'I'm addicted to tech'
My name is Katherine and I am addicted to technology.
Swap out the word ‘technology’ for ‘alcohol’ or ‘drugs’ in that statement and you’d probably be – quite rightly – pretty worried for me right now. But because I said tech you might be breathing a sigh of relief. Don’t.
Luckily my tech addiction isn’t at a point where my family and friends should be seriously worried but, as growing numbers of studies are showing, it’s a real problem and affects more of us than you might think.
Parents are turning to tech to entertain their kids – I’ve met three-year-olds more savvy with an iPad than I am – and teenager’s hands seem to be increasingly shaped like iPhones.
But we also need to wake up to the fact that this isn’t something that just affects Snapchat-addled youths.
Part of the problem is that tech is just so practical. Our work and social culture encourages the addiction in the same way that drinking at the weekends is the norm – nowadays it’s as weird for someone to say they don’t have Facebook as to say they don’t drink.
The effects of this are becoming clearer. Internet addicts can get a form of cold turkey when quitting tech, similar to the effects of drug withdrawal. There’s even early evidence that using your phone for more than three hours a day could give you carpal tunnel syndrome.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, the reSTART centre in Washington State helps people who have gotten to a point where tech totally consumes their lives.
The addicts there have come from spending 14-odd hours a day gaming online and are often unable to hold down a job because of it, and yet the DSM – the handbook of the American Psychology Association – has yet to classify internet addiction as a disorder.
Obviously these things take time and research, but there’s no denying that tech is moving faster than the safeguards are being put in place.
While most users aren’t quite ready to check into reSTART, around 11 per cent of people in Western countries are thought to have a problem according to Professor Ofir Turel of California State University. Many of the rest of us will have at least some symptoms.
I’ve checked my phone about four thousand times since I started writing this article and often experience phantom vibration syndrome – where you’re convinced your phone is going off even though it isn’t.
So how can you break the cycle, or stop yourself and loved ones from getting hooked in the first place?I don’t believe that a full ‘digital detox’– stepping away from tech completely – is practical, but self-regulation is a term that’s cropping up and it could be the answer.According to a Deloitte report one in three of us are so addicted to our phones we check them during the night, so putting your phone on flight mode will curb that temptation. Turning off push notifications during the day so that you don’t get the constant buzzing will help too.Limiting tech usage to clearly defined times – especially for kids – is key, such as ten minutes on Facebook after work or school. This might seem like more hassle than it’s worth but Harley Street rehab clinic specialist Mandy Saligari was reported as likening giving kids a smartphone to giving them a gram of cocaine.To get an idea of whether you have a problem, download something to monitor how much time you’re actually spending online and you might be surprised. And no, the irony of using tech to measure your tech addiction isn’t lost on me.It’s not easy to cut down on tech in a digital-first world but try and make sure you’re getting time away from a screen each day – a digital declutter might help prevent feeling overwhelmed with information.Bosses can step up here by making sure company culture doesn’t demand employees are ‘always-on’ and emailing day and night. In social situations, gently calling friends out for constantly using their phone while you’re together can help change behaviour.And as for me – the first step is admitting that you have a problem, right?