Technology has become an essential part of everyday life. From work to school and even our social lives are mediated through some sort of digital device. This makes it is hard to find a balance between life in front of a screen and away from it. The inability to spend time away from technology to the extent that it affects personal relationships, professional obligations, and mental health is defined as a technology dependence.
Technology Dependence is a broad term that is used to describe any obsessive tech-related behaviour; this can include gaming, online shopping, social media, online gambling, video watching, or anything else involving digital technology.
Because technology is so ingrained in everyday life, even when it is acknowledged, technology dependence is not viewed in the same ways as any other dependence disorder. However, this pathological technology use can have damaging outcomes for one's physical and mental health and overall well-being.
The Danger of Technology Dependences?
Despite technologies common use through our everyday life, technology dependence can contribute to various neurological, psychological, and social problems. In extreme (and rare) cases, technology dependence can even be deadly. Typically, this only occurs when individuals are engaging in digital use during 'high risk' activities or behaviours. This could be texting while driving or taking pictures in dangerous locations such as on a bridge or cliff. In very rare cases, people with technology dependence experience long durations of technology use without sleeping, eating or drinking, which is not only extremely unhealthy, but can have deadly effects.
More commonly, however, digital dependency affects individuals in destructive or dangerous ways, particularly in their personal and professional lives. If you spend your time engaging with technology instead of focusing on school or work, it can negatively affect those areas of your life as well as lead to procrastination and avoidance of work-related tasks. Personal relationships can also be strained by technology dependence, and individuals may lose interest in socializing with others outside of digital spaces. Technology overuse can leave individuals feeling very isolated and lonely.
Risks to mental health are also a factor in technology dependence. It can exacerbate or contribute to anxiety, depression, ADHD, as well as other disorders. Technology use has also been associated with restlessness, irritability, agitation, and anger. Technology use can also trigger the release of dopamine, the 'feel-good neurotransmitter.' Overuse, therefore, can affect your brain chemistry by affecting its ability to produce dopamine on its own, increasing impulsivity.
Lastly, technology dependence can put a strain on your physical health, with some symptoms being headaches, weight gain/loss, backaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Long durations of screen time can contribute to poor sleep schedules and insomnia; poor sleep hygiene can increase stress levels as well. As mentioned before, extreme technology use can contribute to inadequate self-care, like poor nutrition, and lack of physical exercise.
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Signs of Technology Dependence
Though excessive frequency and duration on digital devices are factors that contribute, it does not in and of itself define technology dependence. Digital dependencies become more apparent when technology uses interferes with daily life and general well-being.
Some questions to ask if you think you have a technology dependence:
Am I unable to moderate or abstain from technology use or a specific digital medium, or do I feel irritable or depressed when I try to reduce the amount of time I spend on digital devices?
Do I preoccupy myself with thoughts of technological devices? When I do not have access, do I think about the next time I can get on my device or the last time I was?
Do I have cravings and urges to use digital devices?
Do I continue to use digital devices even when it creates negative consequences in my life?
Am I neglecting important areas of my life such as work, school, or relationships at the expense of technology?
Have I lost interest in social or leisure activities that I used to enjoy because of my technology use?
Do I use digital devices in dangerous situations, such as while driving a car or walking across the street?
Has my technology use contributed to unhealthy mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, stress, or irritability?
Do I hide my digital usage from family, friends, or colleagues as a result of guilt or shame?
Have I been using digital devices for longer durations than intended or with increased frequency over time?
Does my digital usage help me forget about my problems or improve my mood when I'm feeling sad, anxious, or lonely?
Have family members or friends expressed concern about my use of or preoccupation with technological devices?
Types of Technology Dependence
Because technology dependence is such a broad term, it can take many different forms. The most common are:
Social media addiction
Online gambling addiction
Online shopping addiction
Work-Related Digital addiction
Treatment for Technology Dependence
The is some contention about classifying technology dependence, whether it is an obsessive-compulsive disorder, an impulse control disorder, or a symptom of another disorder like anxiety or depression. Because of this, there is no one specific treatment for technology dependence.
Treatment for technology dependence also depends on your individual needs and circumstances. You need to be able to address contributing factors that led to dependence, such as neurological imbalances, underlying mental health issues, and environmental stressors.
The most common types of treatment are Motivational Interviewing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Reality Therapy (RT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), experiential adventure-based therapy, mindfulness-based relapse prevention, and behavioural modification. Medication may also be used to manage symptoms or to address underlying mental health issues.
However, the first step is an awareness of the problem and a desire to want to get help.
There are some self-corrective behaviours that you can initiate to help curb digital use:
Fill your free time with physically intense activities or require a lot of concentration to distract you from thinking about going online.
Keep track of non-essential internet use (e.g., use that isn’t related to school or work) to see if you notice patterns. Do you go online when you are bored? Are you going online to relieve feelings of loneliness or depression?
Make a list of things you enjoy doing or need to get done that don't include the internet. If you feel tempted to go online, choose an activity from your list instead.
Use device feature to create a screen-life balance
- App restrictions/WIFI restrictions
- Turn off notifications
- Enable "Do Not Disturb"
- Set up automatic email/text responses