Technology encompasses a huge portion of many American lives. The dawn of the iPod and iPad instantly gave humans convenient mobile access to the internet. These new gadgets evolved into the iPhone, which took the world by storm. The world is now connected, anyplace, anytime and anywhere (you have WiFi or cell service.) The new problem the human race now faces is ‘nomophobia‘, which researchers call the fear of being without mobile internet connection.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter, is a recently published book that discusses nomophobia and behavioural addictions like being addicted to the internet. This kind of addiction is a growing problem, especially for young adults. Not much research has been conducted on this behavioural addiction, so it is often difficult to treat internet addiction. Not many treatment programmes are available worldwide and there is not much help for those suffering from extreme internet addiction.
Alter’s book explains how gambling and exercise are both behavioural addictions that many people suffer from. People can also suffer from drug/substance addictions, however internet addiction is different from other addictions because you cannot escape the internet in today’s technological world. People need to have access to email for work and personal use. Then there is social media, which everyone seems to be entertained with today. Alter’s book explains how research shows average smartphone users spend three hours a day on their smartphone screens.
Alter expresses a serious tone in his book when he states the need for people to realise how seriously addicting smartphones are and ‘the harm they are doing to our collective well-being’. Alter urges people to focus their attention towards these devices and how they are affecting our behaviour as humans. Alter later refers to research that states 41% of a multi-country population suffered from ‘at least one behavioural addiction over the past 12 months’. Many people are suffering from technology addiction – and truthfully, we do not even know what technology addiction is.
Alter’s book discusses the importance of human interaction, which has decreased over the years because of social media. Not only is human interaction down, but human’s attention spans are decreasing because of social media. Recent research was conducted that consisted of young adults staring at a string of numbers and letters on a computer screen. It was found that young adults who use social media less often were much better at concentrating on the screen.
When there is nothing to do, people grab their phones and search apps to avoid any social awkwardness. Instead of chatting with the person next to them a person would rather sit and browse their smartphone. To me, sitting on your phone is social awkwardness, but people do not see it that way anymore. Casual conversations or short and friendly chats are things of the past. It is almost as if people do not know how to interact with humans face-to-face anymore, only hidden behind a screen. That is a problem which people need to recognise, begin to understand, grasp and fix.
Many children today struggle with behavioural or social problems and people are quick to jump to diagnoses such as autism or ADHD. Could there be a slight chance though that perhaps our society is the problem? Are kids being taught the valuable social skills they need to live a healthy and prosperous lives? In my eyes, technology has a huge social effect on people. No longer do people need to speak face-to-face with others: just message, text, FaceTime, Skype, email, or call them. Human interaction is important for healthy human development, but technology is not a close friend of human interaction.
What may be worse than not receiving proper human interaction, is being ignored by a parent or loved one because they are consumed with their smart device. Alter’s books touches on this topic, and explains how distracted parents create distracted children. If you as a parent are constantly on your smart device and continuously ignoring the needs of your child, you are teaching them it is acceptable to ignore people and play with your device. Kids are growing up today with very distracted minds.
What really pulled at my heart in Alter’s book was his topic of empathy and technology. Online bullying is real and dangerous. Research has shown the level of empathy young adults have for others has decreased over the years, mainly because of social media. Kids write mean and hateful things to each other over the internet, but would they ever say those same words face-to-face to someone?
It’s so easy to type mean words and send them because you do not see the look on the other person’s face and their reaction. In a face-to-face situation, it is likely to feel empathy after saying hateful words to someone when you see the sadness in their face. Kids do not experience this face-to-face confrontation anymore, everything is done online or via text. In my eyes, this is the most cowardly way to confront someone. Kids need to be taught to look someone in the eyes and tell them what’s on their minds, not send hate messages via social media.
Irresistible also explains some of the dark sides of social media. The book explains research a woman conducted on hundred of girls throughout the US. Her findings revealed social media is incurring massive amounts of heartache for girls around the country. The girls immersed in social media admit to experiencing ‘cruelty, oversexualisation and social turmoil’ through social media apps. Then there is the whole subject of ‘send nudes’. It is completely normal today to send racy photos of yourself to your loved one, and some even say they do it because they love them. If your partner truly loved you, that person would not want any nude photos to exist of you, full stop. Blackmail is a real and powerful tactic, so do not be so naive as to think it could not happen to you.
The part of Irresistible I found to be amazingly interesting was when Alter explained the light colour of all smartphone devices. The screens of all smart devices emit blue light, which had never existed before artificial lighting. Blue light signals morning, so when people use their smart devices directly before bed they are telling their bodies that morning is coming.
Melatonin is a chemical in the human body that makes you sleepy, but when when blue light hits the back of your eye the pineal gland stops producing melatonin and your body prepares for the day.
Researchers urged manufacturers of smart devices to design a sleep cycle-friendly electronic device with backlights that turned more orange at night. This did not happen. So in order to combat suffering from sleep deprivation due to your smartphone, refrain from looking at your phone right before bed. Do not keep your phone within reaching distance of yourself, otherwise you will be tempted to just grab it in the middle of the night. It’s small steps like this that will improve your sleep habits and make you fall/stay asleep easier.
I felt enlightened after reading Irresistible and am now very conscious of my phone use. I now see that my phone had so much control over my behaviour; I was definitely nomophobic. I have worked on taking a break from being constantly connected to people online, but everywhere I look I see other people nose deep in their phones. Our society is so distracted and captivated by smart devices.
Alter’s book touches on many other important topics of behavioural addictions involving technology, but I do not want to spoil everything. I strongly recommend this book and encourage people to pay attention to how your smart device affects your behaviour, and just how much screen time you are getting.
Laura Wetherbee blogs about mental health issues among university students on her website. She focuses on providing support and tools for students to manage stress.