Personal Tech Addiction Snares Teens, Adults

As technology becomes a large part of many consumers’ everyday lives, the risk of overexposure to new advances grows for people of all ages. Some in fact, become addicted to new technologies, such as cell phones, video games, PDAs and the Internet. This three part-series examines the potential risks too much tech can pose to individuals, as well as the warning signs that may point to serious problems.

Part 1 explores the potential that exists for babies and young children to be adversely affected by too much exposure to technology before they are ready.

Part 2 examines the growing problem of video game addiction.

This third and final installment takes a look at the growing problem of over-dependence on the Internet and personal technology in general.

Do you know someone who is far more concerned with blogging, pinging and surfing the Internet than with eating dinner, going to the big game or even watching TV? That person may have a disorder called “Internet addiction.”

With cell phones, BlackBerries, pagers, IM and e-mail, personal technology users of all ages can find themselves in a constant state of alertness created by a demand for always-on communications. Whether you are 15 or 55, medical experts say personal technology addiction is real — and it’s not pretty.

“I am a technology addict,” Jeri Cartwright, principal of a media relations consulting firm, told TechNewsWorld. “Some days go by completely with my eyes frozen on the screen, my fingers clicking the keyboard, my tennis-elbow-affected wrist wrestling with the mouse and my brain moving a million miles an hour. I lose track of time.”

Growing Dependency

Like Cartwright, everyday people in our technology-driven world are finding the lure of constant technology use addictive. Psychologists have officially classified technology addiction as an impulse disorder that can be as socially devastating as alcoholism, gambling, sex and drug addiction.

In fact, Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Wash., estimates that 6 to 10 percent of the approximately 189 million Internet users in the United States have a technology dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug addiction.

“Personal technology addiction is a behavioral addiction,” Dr. Akikur Mohammad, a professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, told TechNewsWorld. “Technology addictions can interfere with your social and occupational life. There are also health hazards from sitting in front of a computer for too many hours a day, such as weight gain that leads to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Like other addictions, there are warning signs along the road to personal technology addiction. Those signs include:

  • An inability to predict the amount of time you spend on the computer;
  • A sense of euphoria while using the computer;
  • Lying to employers and family about computer activity;
  • Withdrawal from real life hobbies and social interactions; and
  • Health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, weight gain and backaches.

“Behavioral addictions are characterized by compulsiveness. You can’t go without it and using it is causing you trouble,” Mohammed explained. “If personal technology use is interfering with the normal activities of life, then it could be classified as an addiction.”

Confessions of a Technology Addict

For Cartwright, it was blogging that pushed her over the edge. She likens blogging to publishing her own daily newspaper and admits she gets a “rush” from it. Cartwright, though, has made some progress, weaning herself from posting two or three times a day to only once or twice a week.

“My online searches through blogs, news and information are the hardest to give up. The world, via my computer, has become a bright, big and fascinating place,” Cartwright said.

“I immediately want to buy and try any new technology, just to look at it, hold it, enjoy the packaging … regardless of budget and even if I don’t really need it,” she admitted. “I crave being up to date on the very latest and talking to other techies.”

A Word About Teens

Cartwright’s addiction is not surprising to Mohammed. Such stories are becoming more common — and being told much earlier. A technology-infused American society introduces electronic gadgets to kids at a young age.

By the time they are teenagers, they are under tremendous stress to be on call constantly, according to psychotherapist Dr. Gilda Carle. She points to numerous downsides to this “always available” status.

A third of respondents in the first study on the impact of Internet use on Australian teenagers said they were “in the process of becoming psychologically addicted.” On average, the teens spent 13 hours a week online.

“Teens can miss out on developing live, interpersonal social skills, especially at a time when this development is crucial to how they pattern their lives in later years,” Carle told TechNewsWorld. “Since teens’ friends are always available to them, they assume that everyone in the world should be too, like employers, teachers, and people they don’t know so well. They have little patience, and the e-mails I receive are all marked ‘URGENT!’

Balancing Technology Use

For Cartwright, the reality check came when she asked herself a question: Is such pervasive technology use a wise way to spend my time?

“An evil side of me asks: Wouldn’t it be great if all the technology momentarily crashed and we could take a multi-tasking vacation? Could I read a book? Perhaps go to a movie? Eat my meals more slowly, at a real table (not over the keyboard)? Enjoy silence? Stare at the wall?” Cartwright asks.

Her ultimate conclusion, however, was that, as a small business owner, she would be better off spending her time on revenue-generating activities.

The bottom line, according to USC’s Mohammed, is that the behavior becomes addictive when there is no rationale for excessive use of technology.

“It’s like gambling,” Mohammed said. “If I go to Vegas twice a year, it’s not an addiction, but if I go every week and come home broke and keep going back, that is an addiction. Addictions are not rational.”

Part 1: Kids and Tech: How Much Is Too Much?

Part 2: Warning Signs Appear Along Road to Video Game Addiction

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