Digital addiction keeps getting worse every day. People are attached to their “devices” to the point they’ll soon become like the Borg. Now, a new research study finds that this addiction is no different than a substance abuse.
I think we can agree that Smartphones and other mobile devices have their place and benefits in daily life. Whether it’s to check email or find directions, these gadgets can make life a little simpler. But, when we find ourselves incessantly checking social media, jumping to respond to every ding, text and call, something is clearly wrong.
Living Life Through a Smartphone Screen
These days, people are increasingly seeing and experiencing life through their device screens. How many times have you seen people at a terrible event standing their, recording the event as it unfolds, but doing nothing to help? When we have a phenomena, people don’t watch it…they record it. Go to a renown site of natural beauty and few people are actually experiencing the beauty — most are so interested in recording it, they never actually see the real-life beauty.
Researchers Erik Peper and Richard Harvey equate smartphone addiction to an opioid dependency, concluding that overuse of a mobile device is no different from substance abuse.
“The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually. The ubiquity of smartphones today betrays their usefulness, but app developers and tech companies are highly incentivized to create features that draw your eyes, and your attention, as much as possible. More eyeballs, more clicks, more money.” — Study co-lead, Erik Peper.
Peper and Harvey also concluded that study participants who used their phones the most, reported feeling a more lonely and having a heightened sense of feeling isolated, anxious and even depressed — peers in the study who were less dependent on their devices, did not.
The research leads believe that the intensified feeling of loneliness is due to the substitution of face-to-face human interaction with screen-based interaction, which often cuts off interpersonal stimuli/reward.
Multi-tasking to the extreme
Participants in the study who excessively used their smartphones were continuously multitasking when engaging in other activities, such as watching TV, eating or studying. This constant unfocused activity means that the mind and body are unable to fully relax and regenerate, causing what the researchers term “semi-tasking,” in which the study participants performed multiple tasks at once, but did them all half as well as if they did them one at a time.
Interestingly, the researchers note that ‘Apps’ are using the same neural pathways that humans have that warn us of danger. “But now, we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive — for the most trivial pieces of information,” says Peper.
What should you do?
Erik Peper suggests limiting your use of email or social media to certain times of the day and turning off push notifications and other features that draw you to use your smart device. He also recommends that we set aside time to do things that do not require any use of a digital devices — meaning, get out there and live life to the fullest, since we’re never going to actually experience the beauty of life if we’re attached to a smartphone all the time.
Read the full study, which was published in NeuroRegulation.