In modern times, the world of technology has become the world as it is. Technology mediates everything that ever happens, including commerce, transportation, entertainment, dining, and more. Without a doubt, modern life has become submerged in this brave new world.
The problem of technology starts from a young age. In the 21st century, children have grown up with gadgets, video game consoles, laptops, cell phones, and social networks. These technologies have offered many benefits, including greater connectivity, more efficiency, and more convenience.
But, this new world of technology has come with a dark side. Technology addiction, sleep deprivation, and the manipulation of the natural daily cadences that make up human life have all contributed to a general sense of unease and concern among those who feel that the world has become just a bit too enthralled with new technology.
Tech Addiction: The Problem, The Symptoms, and The Solution
You might have heard about tech addiction before. There are a few different forms of technology addiction and depending on how you define the issue it can encompass many different sub-problems that all contribute to a decreased quality of life.
Here are a few examples of tech addiction in modern life:
- A teenager enrolled in high school has difficulty focusing on homework and other responsibilities outside of school due to playing the latest MMORPG on the gaming market. He or she may spend many hours per day playing video games and forgoing other activities and socialization.
- A busy executive at a medium-sized business spends every waking hour connected to his or her job – whether that’s answering emails, making phone calls to colleagues, or crunching numbers in Excel.
- A young adult spends most of her time plugged into social media, including Facebook and Instagram. She spends more time connecting with people over these social networks rather than maintain vital relationships in the real world with family and friends.
The commonality that each of these addictions share focuses on the inability for the individual to control his or her own impulsive desires to access that technology. If you’ve ever felt this way – whether that’s with responding to work emails late at night or never having the ability to unplug from the latest social network craze, then you might also have a tech addiction.
A Closer Look at the Symptoms of Tech Addiction
When it comes to technology addiction and classifying the problem as an addiction, scientists have turned to the field of addiction psychology. Now, technology addictions are not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as DSM). However, research organizations have conducted limited studies which have fund the possibility of gaming disorder in particular.
In fact, the prevalence of these issues has spurred the creation of clinics which serve one purpose: to deprogram gamers who have become addicted to video gaming. Many of the symptoms that these gamers have look very similar psychologically to other forms of addiction, making the treatment of this issue a top priority.
There are two ways to look at addiction psychology:
- Disease model of addiction: The disease model of addiction argues that addiction functions as a disease and derives from a fundamental problem in the brain’s mesolimbic pathway. It also considers that other factors may a play a role in addiction, including environmental and social problems.
- Choice model of addiction: In the choice model of addiction, adherents believe that the individual ultimately has the final choice when it comes to indulging the addiction. For obvious reasons, you can see why there may be some conflict between the two different models of addiction.
Regardless of the addiction model to which you have chosen to subscribe, solving the problem of technology addiction remains of paramount of importance.
Tech Detox: Unplugging Your Brain from the World of Technology
Withdrawing from technology for even a short time can result in some unpleasant side effects. You might feel anxious with the disconnection, or you might worry that you’ll miss something important. These feelings are all very normal and understandable when it comes to technology use.
Likely, you’ve used technology consistently throughout your life and now you want to “detox” – or “de-tech.” To unplug yourself from the world of social media, video games, and Internet use, you’ll have to take some drastic steps. Here’s a 5-step plan that can help you embark on your path to total tech detox:
- To begin, you’re going to need a plan for your detox. As with medications and drugs, a gradual tapering may be the most effective. It’s going to be difficult to just stop using technology cold-turkey. You need a plan, a schedule, and the motivation to stick with it even when the going gets tough.
- In keeping with the tapering approach in step 1, you’re going to want to focus on smaller portions of time in which you unplug. Trying to go a full week without any form of technology will be incredibly stressful and difficult – and may result in a loss of motivation. Just try to unplug for a few hours at first and then go from there.
- By forgoing your previous technological activities, you’ve now left a blank space in your life that’s missing some of the entertaining qualities of your previous activities. You’ll want to find ways to fill in this new gap in your daily life with fulfilling activities that can replace your previous ones.
- You can’t cheat. Don’t just chuck the project into the trashcan because you couldn’t restrain yourself. Make sure you have specific rules that can govern your activities and breaks from your tech hobbies.
- Lastly, figure out what you want to do with all the new productivity and time you’ve created in your daily life. With your newfound freedom, you can embark on new projects and life experiences.
Screen Time Problems and Symptoms
One study conducted by Lin & Zhou et al in 2012 found that “internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”
This study used MRI scans and other analytical technologies to map the brain and its reaction for those individuals (primarily internet-addicted teens). The study analyzed the abnormalities in the white matter of the brain to identify a structural problem in the brain itself.
While the study identifies a complex neurological problem in severely-addicted children, not everyone who has too much screen time exhibits these symptoms. Too much screen time can pose a serious health problem for both children and adults. Here are some of the main risks that this population faces:
- Too much sensory input: With dazzling colors, music, sounds, and immersive experiences with the advent of virtual reality technology, an individual can experience too much sensory input.
- Overloaded nervous systems: the above sensory input can overwhelm the nervous system and cause agitation, anxiety, and chronic nervousness in some children – and even in some adults.
- Affected sleep: Individuals who are over-exposed to technology, including computers and cell phones, may spend too much time indulging in those activities rather than sleeping. Additionally, the anxiety caused by the problem of too much screen time may prevent good sleep.
But where do these screen time problems come from? If you look at the scientific literature, it’s clear that the problem results from a few different neurological phenomena – lending credence to the disease model of addiction:
- Gray matter atrophy: One of the most apparent issues with the brain and technology addiction is the effect on the brain. Gray matter plays a crucial role in a variety of neurological processes, and its atrophy can pose serious health problems. This atrophy affects the frontal lobe and the insula.
- White matter problems: Not only does addiction affect the gray matter of the brain, but also its white matter. The loss of functioning and durability of the brain’s white matter can cause serious problems, including issues with signal processing and the links between the left and right hemispheres.
- Reduction in cortical thickness: The outer portion of the brain is known as the cortex. The studies that found the reduction in integrity of gray matter and white matter also found that the addiction problem affects cortical thickness, leading to cognitive deficits.
- Cognitive functioning deficits: With the problems described previously, individuals affected by addiction may see a decline in their respective abilities to complete tasks and reason through complex problems. These deficits can cause a loss in career earnings and personal relationships.
- Dopamine problems: Since video games function to trigger a release of dopamine, studies have found that gaming produces similar changes to the brain as drugs. After all, gamers are always chasing that next “high,” whether that’s their next kill streak or reaching the next level in an MMORPG.
In general, there is a very real underlying pathology that causes these problems. But what else can be done to combat the problem? Read on to learn more about how technology addiction can affect sleep and what you can do about this prevalent problem.
How Technology Addiction Can Affect Sleep
Research foundations and organizations have conducted a variety of studies pertaining to technology addiction’s affect on sleep. The Sleep Health Foundation released an article in May of 2016 that examined the effects of technology and addiction on the quality of sleep.
Here are a few of the most critical factors that can affect the quality of sleep in individuals who are affected by technology addiction:
- Bright screen light can trick your brain into thinking that it’s still daytime, thereby messing up your circadian rhythm and the natural processes that periodically cause your body to experience states of wakefulness and sleepiness.
- By working with your technology, including writing emails and browsing the web, your brain stays in a more wakeful mindset that can prevent quality sleep given the “cooldown” time that’s required to begin experiencing a state of sleep.
- Since the activities on your computer and mobile devices can absorb large quantities of time, you may end up missing your bedtime and experiencing sleep deprivation because of hard limits on the times you’ll need to go to sleep and wake up (whether that’s to go to work or do any other activity in your life).
To prevent issues with sleep, there are a few different steps you can take to mitigate the effects of technology:
- You should not spend more than an hour looking at a monitor or phone screen before bed. This will prevent some of the issues stated above about the problems of melatonin and other natural hormones that condition us to go to sleep at a certain time.
- You may want to avoid using a device just before you go to sleep. This will prevent issues related to experiencing less-than-satisfactory sleep because of “revving” your brain back up to a normal arousal state.
- Some types of technologies are more active than passive. In other words, they require your active input to function properly. If you’re engaged in activities like surfing the web or reading an e-book, you may be too engaged to sleep properly after you stop the activity.
Of course, not everyone will experience the same types of problems with sleep deprivation related to technology. But, if you want to be on the safe side, it may make sense to follow these steps.
Are You Technology Dependent? Here’s How You Can Become Free Once More
If you believe you are technology-dependent, then it’s time to take some real action to solve the problem. For the first step, you’ll want to examine how technology has impacted your daily life – are there particular times of the day in which you become too absorbed? Or has technology affected your sleep schedule?
Once you’ve identified where technology has affected you in daily life, it’s time to act. Unplug slowly and taper your technology use. You’ll also want to avoid using technology and devices prior to going to sleep at night.
Good luck on your technology detox journey!