Are we really addicted to technology?

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In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Thanks to smartphones, apps and social media platforms, we can work more efficiently today and network in a way that would have been unthinkable decades ago.

But because we rely on technology for many of our professional and personal needs, most of us ask difficult questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. We will? also depending on the technology to the point where it actually is damage US?

In the latest episode of Build for tomorrow, Host and entrepreneur editor-in-chief Jason Feifer asks the thorny question: Is technology addictive?

Popularization of medical language

What does something matter addictive instead of just engaging? It’s a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question might be: Are the creators of popular digital technologies like smartphones and social media apps intentionally creating addicting things? If so, should they be held responsible for it?

To answer these questions, we must first agree on a definition of “addiction”. As it turns out, this isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don’t have a good definition of what we’re talking about, we can’t really help people.


“In the last few decades, a lot of emphasis has been placed on destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which is of course very good,” explains Feifer. It also means that medical language has made its way into our everyday language – we are now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

“We all have this one friend who says, ‘Oh, I’m a little bit OCD’ or that friend who says, ‘Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'” Liam Satchell, professor of psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on podcast says. He is concerned about how the word “addiction” is tossed around by people with no background regarding mental health. Growing concerns about “tech addiction” are not fueled by concerns among psychiatrists, he says.

“These types of concerns about things like internet use or social media use don’t come so much from the psychiatric community,” says Satchell. “They come from people who are interested in technology first.”

Occasional use of medical language can lead to confusion about what actually is a mental health problem. We need a reliable standard to identify, discuss and ultimately treat mental illness.

“If we don’t have a good definition of what we’re talking about, we can’t really help people,” says Satchell. For this reason, Satchell said, the psychiatric definition of addiction based on experiencing suffering or significant family, social, or occupational disorders must be included in any definition of addiction we use.

Too much reading causes … heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both the popularization of medical language and the fear that new technologies are addicting are not entirely modern phenomena.

Take, for example, the concept of “reading mania”.

In the 18th century, an author named JG Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called “reading madness.” This condition, explained Heinzmann, can cause many symptoms, including: “weakness of the eyes, heat rash, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, stroke, lung disease, digestive disorders, intestinal obstruction, nerve disorders, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria”. , and melancholy. “

“It’s all very specific! But the term ‘reading mania’ is also medical, ”says Feifer.

“Manic episodes are no joke folks. But that hasn’t stopped people a century later from using the same term on watches.”

Indeed, an 1889 article in the Newcastle Weekly Courant stated: “The clock craze, as it is called, is certainly exaggerated; in fact, it becomes rabid.”

Similar concerns have been repeated throughout history across the radio, telephone, television, and video games.

“It might sound weird in our modern context, but back then, when these new technologies were the newest distraction, they were probably really addicting. People spent too much time doing it, ”says Feifer. “So what can we say about it now, after seeing it over and over again? We can say it’s common. It’s common behavior. That doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest. It’s just not a medical problem . “

Few today would claim that novels are addicting in themselves – no matter how insatiable you have consumed your last favorite novel. So what happened Were these things ever addicting – and if not, what happened during those moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated – and our efforts to simplify very complex things and make generalizations to broad segments of the population can lead to real harm.


There is a risk that normal behavior will be pathologized, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological diagnostics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and guest of the podcast. His mission is to understand how we can differentiate truly addictive behavior versus normal behavior that we call addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this is not just a rhetorical game. He cites the example of gambling addiction, which has been the focus of attention over the past half decades. The language around gambling addiction determines how the behavior of potential patients is analyzed – and ultimately which treatment is recommended.

“For many people, you can see that gaming is actually a coping mechanism (mechanism for) social anxiety, trauma, or depression,” says Billieux.

“In these cases, of course, you won’t necessarily be aiming at gaming per se. They will target what caused depression.

In some cases, one person may legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology and need appropriate treatment – but that treatment may be the wrong answer for another person.

“This is not to ignore the fact that for some people technology is a factor in a mental health problem,” says Feifer.

“Nor do I rule out the possibility that individual people can use technologies like smartphones or social media to the extent that they have a really negative impact on their lives Employing large parts of the population can cause real harm. “

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing to diagnose for professionals – all the more since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, has a new idea about Addiction introduced in 2013.

“The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction – this is the first time that substance addiction has been directly categorized with any type of behavioral addiction,” says Feifer.

“And then the DSM-5 went a little further – suggesting that other potentially addictive behaviors require further investigation.”

This may not sound like a big deal to a layperson, but its impact has been enormous in medicine.

“Researchers started doing studies – not to see if behavior like social media use was addictive, but to start with the assumption that social media use was addicting and then see how many people were are addicted, ”says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

Assuming that many of us are tech addicts can harm ourselves by undermining our autonomy and our belief that we have the opportunity to make changes in our own lives. That’s what Nir Eyal, author of the books, is about addicted and Undistractable, calls ‘learned helplessness’.

“The price of living in a world with so many good things is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors in order to moderate our use,” says Eyal. “One surefire way not to do anything is to believe that you are powerless. That is what learned helplessness is all about.”

So if looking at our phone 90 times a day or wondering what our followers are saying on Twitter is not an addiction that most of us experience, what is it?

“A choice, a conscious choice, and maybe some people would disagree or criticize your choice. But I think we can’t look at this as something pathological in a clinical sense, ”says Billieux.

Of course for some People technology can to be addicted.

“If something is really disturbing your social or professional life and you cannot control it, please seek help,” says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, breaking unwanted habits can be the first step when considering our use of technology – albeit not always a healthy one.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.