Given some of the constraints inherent in a TV news cast, I thought I’d follow up with some additional thoughts on this fascinating and timely topic. I’ve presented on the topic of technology addiction to various schools around Austin, and I keep updating and refining it. I am not just a researcher on the topic of technology addiction…I am (somewhat) of an addict myself. But let’s be honest…aren’t you? We are all facing this significant challenge in the technological world in which we live that keeps evolving at a breakneck pace.
Before moving forward, I’ll provide a little more context first. I’ve been a fan of technology since I was a little kid. While, because of my age (ahem), I cannot be considered a digital native (the Internet didn’t exist when I was a kid), I am an early adopter of technology and a longtime gamer. In fact, I’m proud to say, my g-g-g-generation ushered in the era of video games. As a kid, I played the very first video games – from Pong to Space Invaders, Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Pac-Man…all the way to more current video and computer games. Ah, such fond memories I have of those days! But I never outgrew video games. Many of my generation didn’t. Believe it or not, the average age of video gamers is 35. Currently, I have a Wii and play assorted games on it – mostly with my two boys (ages 7 & 4). I play a few computer games and a variety of casual games on my iPhone. Given that I’m pretty busy being a dad, husband, and professional, I don’t have the time to put in nowadays to really consider myself to be a “hardcore” gamer. However, if I were a kid or a teen growing up now, I think my parents would have to physically pry the controller out of my hands.
My interest in gaming followed me into graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin where I did my dissertation research on the effects of video game violence on kids. I wasn’t out to slam video games. I just wanted to bring a balanced view to the research because gaming was being vilified by a number of psychologists, parents, and politicians. While I do think there are legitimate concerns about the effects of some games on kids, video games are not categorically evil and, in many cases, they can be beneficial (e.g., improving areas of cognitive functioning, learning teamwork, enhancing computer skills). Still, this is a complicated issue, and I’ll be sure to address this more in future posts.
In addition to gaming, I’m pretty active user of various technologies such as email, Twitter (I’m at @DrMikeBrooks if you’d like to follow me!), Facebook, blogging, etc. Funny, as I was writing this blog, I’ve been clicking over to Pandora to rate and bookmark various streaming songs. I only caught myself AFTER I had done this several times! And darn it, I’m still doing it!
On to the problem of technology “addiction.” I’m putting addiction in quotes as a qualifier. See, I think one problem with technology addiction is it is difficult to address it as a problem if people get too hung up on whether it is an “addiction” or not. When does a behavior that we engage in repeatedly or frequently cross the magic threshold and become an addiction? Is Lance Armstrong addicted to cycling? Was Jimi Hendrix addicted to the guitar (mind you, not the drugs, the guitar)? Is Stephen Hawking addicted to physics? Most of us would probably answer no to these questions…or at least scratch our heads a bit. When we think of addiction, probably most of us think of drug addictions first (including alcohol and cigarettes) and gambling. Do technologies such as Facebook, texting, and Twitter fall into the same category of drug addiction?
Rather than splitting hairs over whether our use of various technologies crosses into the realm of addiction, I think it is easier to ask: Is it a problem? If it is not a problem, then it isn’t likely an addiction. I guess we can be, in a manner of speaking, addicted to something without it being a problem (e.g., I’m addicted to coffee but it doesn’t create problems in my life…hey, that’s the truth and NOT denial), but why worry about these things in the first place if they aren’t causing any harm?
I know what you might be thinking: How do I know if my tech use is a problem? This is a very legitimate question, but still I think a better starting point than “Am I addicted?”. To put it simply, for something to be a problem, it must cause a problem.
A good rule of thumb is that a behavior is a problem if it causes a significant negative impact in at least one major life domain. These domains can include:
- Family relationships
- Legal troubles
- Sexual functioning
More broadly, we could say that a behavior is a problem if our sense of well-being drops significantly because of it.
Going back to technology use, can it be a problem? Without a doubt! Consider the following scenarios that occur daily :
- A teen’s grades are dropping because he is playing video games instead of doing homework
- A teen girl is not getting enough sleep because she is up late at night on Facebook
- An adult is getting into fender benders and many near collisions because she is texting while driving
- A man’s marriage is in jeopardy because he is frequently viewing porn on the Internet
- A psychologist compulsively checks his email when he should be working on blogs, writing therapy notes…Oops! TMI!
Now, I think we’d probably all admit that our technology use (or overuse) can cause problems in our daily lives. If we can admit to that, then we can start addressing the problem head-on. That being said, I do think technology can be powerfully addictive because it affects our brain in some of the same ways that gambling and recreational drugs do. I will describe this in the next post – so stay tuned!