Even though I hold several medical certifications, none of them are related to clinical psychology or to psychiatry. As such, this article should not be regarded as medical advice.

Is it just perception?

tech addiction

The funny thing about addiction is that there are social stigmas associated with some types of addiction, but not others. Those who occasionally have a drink or a smoke are sometimes labeled as having a problem, whereas someone who can’t function without 15 cups of coffee is treated as normal. The person who likes to indulge in alcohol may be referred to as a boozer or a drunk. In contrast, someone like myself who drinks way too much coffee might be seen as productive or ambitious, rather than being viewed as an addict (no, I don’t seriously view myself as a coffee addict). After all, I have never heard of anyone being forced into a rehab clinic for an addiction to caffeine.

Now please understand that I’m not judging anyone. I am merely making an observation, and there is a method to my madness. Just as there are social stigmas associated with some types of “real world” addictions, but not others, the same holds true for tech. Seriously. Some forms of tech addiction are regularly dismissed as normal, while others often draw sharp criticism. For example, I rarely hear anyone being scolded for checking their work email every 10 minutes. If anything, neglecting one’s email is often considered to be irresponsible. At the same time, however, I know people who absolutely lose their minds over the thought of their kids (or especially an adult) playing video games.

This biases against gamers isn’t exactly new. When I was a kid, video games might as well have been the devil. Family members regularly told me that playing Pac-Man would rot your brain and that playing violent games such as Space Invaders would lead to violent tendencies in real life. Back in the day, my mom used to complain about Q*Bert’s alleged filthy language, and don’t even get me started on Frogger. Some of the arguments against gaming were so insidious that I kept waiting for someone to tell me that Donkey Kong would contribute to pyromania, or that the 1982 classic, Burger Time causes obesity. But I digress.

Even today, bias against gamers continues. Parental hatred of video games was an underlying theme in most of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books and movies, and the bias is even more pronounced when it comes to adult gamers. The New York Post claims that we are losing a whole generation of young men to video games. A guest on the Today Show suggested that you shouldn’t play video games if you are over the age of 30, and in response to an opinion piece published by the Dallas Morning News, GamesRadar questions if it is really time for 30-year-olds to “drop the pad and grow up.” And just last month, the World Health Organization officially classified “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.

I’m not a gamer myself, but I firmly believe that there are positive aspects to gaming. Games can assist in the development of hand-eye coordination in children, while also improving cognitive and problem-solving skills. Besides, the interactive nature of games makes them far more engaging than television (which could easily qualify as another form of tech addiction).

Is tech addiction real?

While I do think that labeling someone a tech addict has become something of a fad, I also think that tech addiction probably does exist. After all, it is possible to become addicted to almost anything. Addictions to vices such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, and sex get the most attention, but there are plenty of other addictions, including some really strange ones (but then again, who am I to judge?). TLC ran a series called “My Strange Addiction” that, as the name suggests, follows people who have some rather unusual addictions. I have never actually seen the show, but according to BuzzFeed, some of the more memorable episodes involved addictions to things such as bee stings (seriously), drinking air fresheners, or eating sand. There seems to be almost no limit to the things that humans can become addicted to, so it seems at least plausible that tech addiction could be a real thing.

How can you recognize tech addiction?

tech addiction
There is a big difference between enjoying tech or having to use tech heavily for work and being addicted to tech. Again, I’m not a doctor and am not giving medical advice, but there are widely published warning signs for other types of addiction, and many of these could be tweaked to fit the world of tech. So here are a few possible signs of tech addiction.

• Unrestrained spending on shiny new gadgets.
• Sneaking out of the room to check email, social media, or whatever.
• Making excuses for using tech.
• Lying about the amount of time spent online.
• Sacrificing sleep to spend time online.
• Withdrawing from real life friends and family to spend time with online friends.
• Being obsessed with tech, and finding it difficult to put down the device.
• You become angry or irritable if a social media post does not receive enough likes.
• You feel the need to post really mundane things on social media, checking in at every location, and posting photos of every meal or household chore.
• You sleep with a smartphone under your pillow and reach for it as soon as you wake up in the morning.
• Being without WiFi causes very real feelings of stress and anxiety.

Serious considerations

Even though the list of items above is mostly just for fun, there are a couple of serious considerations to think about if you suspect that tech may be becoming an addiction. First and foremost, how does the thought of abstaining for a week or two make you feel? What about a month? If your reaction is to panic or to make excuses, then it might be a sign of a deeper problem.

On a similar note, how important has the tech become in your life? Has it taken on such a level of importance that it is becoming disruptive? Is it interfering with your job, family life, or personal responsibilities? If so, then it may be time to start looking for ways to reduce tech’s negative impact on your life. Just try not to use tech to solve a tech addiction problem.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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