What’s your time?
No, not your latest 5K run.
I’m getting really personal here.
I’m talking about the time on your iPhone, that program that tells you much “screen time” you’ve been using. Addiction is a word that makes a lot of people cringe but digital addiction is real and getting worse.
When my friend Jason came over the other day, he ate lunch with us with his phone face up at the table, checked it five times, and interrupted the conversation to send two messages. Sound familiar?
Your iPhone report is likely to surprise (and maybe horrify you).
Have you looked at it recently?
It’s like a breathalyzer for digital addiction. Like the family man who stumbles out of the bar at 1 a.m. and knows he’s had a few too many, you probably already know you are digitally drunk.
I struggle with digital overuse. For myself, my husband, and my 15-year old. I think about and write about and pursue vibrant living with great enthusiasm, but a world focused on high-def is anything but vibrant. My name is Jennifer and I have a problem with digital addiction. Overusing my phone and my computer is one of my problems. Is it yours?
Digital addiction is worse for adults
The average American kid spends as much as seven hours a day on a screen, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians.
But adults are actually spending nearly twice as much time as youngsters consuming digital media.
As I’ve written about before, I suspect it’s not our children we should be worrying about, but ourselves.
A survey of media consumption habits by the Nielson Company found that in the first quarter of 2017 the average Baby Boomer spent eleven hours and 12 minutes a day—more time than they spent sleeping—consuming media.
What’re we all doing for that many hours?
According to Nielson, we’re watching TV, playing videogames, surfing the Internet, playing DVDs, and using smartphones.
My eyes hurt just thinking about it.
Or maybe my eyes hurt because I’ve been in front of a—you guessed it—computer screen for about seven hours already today, researching, reading on-line, and writing this article, as well as checking and answering emails, and posting updates (some about screen addiction) on social media.
The United States of Distraction? Check.
Too much time on screens? Check.
But digital addiction? Are we, in fact, addicted to this brave new digital world?
Consumers, sure, but are we addicts?
Scientists, researchers, and medical doctors have long argued about the definition of addiction.
While this was a word once reserved almost exclusively for illegal drug use and alcoholism, most experts, including psychiatrists, now recognize that we humans can also become addicted to harmful behaviors.
Several studies have showed, through imaging technology, that the brains of pathological gamblers actually look similar to the brains of hard-core drug addicts—showing impacted impulse-control and heightened activity in pleasure centers of the brain when presented with monetary rewards.
Since 2013 the medical establishment has recognized something that loved ones of those addicted to gambling, pornography, shopping, food, and even television, have long known to be true: These “softer” addictions are anything but.
Like addiction to opioids, meth, and alcohol, addiction to digital media can actually compromise our health, make us miserable, and get us to a point where we find it impossible to tear ourselves away.
Maybe you think it’s unfair to compare meth addiction to computer addiction. But addiction is a spectrum. When you’re on the severe end of the addiction spectrum, the substance or behavior starts to completely destroy your life.
My friend Dima’s son’s best friend killed himself less than a year ago. He was spending over 9 hours a day gaming on-line.
Even when we’re not on the severe end of the addiction spectrum, digital consumption has the ability to excite us, over-stimulate us, and make us irritable to the point of violent objection when we are forced to stop.
Like a drug addiction, it can push us to act irresponsibly and irrationally, leave us craving more, and impact our lives with sometimes devastating and lasting negative consequences.
There’s a reason why Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., Director of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior calls screens “electronic cocaine.”
Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., a New York-based addiction specialist and author of the 2016 book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, describes how his patient found her son one night when he was supposed to be sleeping:
“…sitting up in bed staring wide-eyed, his bloodshot eyes looking into the distance as his glowing iPad lay next to him. Beside herself with panic, Susan had to shake the boy repeatedly to snap him out of it. Distraught, she could not understand how her once-healthy and happy little boy had become so addicted to [Minecraft] that he wound up in a catatonic stupor,” Kardaras writes in an article in the New York Post.
Here’s more from Dr. Kadaras:
Hilarie Cash, Ph.D., has seen firsthand how screen addiction can lead to this kind of disturbing behavior.
“It’s really a brain disorder,” Cash tells me when I interview her.
“People really totally lose control, and they cannot stop themselves from engaging,” she explains.
“There are all kinds of negative consequences that they experience—like being seriously underweight or overweight, being sleep-deprived. Some of them have serious strains on their tendons and back. And then there are social and academic consequences. That’s what digital addiction is.”
Hi, my name is Joe and I’m a digital addict
Maybe you’re just using your smartphone an hour more than you want to be.
Maybe you’re concerned about your child’s mental and physical health.
Maybe you know you are a full-blown addict and you need an intervention.
Now that we’ve copped to it, what do we do?
If your digital addiction is so severe that your daily life is compromised, the first step is to tell someone who can help you.
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, we’re only as sick as our secrets.
Don’t keep your struggle a secret anymore. Tell your loved ones, call a psychologist, and start looking for an addiction recovery program you can follow.
The experts I have interviewed, both for my co-authored book about addiction and for articles I’ve written, offer plenty of other advice:
- Sunset your house’s Internet access at the same time every night;
- Block problem programs with Apps that allow you to use them for a prescribed amount of time;
- Interact with social media via a program like HootSuite, Buffer, or SproutSocial, where you don’t have to visit the social media site itself;
- Never sleep with your phone in your room or allow your children to do so;
- Monitor your time playing video games;
- Have a screen-free day or at least a half a day where devices are off and you leave your phone at home;
- Do at least an hour of exercise a day, preferably in nature, preferably without your phone;
- Talk about the problem and possible solutions with your friends, your family, your pastor, school administrators, and anyone else who will listen
Addiction & Recovery Conference
Oct. 12-13, 2019,
Drury Plaza Broadview Hotel, Wichita, Kansas.
The conference is free to attend. However, you must register and seating is limited, so click here to save your spot!
All of this great advice, I realize as I close the computer and turn off my smartphone, is so much easier said than done.
In our family it’s a work in progress with more “work” happening than progress.
It’s 10 p.m. and I’m still on the computer.
I forgot to add tags to the post that is set to publish first thing in the morning. That’s all I’ll do with my computer, I promise myself.
There’s no way it can wait.
NB: A different version of this article was published in Jefferson Public Radio’s Jefferson Journal.