Social media, gaming and digital devices have created a convenient means for us to escape many offline fears, obligations and engaging in real-life face-to-face interaction. It has become a 21st-century crutch, and for some, a full-blown addiction.
We asked four experts about the telltale signs of tech addiction and how to get ‘tech clean’.
If you’d rather invest more time in your fantasy online world than ‘real-life’ relationships because it’s easier or more rewarding, then you may have a problem. “The technological addiction might, in a sense, short circuit emotional intimacy and provide a guaranteed form of enjoyment,” says Adam Szmerling, a psychotherapist and founder of Melbourne’s Bayside Psychotherapy. An addict’s behaviour, he continues, enables his avoidance of social interaction, and can lead to isolation, loneliness, anxiety, relationship issues, depression and disappointment.
“Whether video gaming, dating sites, or some other online messaging app, the problematic nature of an addiction to technology can be found when these ritualistic behaviours replace deep and meaningful intimate connections,” says Szmerling. One of his suggestions to overcome this is through mindfulness meditation. For example, sit for 20 minutes each day observing your breath and being present, allowing your thoughts to surface, and then release them without judgement.
Szmerling talks to his digital-addicted clients about their urges and behaviours and helps them find a sense of desiring something real again. The bad news is there are no quick fixes, which tech addicts don’t like hearing. “Because the addiction itself is a kind of attempt at a quick fix,” he says, “a massive avoidance, and administration of a kind of enjoyment which is outside the social bond and not usually compatible with life.”
Many people feel the work or social pressure to keep up their social media presence. Dr Sylvia Hartfejd, executive director of the Center for Digital Wellness at Liberty University in the US and author of The Digital Invasion, treated a salesman called Dave who was close to burnout as a result. “In an attempt to stay relevant with his clients, he was tweeting and posting every 10 minutes,” she says. “He would stay up till all hours of the night to respond to his clients 24/7.”
Unsurprisingly, Dave was suffering from stress and anxiety, and he couldn’t break away. “Technology addiction is the symptom, I work to see what is the root issue or need of the person,” Dr Hartfejd says. “For example with Dave, his root issue was the fear of failure, which was feeding his tech addiction.” She helped him to create digital-free zones in his life, which allowed for exercise and time with family and friends, so that he could create more meaning offline and have a healthy work-life balance.