technology addiction (internet addiction)

Technology addiction is an impulse control disorder that involves the obsessive use of mobile devices, the internet or video games, despite negative consequences to the user of the technology. The disorder may also be referred to as digital addiction or internet addiction.

Although technology addiction is not currently included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), its symptoms are similar to that of another behavioral addition that is included in the manual, compulsive gambling. As with other impulse control disorders, tech addicts can experience short periods of time in which symptoms subside and long periods of time when symptoms are stronger.

Warning signs of tech addiction include:

  • Excessive use - the technology may be used as an escape mechanism to avoid unpleasant life situations or relieve boredom. Immoderate use may be accompanied by an impaired sense of the passage of time and neglect for basic needs, such as hunger or sleep.
  • Negative repercussions - the addictive behavior continues in spite of adverse consequences, such as social isolation, arguments, fatigue, problems at school or work, lack of achievement or lying.
  • Withdrawal symptoms - the addict may experience feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression or irritability when attempting to self-limit use of the technology.

In 2018, the Center for Humane Technology, a coalition of business professionals in the tech industry, partnered with Common Sense Media, a nonprofit watchdog group, to launch an ad campaign about tech addiction aimed at educators and legislators. The campaign, which is called The Truth About Tech, is intended to address the potentially harmful effects that business models built on user engagement are causing. Specifically, the coalition is concerned about how the monetization of digital attention places a business' financial profits above the general population’s social, emotional and mental health and purposely encourages addictive behavior.

Some tech industry leaders, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, have proposed that technology addiction should be addressed with government regulations that restrict advertising to minors and mandate warnings. Others argue that while this approach has proved to be somewhat successful for physical addictions like smoking, the exploitation of a vulnerability in human psychology requires a different approach. To help curb tech addiction, they encourage tech companies to self-regulate and voluntarily include product features that allow users to set time limits and turn off notifications.

This was last updated in February 2018

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