Hooked on technology

By Kirstin Buick
27 December 2015

Can’t be without your phone or the internet for more than five minutes? Constantly checking for Facebook updates? You might be addicted.

Do you check your Facebook newsfeed every few minutes, even when out with friends? Or spend your evening chatting to people over messaging service WhatsApp instead of inviting them over for coffee?

With mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers we’re more wired than ever.

About 41 per cent of South Africans use the internet, according to a State of Broadband report released by the United Nations’ Broadband Commission in September last year.

According to a study by Wits University’s Journalism Department called The New Wave, almost two thirds of those with access to the internet go online daily or almost daily. “More people now use the internet every day (22 per cent) than read a newspaper every day (17 per cent of all adults),” it reports.

Technology has made our lives easier but many are so addicted to being switched on they can’t switch off.

Researchers at the University of Maryland in America asked university students from 10 countries to switch off techno gadgets for 24 hours. About four out of five students experienced withdrawal symptoms similar to those of people trying to quit smoking or drugs. I went on a week-long digital diet. Here’s how I fared. Extra Sources: telegraph.co.uk, huffingtonpost.com, networksociety.co.za, tirl.org, techcentral.co.za, goodnet.org, dmma.co.za Techno addiction: Watching online videos; checking emails after work. Techno detox: No online videos or emails after work. Why did I need a techno detox?  I felt my technology use took up too much of my free time. I’d tell myself I’d watch just one video, then find myself glued to the screen an hour later. Was it difficult? In the beginning, yes, but it became easier as the days went by. Initially I didn’t know what to do with my newfound free time. Did I cheat? I was doing quite well but found myself watching funny videos with my husband one night. How did switching off change my dayto-day life? It freed up a lot of my time. I read more and got around to doing things around the house. I also realised most emails I get after work can wait until the next day. Am I now less addicted to technology? Yes, I don’t watch as many videos as I did before my detox.

The symptoms of techno addiction

The symptoms of being addicted to technology are similar to those of other addictions, says Larissa Ernst, a clinical psychologist of Pretoria. They include:

  • Mood swings

  • Your addiction taking over your life, causing imbalances and disrupting your routine. “This could lead to a lack of sleep and lack of recreation and strain interpersonal relationships. In the medium to long term these can have severe pathological effects,” she says.

  • Being preoccupied with your addiction. You struggle to or can’t control how much time you spend on social networks, for example.

  • Damage to your health and personal relationships. You’d rather get a new high score on an online game than go to a friend’s birthday party.

  • Withdrawal symptoms when you’re not allowed to use digital technology. “The symptoms are similar to those of people going through nicotine withdrawal,” says Dr Hermann Liebenberg, a psychologist of Centurion, Gauteng. “Heightened agitation, irritation and aggression can be observed.”

  • A deterioration in the quality of your work as your addiction keeps you from functioning at your best.
  • Sleep deprivation which can result in a lack of concentration and impulse control, as well as mood disorders such as depression, Dr Liebenberg says.

How to switch off

  • Techno addiction can be handled in the same way you’d deal with food addiction – you don’t have to cut out technology use completely but use it in moderation. It’s important for your psychological wellbeing that you switch off now and then to find balance, Pretoria clinical psychologist Larissa Ernst says.

  • These tips should help limit internet use:

  • Don’t suddenly stop using all technology; reduce usage gradually, Centurion psychologist Dr Hermann Liebenberg says. To start you can ban computers, smartphones, tablets and laptops from your bedroom.

  • Leave your phone out of reach when you’re with family and friends.

  • Get the Digital Detox app (available for cellphones with the Android operating system) to make your phone unusable for a specified time.

  • Delete apps you find addictive.

  • Set a timer. Disconnect when it goes off.

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