Technology Addiction

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Parents are frequently talking about their kids using smart phones and other communication gadgets for ‘time-pass’. It is gradually leading to addiction and to the ill-being of the new generation, reports Zeenat Farooq

Technology addiction refers to “a mental, psychological illness characterised by excessive overuse of any form of technology which eventually goes beyond the voluntary control of a person”. For example, a person continues using his laptop or smart phone even after he starts feeling uncomfortable.

The extent to which technology over use can actually be considered a form of mental illness is still debatable. It went into publishing of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to include Technology Addiction into it and the term is still not fully recognised.

The term has gone popular since mid 1990’s when technology intensive countries, first of them being Singapore, showed concerns about the obsession of citizens for gadgets and withdrawal from social life and activities. The act of admitting a child into a clinic for playing for a few hours with a smart phone or laptop may sound excessive but increasingly alarming rates of young people falling prey to technology addiction has made many countries to realise its harmful effects. They have consequently taken steps to wean off their citizens from the grips of this menace. These countries include Singaopre, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

India has recently joined the league with the first technology de-addiction centre located at Bangaluru opened in  2015. It is run by National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (Nimhans). This is an important step because many countries in Asia Pacific are now beginning to realize the magnitude of the problem among its youth.

Psychological Disturbances

The symptoms and nature of this perceived mental illness vary from case to case but have a very strong association with occupation, age, health status and family life. Many parents complain of their children spending unusually increased lengths of time over smart phones and internet and avoiding studies, contact with parents and siblings, have less social well being, compromised mental health, issues of inferiority complex, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Suicidal tendencies are also found to be on a rise in such kids. If such people, especially younger people are deprived of their smart phones for a few hours, they can experience bouts of anger, anxiety, palpitations. In extreme cases, these people totally withdraw from real life and live in a virtual life created by their own perceptions and can also engage in activities like drug abuse.

Impact

In addition to the psychological disturbances, there are various other health issues related to excessive technology use.

Drowsy driving menace. A number of road accidental cases have surfaced over the last decade wherein the drivers were sleep deprived because of staying awake for 16 hours or more due to social media or online gaming.

Deep vein thrombosis. Rates of this disease are also significantly higher in people who are glued to their computers for longer periods of time on a routine basis. It is frequently advised by doctors to such people to take small breaks during work, to climb stairs up and down and to take small walks to keep the disease away.

Computer vision syndrome. It is a kind of eye fatigue which occurs due to gadget overuse. Such people have very weak eye sight and there is progressive deterioration of eye sight with time.

Repetitive stress syndrome. A syndrome which occurs due to repeated forceful extensions, vibrations and awkward positions and is generally observed in people who spend a good part of their day over computers.

Photosensitive epileptic seizures. It is a rare form of epilepsy which is triggered due to prolonged exposure to LED lights of gadget screens.

Diagnosis

Technology is an important help tool in today’s life in almost all walks of life. It therefore becomes important to distinguish between a people experiencing technology addiction from the one using technology for work. Therefore a standalone approach to diagnose technology is not sufficient. In continuation to this, researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) have laid down some criteria which must be met in order to diagnose Technology Addiction.

How frequently a gadget is used?

How much gross time does a person spend on his smart phone, laptop, i pad?

How much of contact with technology does his professional life actually require?

How frequently does the person check his smart phone for instant messaging apps?

How frequently does he change his status over social networking sites?

How severely is the person affected when deprived of the gadget for 4-5 hours?

(Author is a research fellow at Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.)

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