Some stories of Digital Addiction
Though Digital Inferno is not another “survey” type book (of which there are quite a few already, I did speak to a lot of people during the three years it took to write it). So, I have collected quite a lot of stories over that time.
Here a a typical few relating to digital addiction.
Names have been changed to preserve anonymity. Do you recognise yourself, colleagues, friends or loved ones in any of these stories?
The Addicted Toddler
Janine is a parent of three. “My two eldest kids are both on their Ipads a lot of the time. But Callum, the eldest does other stuff as well – a lot of sport and Gil is more into his skateboarding. The real nightmare was with Dean, our three-year old. We just downloaded creative games for him – you know, educational ones and a few where you had to pop bubbles or race cars. I’ll confess – it kept him quiet while I got on with other stuff. But a few months ago he wouldn’t let go of it when I tried to take it off him. he’s usually quite a good-natured child but he went into such a tantrum and he actually started screaming and scratching me. It took two weeks of putting up with near hysteria. But it calmed after a while and, as long as I kept him busy – took him out more, to the park and spent time with him – he mostly stopped asking for the MyPad (as he called it). He still tries to snatch at it when his brothers are on theirs. But I’m glad I acted when I did. I think my own three-year old was becoming addicted – and it was down to me using the gadget as a child minder.
naming the addiction
Steven is a middle manager is a media business on the south coast. He visits a hypnotherapist once a week and has been doing so for about five months. “It’s the same woman I saw a few years back to get me off smoking”. But it’s only when I had the first panic attack since my early twenties that I realised I was becoming addicted to my smartphone. Panic attacks are not nice – you feel you can’t breathe. I used to have to breathe into a paper bag. I never thought that would happen over losing an Iphone on a tube train. I felt embarrassed. My therapist was the one who suggested it might be an addiction. The symptoms: feeling panicky if my phone wasn’t nearby. Not being able to switch it off. Waking up early in the morning to check it (even in the middle of the night). Needing to check it at least a few times an hour. Getting obsessed with one particular addictive game. My ex told me to get help. That’s just before she left.”
Back to betting
“I used to bet. I never needed to go to Gamblers’ Anonymous or anything like that” says John, a chef in a local gastropub, “but I did spend all of my wages at its worst. But that was years ago. I stopped because I know I lost more than I won and family responsibilities took over. They were the old days, the wilder days. Then, last year, I clicked on a link that offered me ten pounds free credit in an online poker game. No other commitment it said. All the old signs were there. I lost the ten. I bought ten more. Little by little I got drawn in. But this all seemed easier. They kept sending me offers for a bit more credit. They never pushed – actually the gambling sites seemed pretty responsible. It was always down to me, but betting had never been easier – I didn’t even have to leave the sofa. I was even doing it during breaks at work. Just one more… I spent fifteen grand last year. I won three. And I know I have to stop.
Addiction or just harmless highs?
Anna is a marketing assistant. “I love social media. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a few others you probably haven’t heard of. How long? Probably a couple of hours a day. I love it. I love getting notifications on my phone. I’ve got over four thousand followers on Twitter and a thousand Facebook Friends. I like the high. I’m not serious on the dating sites – I’ve only ever met up with someone twice but I love to get messages and to answer them. It’s all just a bit of fun. My boyfriend says I am addicted. So what? Sometimes I binge – stay in all day at the weekend and just connect! I’m sick of people who says there’s something wrong with it. It’s a brilliant way for people to connect.
Neil is a graduate in mechanical engineering.
“I failed my degree. I was online for perhaps five hours a night, battling people around the world in three different virtual worlds. It started to take over day time too and, with free wifi at college, it was easy to sit at the back of the lecture room and switch between engineering and killing werewolves. It really hit in the final year. I’d failed three exams in year 2 and had to resit. I only just scraped through. With one year left to turn things around, I started getting involved in another game. Simple, predictable outcome. My final year mark was 34%.”
The Teacher’s Dilemma
Sue is an English teacher in a secondary school. “As a teacher is an fairly enlightened school, I’ve got a real dilemma. On the one hand we are expected to introduce the kids to technology, to get them researching on laptops, Ipads and even their smart phones. On the other, we are supposed to stop them all texting and playing games during lessons. Despite being told not to, I know when they are doing it. How am I supposed to teach them anything if they are constantly texting on their laps or even in their pockets? I’ve snatched them away and even read out texts to the class (which got me a warning after a complaint. what bothers me is that many of the students now can’t NOT check their phones for even fifteen minutes. It’s an addiction but we haven’t formally named it and it is definitely impacted on their education.”
A few thoughts
– the first case of addiction to Google Glass was reported last month in the USA. Digital addiction has been named and there are therapies developed for it, but much of it flies under the radar
– digital addiction is similar to other kinds of addiction but has its own unique phenomena as well: it is only partly a biological high that is felt; it links to compulsion which is a different phenomenon from addiction; it is manifesting differently in different people
– digital addiction can have some reported benefits even as it harms us (it can be a bit like social drinking – we feel fellowship even as we fall into alcoholism together
– people are becoming very skilled at hiding their addictive behaviour and soon augmented reality may hide it further – we won’t know when people are online and when they are fully physically present
– digital addiction is often hidden under benevolent types of digital activity – “it’s only a harmless game”
– treatment for, and naming of digital addiction, is currently running a long way behind the launch of new gadgets, platforms, products and services that are designed to be addictive.
I also created a page of links to recent research and articles here:
And here is a related article I wrote recently:
Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno