Technology addiction: The drug of the information age

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When receiving feedback from my last blog entry on labelling internet addiction I received a twitter comment from @forwardtherapy, stating “My professional experience is, the label is less significant than discussing Internet use as a response to life circumstances”.

From a medical background the labelling of internet addiction is important as a diagnostic tool to be registered in the DSM. Thinking from a therapeutic background (as I would in my psychotherapy practice) I can not help see the relevance of @forwardtherapy’s statement. This was confounded by watching the documentary ‘Web junkies’ now available on BBC iPlayer which I spoke about in my previous blog.

The documentary featured teenagers who would play computer games for hours, days or even weeks in internet cafés at the detriment of school, family or even their lives (children have been known to die in these cafés from not eating or sleeping for days on end, simply to avoid interrupting their play.

It was made clear that this centre was the only one that sought to treat, not only the children, but also the parents. From our first encounters of the children I was shocked by their gaming usage. As a child I have been known to play games for hours at a time (I have since stopped playing) but never for 40 hours straight. It seemed their whole world was no longer in the physical realm; they were fully engrossed in the virtual world. Their friends, lovers and even enemies are all online and many had completely lost touch with their physical surroundings.

As the documentary went on however we started to learn the children’s back-stories and heard from the parents. One parent told how he would beat his son and at one point even brandished a knife and attempted to stab him. In his own words, “he didn’t want to stab him really but scare him.”

At that point all I could think about was RD Laing’s book, ‘Sanity Madness and the Family’, where schizophrenic children were interviewed with their parents to shine a light on the development of the patients schizophrenic diagnosis. What came about was a relationship between the schizophrenics upbringing, relationship with their parents, their symptoms and diagnosis.

Returning back to the child in the documentary it does not surprise me that with such a volatile upbringing, many sought the safety of a world in which there are pre-governed rules, other like-minded people he could connect with and a place which he could gain validation not only from the game but also his friends.

I am not suggesting that this is applicable to all of us in our society but it makes me wonder why so many would rather look at our phones or talk on social media rather than the person sitting in front of us, what are we running from?

There was a post from the discussion on LinkedIn from my previous blog post from Jennie Cummings-Knight which said: “I have periods of obsessive checking of my phone for messages … also obsessive checking of emails when I should be writing articles or getting on with coursework. Contributing to online forums is for me another aspect of my addiction to screens.”

 This is a great example of how many of us are using technology to quell the anxiety of the present. Whether that be because of other work commitments or stress in our lives. It reminds me of a vagrant I often see when traveling on the bus. Smoking a cigarette in such quick succession and then lighting another one without even finishing the first.

Delving into the virtual world then seems to give many of us space to distance ourselves from our problems and anxieties.

 (on a completely unrelated side note as I struggling to find the right words to conclude this post, I received at text from a friend and jumped at the chance to switch off from the pressure of work and dive into the monotony of my virtual life.)

Returning to @forwardtherapy’s  statement, what seems more relevant in order to treat “technology addiction” or “internet addiction” is to look past the behaviour and see what it is that many of us are trying to run away from. What are the feelings that drive us to use technology and the internet in a destructive way.

It seems that technology then is the ‘drug of the information age’. It allows us to distance ourselves from our troubles, gain gratification (random reward generation for example)  while soothing our stresses and massaging our Virtual Egos.

If you feel the virtual world is getting in the way of your life take a look how psychotherapy can help you overcome these issues and re connect with the physical world

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