Prefer to tweet and text than talk, get distracted thinking about technology and suffer smartphone separation anxiety? If so, you could be a tech-a-holic!
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 (http://www.baysidepsychotherapy.com.au). 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.
Sometimes you just can’t get technology (be it texting, gaming apps or information gathering) out of your head. It can distract you from meetings, keep you up all night and not give your brain any downtime. “The escapism that often comes into play with tech junkies usually has a boomerang effect, whereby your problems get worse,” says Kevin J. Roberts, author of Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Not addressing relationship or anxiety issues by burying yourself in excessive tech usage, for example, only lets them fester and grow bigger. “Also, creativity and imagination require us to have quiet time, time for self- reflection, during which new ideas and out-of-the-box concepts can germinate and take root,” he adds.
Roberts, who speaks at conferences on the topic and whose website (www.kevinroberts.net) is devoted to helping cyber addicts, advises his audiences and clients to do a tech fast or cleanse. He suggests starting slowly by going for dinner with friends, to the beach or a walk in nature without your phone. Then work up to having your phone switched off for a period of time, then as you become more disciplined, try it for a weekend. He says many of his clients’ greatest ideas come to them during their tech-free time.
“I think balance is maintained first by being aware, understanding the power of technology to throw our lives out of balance,” Roberts says. This way you can keep yourself in check if you notice that you’re becoming too “dependent on your screen as a source of enjoyment, entertainment, or distraction.”
Has social media overload made you a shell of your former ‘offline’ self? Sieberg, author of The Digital Diet says, “Have strong interpersonal skills, a network of friends and family who they try to see in real life versus just online, and the ability to disconnect when needed to recharge the internal batteries.”
Sieberg suggests not charging your smartphone in the bedroom (and buying an alarm clock to replace it). “It’s too easy to end the day without clearing your mind and there’s no break to start the day,” he says. Avoid putting your phone on the table during meetings or meals, or looking at your screen when walking, he adds. Compulsive checking of your smartphone in social settings and not enjoying ‘real-life’ moments because you’re constantly posting on social media are warning signs you might be an addict.
“The first step is acknowledging the issue and building an awareness of your behaviour,” Sieberg advises. “At the end of the day, love your technology, just not unconditionally.”
“The escapism that comes into play with tech junkies usually has a boomerang effect” ~ Kevin J. Roberts