By Tauseef Mallik and Rabia Garib
Screen addiction is real. It’s no different than the other addictions. It modifies behavior, response and reaction and poses similar challenges when trying to succumb into the behavior and try and withdraw from it. As the number of devices continue to rise and it becomes increasingly normal to have a screen in your face completely ignorant of your surroundings, the threat of the addiction becomes even more obvious. Paraphrasing Orwell’s predictions where people will be so immersed in their personal phones, they will remain completely oblivious and disconnected from the real world, the disconnect is exactly what is happening. And the irony of this reality is that you will search for evidence on a screen near you.
Experts believe that the screen addiction is leading to a decrease in the sense of wonder about the real world around us. And while the internet is an infinite source of information, it does not foster analysis and critical thinking. There are different degrees of screen addiction and its impact really depends on the individual. After considerable deliberation, experts agree on a few generalized perceptions relating to the addiction.
We engage with digital devices in a repetitive manner because of the sensory pleasure we derive from our devices. But such consistent engagements do hold the potential to become compulsive. Once compulsive, these engagements start interfering with our daily life, healthy lifestyle and our responsibilities — thus resulting in the addictive behavior. From there on, it’s just a matter of time for addiction to convert into a chronic disorder.
The Development of the Addiction
The factors which lead to the development of an addiction are classified as biological, psychological, social and environmental. By biological, we refer to genetics. Genes have a role to play in determining how an addiction develops. They determine the degree of reward we experience when we start consuming a particular substance. Genes also determine as to how our body processes and reacts to the substance and that experience.
Subsequently, the psychological, social and environmental factors determine how frequently we craves for the entire experience again. All these factors contribute in determining how often we desire to re-experience the whole thing. The greater the desire, the more chronic can be the brain alterations.
Yumna Usmani, a psychologist who has worked with cases related to screen addiction, explains that these brain alterations are the changes in brain’s prefrontal cortex — which is the cortical, subcortical region.
These regions are responsible for memory, motivation, impulse and the reward system. Once altered, these result in an increase in the craving for that whole experience along with a simultaneous decrease in resistance to the impulse.
Screens Becoming Addiction
Yumna believes the principles and the science behind drug addiction are quite similar to those which lead to technology addiction or the technology dependence. “Even the withdrawal symptoms associated with the technological addiction are similar to those attributed with drug addiction. When people are forced to let go the technology they are addicted to, they react in the same way as a drug addict. They undergo panic attack, restlessness and experience low self esteem,” she says.
And this ‘need’ is only growing. The catchphrases that integrate smart living devices into our everyday routines, only fuels the dependency. The “OK, Google” and shouting out “Alexa” to activate the device are ways to grab the attention of living, breathing humans to do our bidding, which makes this behavior really scary.
Identify-Realize-Avoid Screen Addiction
The constantly connected businesses of today can be categorized as a global workforce, without time zones and an overwhelming digital overload. As the day unfolds, one technological device is substituted with another. “It is tough to manage all this, but it can be done by teaching yourself adaptation and moderation; by learning how to strategically use these devices and compliment them with energy enhancing activities,” says Yumna Usmani.
When stuck in front of a device, the brain is constantly buzzing with energy devoted to that activity and the entire body dedicates its energy to that particular action. Overcome this with small breather activities, like taking frequent breaks from work in which you stop using all electronic devices. “Practice the 15 minute break for a few days and then slowly increase the time. Turn these goals into personal motivation and rather than forcing it upon yourself,” the psychologist explains. “You have to teach yourself moderation – you have to be strategic, prioritize and decide what is good for you and what is not.” It will actually be painful and uncomfortable, but the body and mind need to get used to the routine.
Managing Your Way Out
To manage an addiction, be it technology or drugs, you need to make use of principles derived from behavioral treatments. First, you identify the triggers and causes that lead to the addiction and cognitive behavioral treatment helps in this case. Once identified, you have to learn how to manage them, adapt to them or supplement them with something similar — that’s one way of doing it.
The other way is through motivational interviewing where you create a vision board and measure the progress of your life and identify the achievements you want to unlock. Almost like gamifying the progress. The third method can be contingency, where everyone develops their own plan having a ‘to do’ list-of-things that can be done to avoid consistent screen usage.
“People should learn to reward themselves, let go of the device and complement these actions with other energy enhancing activities,” Yumna says, adding that these rewards can be simple things like eating an ice cream, talking to a friend or taking a nap. “Anything that helps and motivates you to stick to your contingency plan”. Yumna says that the 15-min break from tech gadgets seems easy for some non-addicts, but for someone who is addicted to the screens, every minute matters. Addictions can be managed if you engage in a healthy lifestyle.
But the reality of our warped scenarios is that screens cannot be avoided completely. We have stepped into the era of artificial intelligence and screens constitute an integral part of our work and leisure life. The idea is to manage the engagement time and complement it with other energy enhancing activities and keep pushing yourself towards a healthier lifestyle. In other words, every now and then, stop and smell the roses… before it’s too late.