Digital addiction? A digital use disorder? Do you have one? Does your child? Do I?
At the park yesterday with my second grade daughter Leone, I saw a baby sitting on a blanket teething on her mama’s smart phone.
Walking home we passed a toddler in a stroller watching cartoons on a tablet.
My 14-year-old, still sweaty from basketball, was poking around on his iPhone when we came in.
“Go away!” My 16-year-old quipped to us. She was lying in bed reading a book on her phone. “I’m at a really good part.”
Leone and I wandered into the kitchen. My husband was–you guessed it–on his phone consulting a recipe for the steak he was about to broil.
It’s a brave new digital world where celebrity babies in utero, I’ve heard, send out tweets from the womb.
I’m a writer. I have a she shed behind my house, so when I’m not traveling to report on a story or to do research for a book or an article, or giving a talk, you’ll almost always find me working from home. On a typical day I spend at least seven hours at the computer. When I’m not writing, I’m reading articles on the Internet, researching potential experts to interview, or searching PubMed for scientific studies. I’m also active on social media (find me on Facebook here or here; twitter here; LinkedIn here; Pinterest here. See what I mean?), I obsessively check email, and, since we’ve redesigned this website, I’ve been spending more time writing blogs as well.
Creation or Consumption?
When I interviewed business consultant Stephen Sloan, a self-described digital addict, for this article on digital addiction in the Jefferson Journal, he explained that he has tried to teach his teenage son to use the smart phone as a creative device that enhances intelligence, not a consumptive device that co-opts consciousness.
I like that concept and I do my best to use the Internet as a creative tool, instead of a consumptive one. But, like most adults in America, I also spend an inordinate amount of time consuming media.
Indeed, the average Baby Boomer spends over eleven hours a day–more time than they spend sleeping–consuming media, according to the Nielsen Company. While this is a great boon for media companies, our collective digital addiction may not be so good for us.
My grandfather was an early adopter. He was one of the first on his block in Mount Vernon, New York to purchase a television, a Freed Eisemann with a big mahogany cabinet and a small screen, which he was delighted to watch with his wife and their three children.
Back then people believed that television’s revolutionary technology was going to make us all smarter. For the most part, they were wrong. Watching too much television has been shown to make us more depressed, addicted, and stupid. Smarter? Not so much.
It seems that the same thing is happening with our incessant smart phone use and Internet access.
We thought–perhaps we still think–it would make us smarter, more global, and more aware. We thought–perhaps we still think–it will give our kids a jumpstart in life. For the most part, we may be wrong. Instead of making us smarter, constant Internet access and smart phone use seems to be hijacking our brains, making us more gullible, sedentary, anxious, and depressed.
Forget About the Kids, Worry About the Grown-Ups
Leone, her friend Malaya, and I decided to bike to the movies. We took the short cut across Southern Oregon University‘s campus. I trotted along as the girls took turns on Leone’s bicycle. Malaya is new to bicycling and was having trouble steering.
“Hit the guy on his cell phone!” I cried as Malaya wobbled along. “Ten extra points!”
“No!” She protested, and we all laughed.
The young man coming towards us was so engaged with his screen that he didn’t even look up. He never noticed we were talking about him.
We worry about young kids’ digital use and abuse most. We worry kids will suffer from digital addiction. But I think we adults should be just as worried, or more worried, about ourselves.
We need time to daydream and reflect on life.
Like children, we adults need, sometimes, to be bored.
Instead, courtesy of our smart phones, computers, and non-stop digital access, we are constantly overstimulated, no longer able to focus on big books (when’s the last time you read War and Peace or Middlemarch?) or big ideas.
The second we have downtime (in a restaurant, at the dentist, even when we just go to the bathroom to take a leak), we turn to the curated content on the Internet.
I’ve noticed more and more that adults walking to work and school–like the young man we almost crashed into at SOU–rarely look up from our phones, even when we’re crossing busy streets. (Some believe the sharp and disturbing rise in traffic-related deaths are due to driving and walking under the smart phone influence.) We don’t make eye contact anymore. We don’t wave at our friends. We don’t take the time to admire the fall leaves changing around us.
I worry that the constant allure and short-lived dopamine rush of the digital world is destroying our ability to have meaningful relationships and lead healthy lives.
I’m worried about my kids having a digital addiction, sure, but I’m mostly worried about myself, my colleagues, my friends, and my peers.
I think you should be worried too.