Is Digital Addiction Really a Thing?

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digital addiction

These days, we’re hearing more and more about the possibility of digital addiction. Some people would rather spend time engaged with their screens than almost anything else, and just might use most of the day doing so. Is digital addiction legit? Or just another example of fake news?

We reported on this just a few weeks ago in one of our Culture Clips:

Speaking of mental health, the World Health Organization has officially classified video game addiction as a mental health disorder. But some experts—such as Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist and media researcher at Stetson University—remain skeptical of the scientific basis for the new category. “There was a fairly widespread concern that this is a diagnosis that doesn’t really have a very solid research foundation,” Ferguson told USA Today. Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association has said that there is not “sufficient evidence” to define video game addiction as a “unique mental disorder,” USA Today also reported.

Whether or not gaming (or phone usage) will ever be classified as an official mental disorder , I’m convinced that there are millions on this planet who go way overboard when it comes to digital media—people whose time on these digital device spills over negatively into their relationships, school, job, marriage, etc.

I recently watched a 20/20 special on ABC (thanks to a tip from a Houston family therapist named Rhonda Kay Velders) that followed several individuals who said they were addicted to technology.  In the special (which you can watch by clicking here), I particularly remembered the stories of a teen girl who said she was addicted to her phone and two people (ages 44 and 14) addicted to video games. That only further underscored my strong feelings that the obsession with screen time is like crack cocaine for some users.

If you watch the special, I’ll let you decide whether any of these three has a mental health disorder. But one thing’s for sure: The level of tech dependence we see in the special is not healthy. And you can be sure that many across this great country (and globally) similarly struggle as these three did (and do).

I want to know what you think. Do you feel that digital addiction is a real thing? Do you struggle with it yourself? Let me know below.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

charitysplace 8 months ago
Screen addiction is absolutely a thing.

I remember being baffled that one of my friends couldn't watch a television show without her laptop on and in her lap so she could check her social media for updates -- this was before internet on cell phones. Now, she probably sits with her phone in her lap and checks it during commercial breaks.

I have a much harder time just doing things too. I've had to train myself to leave my phone off at home most of the time, and not go get it when I shut down my computer. I also seem to have a shorter attention span for things -- but I'm trying to keep a handle on it. :P
B Evans 8 months ago
My ability to focus and pay attention for extended periods decreased dramatically after getting my first smart phone in December 2014 (I was 23). Since deciding to become Orthodox late last year, I have tried to limit my phone use (or at least social media use) to just Tuesday and Thursday to correspond with the weekly fast of the Orthodox Church, and not use social media entirely during the four Fasts - Nativity, Lent, Apostles, and Dormition. Honestly, I've done better with that than with the food fasting.

Also, I read this on my Samsung... :/ -_-
Natasha Cover 8 months ago
Anyone can become addicted to anything.  I've known people who were addicted to working out, to makeup, to board games, to their own social lives.  I know one woman who, until recently, spent so much of her time attending church that she didn't spend time with her children or have any sort of life for herself.  (Please don't get me wrong, church and God are absolutely wonderful, but she recently snapped herself out of it and is *so* much healthier.  She still attends mass several times a week, but she's been going out and doing other activities.  Her relationships with not only her children, but also with God, are so much stronger now that she's not addicted to attending church.)
My point is that anything can be addictive to someone.  So long as things are healthy and enjoyed in moderation, it isn't a problem.  I used to be addicted to reading and would spend hours and hours every day in a book.  On the surface, not a bad thing, but it was a complete addiction.  My boyfriend was the same with video games.  Now we're both able to enjoy them in smaller doses and have other parts of our lives as well.
So let's not demonize something just because people become addicted to it.  It's easy to blame the technology, but a few hundred years ago the same arguments were being made about books.  Those who use smart phones or the internet or who read in moderation find that their lives are improved by what they're doing.  So let's remember that these influences can be positive in our lives...and, if they're not, we should focus on helping combat addictive tendencies rather than vilifying that which the addiction belongs to.
tl;dr:  Let's hold people accountable for their actions, teach them to not embrace addictive behavior, and instill better control in our youth instead of taking the easy road and blaming the thing instead of the person's actions.
Chuck Anziulewicz 8 months ago
There are some addictions that are actually good. For instance, I have to walk at least three miles every day. If I don't, I miss it. If I go for TWO days without walking, I start to really pretty lousy. Some people pray. I walk. Today I'll walk about six miles total. It's good for my health. It's a habit, an addiction if you will, that's I'm glad to have.

But smartphones are changing people at a fundamental social level, and it isn't good. 
Chuck Anziulewicz 8 months ago
I have no doubt that there are a LOT of people today who spend at least half of their waking life staring at their little screens. It's very sad. I drew the line at smart phones years ago, and I'm glad I did. From the perspective of someone who has never used one, I can see them changing people at a noticeable rate.