The underestimated danger of electronic addiction
Every time I pop in an earphone it’s like I’m sucking down a cigarette. When I’m out alone, waiting even for a moment, I take out my phone and start swiping through Twitter and Imgur. Whenever I sit down to eat a meal I watch an episode of something on Hulu or Netflix. In lieu of reading before bed, my face glows behind my phone. I’m perpetually plugged in.
I’ve always enjoyed using electronics, ever since I got a GameBoy Pocket in ’98, but now I can see my usage is a bit problematic. And it’s not just consuming one thing, like constantly watching shows on Netflix or playing League of Legends for 12 hours a day. It’s shoving information into my eyes and ears at any moment possible.
“Internet addiction is described as an impulse control disorder, which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling,” according to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (IIAR). Well I certainly don’t have good impulse control when it comes to the internet, and neither do a whole lot of other people I know. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 2 hours or less of screen time for kids aged 12 to 15, which according to a CDC study in 2012, 73 percent of kids surpass. The internet has become a giant procrastination machine, with social media becoming the leading source of time spent online according to an online survey from GfK and the Interactive Advertising Bureau in 2014.
Since the advent of the iPhone in 2007 and the Android in 2008, people have been using their phones more and more. Every day when I walk around, 90 percent of people are either looking at their phones or have earphones in. Numbers cited in Clair Atkinson’s article “America’s smartphone addiction is only getting worse” in the New York Post put average smartphone use at nearly three hours a day for Americans, and it is only expected to increase. I almost feel a sense of pride when I can walk from one place to another without pulling out my phone or listening to something, or when I decide to read a chapter of a book before bed instead of flicking through Twitter.
But is it really that bad to be concerned with staying connected all the time? It’s 2015! We don’t want to miss out on any dope memes.
According to IIAR, yes. “Internet addiction results in personal, family, academic, financial, and occupational problems that are characteristic of other addictions.” Being addicted to the internet and electronics can have major effects on a person if left unchecked, including a negative impact of social behavior.
Back around 2006, I started playing World of Warcraft as often as I was home. During some summers in middle school and early high school, that meant I could be hunched at my computer for upward of 12 hours a day, mindlessly sending frostbolts at a menagerie of beasts and enemies, completing daily quests for nothing more than vanity. I put off seeing my actual friends to spend time in dungeons with strangers instead.
WoW addiction is a well-documented example of how video games can take over a person’s life. There’s a subreddit dedicated entirely to helping people stop playing WoW and encouraging fellow addicts to stop. It reads like a recovering heroin addicts forum, with thread titles that include “The Pull Is Frighteningly Strong,” “It still haunts me” and “I need to quit, but don’t know how.”
People report that they struggled with their jobs when playing and their grades in school went down the tubes, or relationships were over just because they spent so much time playing WoW. Games like these can become an escape from issues like depression, anxiety, stress and more, similar to drugs and alcohol.
Smartphones and the internet can act in a very similar way, and are nearly identical according to IIAR. Thumbing through Instagram or scrolling through Facebook are easy ways to ignore the world, while simultaneously feeling connected to it.
I don’t really play WoW anymore, but my freetime is always filled with a mix of video games, articles, Imgur, YouTube videos, wrestling, and shows on Netflix and Hulu. For short periods of time I will avoid or “quit” certain things that offer me pretty much no actual value and become too consuming, like Imgur, but I always end up falling off the wagon at some point. One of the easiest ways for me to disconnect from everything is listening to podcasts.
I discovered podcasts around 2006 with KnoxKast Radio, headed by Robert Benfer of blue clay-people fame and Jason Steele of Charlie the Unicorn fame (before Charlie the Unicorn was made). Now I regularly listen to 11 podcasts, with three backups in case I get to the end of the week and need something to replace my own thoughts. This can total somewhere between 17 and 20 hours per week of people talking in my ear.
But that’s nothing compared to Stephen Mack, who wrote “I’m addicted to nearly 50 podcasts” in The Kernel in Sept. 2015. Like him, I start listening to podcasts before I even start boiling my water for coffee in the morning. I listen when walking to class, driving, doing dishes, shaving. Podcasts have trumped music in most cases because I don’t have to think, just listen. They become an escape from the everyday stresses of life just because they allow me to tune out what’s happening in my life and focus on literally anything else.
Electronic entertainment easily becomes a form of escapism, defined by Merriam-Webster as the “habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity or entertainment as an escape from reality or routine.” Entertainment allows us to ignore reality, which is an idea that can be healthy in small doses but can quickly become consuming and harmful. Suddenly, binge-watching a show on Netflix gets in the way of doing what needs to be done, like classwork, cleaning or other responsibilities, and the lethargic nature of this addiction can negatively impact one’s health.
Sitting is the new smoking, and lounging on your ass for long periods of time can have a myriad of effects on the human body, especially when at a computer. According to “The health hazards of sitting” by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark on The Washington Post, we should all be sitting straight up, arms bent at 90 degrees with our feet flat on the floor, and be sure to stretch and take breaks.
Berkowitz and Clark found that prolonged sitting can lead to things like heart disease, a decline in muscle response, colon cancer, poor circulation, soft bones, strained neck, lowered brain function, disk damage, sore shoulders and back, inflexibility in the spine, tight hips and of course, mushy abs. They also wrote that people who watched seven or more hours of TV per day had a 61 percent greater chance of dying than those who watch less than one hour in a full 8.5 year study.
But not just sitting causes problems, even with ample stretching or a treadmill desk, staring at screens can cause something known as digital eye strain. In the Everyday Health article “How Technology is Hurting Your Eyes” by Amir Khan, in 2013 the average American spent about nine hours per day looking at various screens. This causes issues with our eyes.
In the article, Dr. Douglas Lazarro said, “The longer you look at a computer screen, the more eye strain you tend to have, which can cause headaches.”
When looking at screens, people tend to also blink less, which leads to dry eyes, burning and itching. Squinting at bright screens can cause eye strain, and sleep deprivation caused by staring at screens can also lead to further eye strain.
Entertainment addiction looks like it’s a problem that won’t be going away very soon, as electronics become more and more pervasive in our culture and new things are constantly begging for our attention. If you have to make an effort to cut back on something like your smartphone, video games or general internet usage, then you probably have a problem. But there are resources to reach out to and programs for anyone that needs help.
On-Line Gamers Anonymous has been active since 2002 and has forums, chat rooms, meetings and lists of professionals to reach out to for anyone who feels they have an addiction issue with online gaming. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers puts many addiction centers under its umbrella, some of which recognize internet and video game addiction as a real issue.
The 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition includes Internet Gaming Disorder as something to be considered for study, but internet and gaming addictions are still not recognized by the entire psychology world. Without official recognition, there can sometimes be a stigma associated with addiction to electronics, and that can lead to the idea that it isn’t a real issue for people, when in fact this addiction can be devastating.
Kellen Beck is a senior journalism major who’s down to his last Internetine patch. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.