Technology addiction is very real

By Chao Che-sheng 趙哲聖  / 

Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 8

The Chinese-language Apple Daily on Jan. 25 reported on the so-called “Internet gaming disorder,” saying that it is on the rise in Taiwan.

Excessive Internet use has led to the emergence of Internet separation anxiety disorder in children. There have been cases of children shouting the house down, smashing objects and even threatening to commit suicide when parents restrict Internet use.

Psychiatrists are beginning to categorize this particular form of post-separation emotional disorder in children as “Internet gaming disorder.”

The question is: Can children and young adults be treated for this new disorder?

In recent years, technology has become closely integrated into our lives. We are now constantly plugged in and online.

Technology and media companies have turned interaction with the Internet and electronic devices into a ritualized group process. Wherever one looks, people are standing or sitting, heads craned over smartphones. As a society, we are regressing back into childhood.

With all aspects of work, entertainment and life undergoing a kind of “Pokemon-ization effect,” information sent and retrieved at the speed of light has become a kind of intravenous drip for the majority of users; for a number of people it has even become a “digital poison.”

With the expansion and integration of “smart” devices, and as their functions become more powerful, we rely on our smartphones to carry out all manner of tasks in our daily lives.

As tech companies promote the Internet of Things, everything from virtual reality and augmented reality to smart speakers and driverless cars will produce a constant flow of interconnected content from the Internet between our mobile devices.

The inescapable, all-pervasive network created by the Internet and smart devices will turn users into addicts and we will all soon unconsciously fall into the cold, ritualistic behavior patterns created by modern technology.

As far as children’s technology use is concerned, many parents cave in too easily.

In restaurants, how often does one see parents allowing their children — not even at kindergarten age — to play with a mobile phone or tablet?

They put programs on for their children to watch or allow them to play an “educational” game so that these devices become a kind of “digital nanny” to give exhausted parents a break.

However, children who are exposed to digital stimulation from an early age develop particular habits and thought processes, and a premature biological addiction will occur.

If over-indulgent parents allow their children to cultivate an early dependence on digital smart devices, this could result in the child experiencing anxiety.

Furthermore, there is a “cool-factor” that radiates from the fantastic variety and innovative features of today’s mobile devices and online games, which can be used to quickly interact with others and share information in a fun way.

All sorts of apps can be used to assist interpersonal relationships. Apps such as Facebook and Line allow for the sharing of information with others, while games such as World of Warcraft, the live-streaming video platform Twitch, instant messaging, stickers and audio-visual media dominate entertainment and information spaces, providing the user with ownership and control.

Children are attracted by this and search out apps that provide cool and exciting stimulation. For many children, mobile devices have therefore become their whole world.

Meanwhile, adults rely on interaction with their smartphones for work, entertainment and throughout their daily lives.

Many are concerned that modern rituals around technology have already produced an unconscious “coldness” in people who no longer need to be metaphysically “present.”

If we are unable to liberate ourselves from the addictive patterns that are hard-wired into this new technology — and also fail to take the proper precautions to protect children during their growth and development — it will be extremely difficult to kick the habit later on.

The seemingly unlimited expansion of smart devices and technology, their powerful functionality and the moderate amount of guidance required for children to be able to operate them, means that fairly strict rules are required, in addition to parents acting as role models, to restrict the use of technology and the Internet.

Parents must lead by example by planning leisure time around activities and entertainment that require interpersonal contact, such as reading books, listening to music, or playing board games or sport.

Parents can still allow educational games, but this should not be limited to digital ones.

Breaking our addiction to technology will not be easy, since it is now virtually impossible to live without it in our daily lives. However, we can limit the degree to which our lives are turned into one big video game.

We must be wary of social media companies and their pursuit to digitize every aspect of our lives.

We must ensure that the black screens in our pockets function as personal assistants rather than objects we cannot function without. Only then will we be able mitigate the coming problem of “Internet gaming disorder” for the next generation.

Chao Che-sheng is an assistant professor at Kainan University’s information communication department.

Translated by Edward Jones