Technology Addiction: Technology Can Connect, but It Can Also Distort the Truth
Technology addiction can be described as frequent and obsessive tech-related behavior—excessive engagement despite negative consequences to the user. When an individual’s relationship to technology becomes unhealthy and overreliance reaches a level of addiction, symptoms may include anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, restlessness, and agitation when not engaged in tech-based behavior. They may prioritize technology use over other interests and may experience increased interpersonal conflict, social withdrawal, and distress when access to technology is limited.
Technology, and in particular social media, has made it easy to live behind the screen, with consequences for the developing mind—an inaccurate perception of others' true emotional states.
Social media is a great tool to share ideas, stories, and updates. Despite the widespread use of sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, there’s a genuine issue when individuals feel as though communication can be sustained solely online. While these sites can be highly entertaining, they can also project a fake image of reality. Is Sarah, for example, posting an image of herself skydiving because she's happy or because she's trying to get over a breakup? Posting is a sport for the voyeur and a guessing game about the story behind the story.
The Effect of Technology Use on Social Well-Being
Georgetown professor Cal Newport also tries to understand online communication and how problematic apps create addictive behaviors for users. He’s equally concerned that online communications are replacing normal face-to-face conversations. His approach is to cultivate an intentional use of apps, whether they be for social, educational, or practical means. Newport is careful to explain that the use of technology is not a hazardous or a poor substitute for regular interaction. On the contrary, technology can make everyday activities simpler, such as banking, learning, or planning. It’s when these apps become the default and when every activity is done online that the balance of online vs in-person activities becomes off-kilter. His digital detox plan calls for individuals to delete apps for a month and then slowly reintroduce them in a healthier and more deliberate manner. Like Turkle, Newport recognizes that technology is neither good nor bad; it’s a matter of moderation and self-awareness.
And it’s not just those who study technology misuse that are invested in helping those with technology addiction. Although it’s not listed in the DSM-5 as a mental disorder, and there are no drugs that “cure” technology addiction, clinical social workers, addiction counselors, and mental health professionals have the expertise to treat various forms of unhealthy behavior patterns and teach individuals skills they can use to counter an unproductive use of technology.
Cultivating Healthier Relationships to Technology
DBT is effective for individuals who experience strong, intense feelings. A mental health professional may rely on DBT to help cultivate awareness when these urges boil up and redirect engagement from technology to another behavior. And by recognizing the timing, intensity, and duration of their urges, clients can turn to equally enjoyable exercises, such as taking a walk, spending time with friends, or playing a sport. By substituting one urge with another equally pleasurable urge, they may be able to step away from their problematic actions. With time and practice, individuals can learn to catch themselves from acting on thought or urge and engage in something different.
The Path Forward
— Marisa Markowitz, LMSW, CASAC-T, studies the relationship between technology and its adverse effects on mental health, particularly for vulnerable populations. She can be reached at Marisa@marisamarkowitz.com or 201-341-2619.