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Digital Addiction Is Becoming a Reality

Following up our MBF Blog on internet gambling, we look at how digital addiction seems to be affecting more people.

The addictive power of smartphones is now so strongly overwhelming that users often feel ‘phantom vibrations’ feeding their desperation to check emails and messages.

The British Psychological Society (dealing with the scientific study of people, the mind and behaviour) has published results of a survey that reveal people can become obsessive about checking up on data and social media that they actually become more stressed than before.

This is with a device that was billed as saving time and energy by better managing workloads. It was felt that for many people, the bigger pressure to ‘stay on top’ of the game (whatever the game was) was far greater than the benefits of time management.

The belief that a phone in the pocket is buzzing is a false delusion created by the mind that cannot contemplate it wouldn’t be buzzing.

Life has taken on such digital intensity that to be without instant communication coming in and going out, a person feels they have no social worth, therefore their brains are tricked into believing calls are coming in.

The study included students, employees from a variety of jobs including the public sector and retailing. It discovered that stress levels did not rise with the area of employment, but did with the frequency of phone checking. The more stressed volunteers became, the more they felt the need to check devices, and so a vicious circle quickly built up.

The implication for widespread smartphone use in businesses is a concern. It can only had to pressure on people to feel obliged to make their working lives longer, their down times shorter, their holidays part working.

That smartphones and their linked networking are addictive mechanisms was further confirmed by people who went cold turkey, suffering depression and dependency if without them for even a day. They felt bereft, lost and isolated, as if things were happening and they were excluded from the loop, even if that loop was not really there.

The phantom vibration was compared by the psychologists as akin to what amputees often feel after losing a limb, that ‘it is still there’.

These findings buttressed views published in Psychology Today in March 2011, when Christine Louise Hohlbaum wrote: ‘digital addiction is real. The Internet itself is an addictive force. What starts out as a pleasant dopamine squirt, turns into a driving need for more positive digital experience’.

And this was an update on her 2009 views, also in Psychology Today: ‘hours-long internet surfing that contributes to severe weight loss or gain, obsessive e-mail checking and freaking out (beyond the initial few minutes) when your cell phone goes missing may be signs that you have a digital addiction’.

She quoted psychologists then who felt that some people became anxious not to be seen as valued members of the ‘Digital Tribe’, and that anxiety fed the addictive processes as far as technology went. They generally all equated it to the same addiction levels and consequential behaviours as caused by alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling, fantasies or sex.

All addictions can distort people’s sense of time. Watching/playing something on screen can soak up time like its’ gone out of fashion. The danger, it is felt, that as digital devices become ever more available and ubiquitous, and as society itself becomes hooked to them and their social networking world, most individuals stand no chance of resisting tempting addiction.

British Psychological Society.
Digital Addiction Revisited, Christine Louise Hohlbaum, March 2011.
Do You Have a Digital Addiction?, Christine Louise Hohlbaum, November 2009.

How Clinical Psychology Is Improving Our Understanding of Internet Addiction.

Photo: Jeremy Keith