Are you addicted to the internet?

Find out the symptoms now!

Jenan Taylor discovers just how infatuated we are with technology and 
what we can do to get our lives back.

Addiction symptoms (according to Dr. Tam)

  • Losing track of time spent online
  • Constantly thinking about getting online when away from the computer
  • Feeling irritable when offline, and only feeling relieved by logging on
Ignoring broader responsibilities, and daily activities such as eating, drinking and getting adequate sleep

Twenty-one years ago, a single thread unfurled in cyberspace. It was the world’s first internet-based site and many people didn’t know quite what to make of it. But by the time we’d learned how to use that site and others like it, we’d LOLed, liked, Googled, blogged, browsed, tweeted, trolled, phished and friended that thread into a web wide enough to cover the planet, but small enough to fit into our pockets.

All the information we need to know about the world, the weather, what to watch, where to shop, even how and when to eat, exercise, and sleep, is contained within sleek devices barely bigger than our hands.

IT research organisation, Telsyte, has found that Australians can’t get enough of these gadgets and that by 2013 nearly 12 million of us will be wired up to smart phones.
You’d think with that sort of technology, we’d have life whipped. It turns out it may actually be the other way around. By 2013, nearly 12 million of us will be more distracted than ever.
According to research, we are so distracted that some of us suffer email apnea, Constant Partial Attention and ‘iDisorders’, while in our wake a trail of hapless relationships grows steadily.
It’s tempting to blame the technology, but Melbourne-based life coach and exercise scientist, Craig Harper says we have to take responsibility.

“Most Australians are either sitting or lying down. They drive to work, sit at their desks, sit at lunch then drive home sitting. They sit while they’re attached to their iPhone or iPad.
“We’re a sedentary nation living within a high-tech culture. This means that for many of us, technology is attractive and makes the idea that we are addicted to all things electronic acceptable,” he says.

So how do we escape our web-induced misery?
For a start, Harper identifies the “multi-dimensional” effects of technology dependence, which can yield “psychological, emotional, sociological and physiological” consequences.

“People are not getting out and about because they’ve got more online friends than real world friends. They don’t go to libraries because they can simply hit Google and search, and they’re not riding their bikes because they’re sitting around with their iPads,” Harper says.

“The physical consequences of spending so much time in a chair with hips in a flexed position with shoulders and heads forward, are back and postural issues, neck problems and degenerative eyesight because of staring at a screen.”

To help break the ‘high risk’ effects of such a lifestyle, Harper advocates aiming for 30 minutes of walking daily, standing whenever possible, stretching the hips, back, neck and shoulders and taking more short breaks in between bouts of sitting.

Former Apple and Microsoft executive, Linda Stone, writes that email or screen apnea is driving some 80 per cent of us into extreme ill health through stress. Together with University of California researchers, she established that every time we receive and interact with an email, or even just watch television, we hold our breath and forgo proper exhaling. The physiological effects flood the system with  fight or flight hormonal responses which diminish our ability to work effectively and productively. The adrenalin, however, keeps us addicted to the screen activity, awaiting literally with bated breath, the next email or event.

Stone advocates meditation and breathing techniques – the kinds we learn from activities such as Qi Gong or Yoga. These may help to counter the negative effects of our lifestyles and helps us be more mindful about the way we use technology.

Mind your mind
According to University of California research, we lose productivity because of the constant interruptions from emails, calls and texts. Further, people develop Constant Partial Attention, meaning they continually scan rather than fully engage in a task. Potential consequences include extra stress, sleeplessness and burnout.

To help combat this, and avoid the possibility of iDisorders – psychiatric problems which can stem from technology obsession – psychologist and author Dr. Larry Rosen suggests “re-setting” the brain by taking a “tech break”, doing puzzles, or getting closer to nature.

Craig Harper also believes in the restorative power of engaging the senses. “There’s nothing like getting out, bare feet on sand or grass, or listening to the sounds of animals,” Harper says. “Sometimes it’s when we’re doing nothing that we get the greatest perspective. Some of us don’t want to deal with the emotional and psychological reality of what’s happening inside of us, so we fill our lives with stuff. Quietness and space are great things.”

Fix the family

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Sally Anne McCormack says a growing number of parents come to her Melbourne practice to find ways to manage their children’s preoccupation with online life.
“There are more and more technologies to look out for, and [parents] feel they’ve lost control again over their children’s habits,” she says. “They used to be able to monitor how long they were on their computers, but now kids can access the net, their games and Facebook from their mobile phones.”

McCormack suggests a rights and privileges approach, which gives children the responsibility to earn the right to mobile phone or computer time. “From six year olds to young adults, if they don’t put away their toys, or unpack the dishwasher, then they actually don’t get as much time on the internet. It stops the fighting over technology.”

She also explains a growing numbers of people who are convinced that technology dependence is breaking down their relationships.

“People feel that their partners aren’t present even if they’re in the same room, because they’re too busy on Facebook. They see it as an issue, but the person themselves often don’t.”
McCormack proposes couples commit an hour of undivided attention to each other. This reduces internet time and is far more positive than telling the partner to cut technology use altogether, “because it embraces that idea that there are other things in life as well.”

Become a digital refugee
Journalist Susan Maushart decided to unplug her family from the technology grid for six months because she wanted her children to experience a more meaningful existence, and because she felt like the “Amy Winehouse of Windows Live Messenger”.

In The Winter of Our Disconnect, Maushart writes that their experiment “…changed our lives indelibly – and infinitely for the better.”
Switching off meant forgoing all personal media including mobile phones and laptops, but Maushart admits sacrificing such necessities of modern life forever is impossible. The value of unplugging she concludes is its “consciousness-raising” capacity.

The Digital Sabbath is an American concept aimed at enabling people to escape the techno treadmill for wellbeing, rather than religious reasons. Online tips and friendly Friday prompts encourage participants to visit and send a postcard from a place in their city they’ve never been to before, hold family dinners, and do cognitive exercises like recalling the names of all their schoolteachers.

Craig Harper believes many Australians could do with such a concept. “We’ve lost perspective in all our mental busy-ness, and in our electronic addiction we’ve become disconnected from a lot of other things. It’s a great idea to help people step back and re-evaluate their lives.”

When there really is a problem, Houston
In many cases, people aren’t addicted. They simply work hard, or as Psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Tam of the Network for Internet Research and Investigation Australia in Sydney notes, sometimes people simply enjoy spending time online or on computer games.

“If you’re getting something out of it, that’s fine. If there’s a problem it’s not because you’re spending too much time on the computer or smart phone. It’s because you’re neglecting your schoolwork, or your family, or your relationships or your health is suffering. That’s when you definitely have a problem,” he says.

“Problematic Internet Use” is a term Tam uses for those who are truly addicted. “We treat adolescent girls who are too scared to turn off their mobile phones at night and sleep for fear of not being in the loop, and boys who get aggressive with their mothers when their modems are taken away from them.”

Her warns there is no single, simple treatment. “It’s not a single disorder, it’s a complex, end-point behaviour of a lot of other complex, underlying mental health issues like depression, bullying, family dysfunction and even ADHD. Those things can then make someone even more vulnerable to addictive behaviour.”

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The information presented on this website is not intended as specific medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical treatment or diagnosis. Read our Medical Notice.