Our alarm rings, a repetitive melody coming from our state-of-the-art smartphone. We tap and drag the icon, and the music stops. Above it, several push notifications are telling us we have already missed three emails, twelve twitter interactions, more than twenty people who liked our new Instagram post, and we also slept through 1.6 thousand likes and two-hundred comments on our latest TikTok upload.
Time to wake up.
We live in an age where technological innovation is becoming ever faster, cheaper, and better. This means that many products and services now come with their own built-in software or hardware. They can be used without any human interaction at all. For example, you can use your Amazon Echo to order groceries, get traffic reports, play games, listen to the news, control smart home devices, and much else.
It does not even need internet access – just ask your smart assistant! Addictive technologies are designed to keep users hooked and addicted to their products. There are numerous other examples, such as the apps on smartphones, tablets, laptops, wearables, and TVs. From fitness trackers that count steps to smartwatches that monitor heart rate, GPS systems that show real-time directions, smart cars that drive themselves, VR headsets that transport you into another world… there.
The problem with these kinds of technologies is that they provide immediate satisfaction, but they often cause problems later. At first, you might enjoy being able to browse the web, take pictures, record videos, and play music wherever you go. However, once you begin to rely on your smartphone, you might notice that you cannot function properly without it. Your brain starts to crave this kind of stimulation, and you end up spending hours checking emails, reading text messages, playing games, watching videos, and browsing websites. This is called ‘techno-addiction’.
Technological innovations have made our lives easier in many ways. We can travel long distances at high speeds. The Internet allows us to access information instantly. And we can communicate with each other through various means. These technological advancements have improved our quality of life. They have also changed the way we interact with each other. Today, we rarely talk face-to-face anymore. Instead, we send texts, email, and chat with each other via smartphones. Because of these changes, we sometimes find ourselves addicted to technology.
Social Media’s Tight Grip
The most famous example of an addictive technology is probably social networks. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok. Social media platforms have become central parts of everyday life. People check their phones hundreds of times every day because they believe that it is important to stay connected to family members, friends, colleagues, clients, potential customers. In fact, almost everyone has a social media account. In the UK, the market share is: 53 million active social media users as of January 2021, which is about 78 per cent of the local population.
It seems as though the more popular social media becomes, the more people want to use it. That is why its growth continues to increase. There are several reasons why social media is so addictive:
- It provides instant gratification. If someone posts something interesting, you can like it immediately.
- It is urgent. When you receive a notification, you can quickly click on it and see what others think about it.
- It’s your only connection. You can easily connect with people in different places, and you can communicate with them whenever you want. Most people prefer free social media direct messaging to a paid phone call.
- It’s the only source of instant news. You can learn about events and trends happening anywhere in the world, and you can discover new things and ideas.
- It keeps you busy. No matter how little time you spend online, you always have something to do.
There are many types of behavioral addictions – they involve compulsive actions that lead to negative consequences. However, to develop a better understanding of behavioural addictions, you will need to look into the chemistry behind processes and addictive habits.
Your brain controls everything that happens within your body. Your thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories, and behaviours are all controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are released when neurons fire. This process occurs in response to external stimuli. For example, if you smell coffee, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy.
Neurotransmitters play an important role in your decision making. They help you make decisions based on rewards and punishments. When you see a notification, pull down the message and see a heart-reaction to your latest post – your brain feels the stimulus.
Finding help for a behavioural addiction, such as the one to technology, is difficult, because the world we live in demands us using these same technologies. But it is possible to tame the habit, to limit use, to stay in control. Seek help from your therapist or even your GP – they will have a solution and advice ready for you.