Technology addiction (Internet addiction) is an impulse control disorder that involves the obsessive use of mobile devices, the internet or video games despite negative consequences to the user of the technology. The disorder may also be referred to as digital addiction or internet addiction.
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Although technology addiction is not currently included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), its symptoms are similar to that of another behavioral addition that is included in the manual, compulsive gambling. As with other impulse control disorders, tech addicts can experience short periods of time in which symptoms subside and longer periods of time when symptoms are stronger.
Warning signs of tech addiction include:
Excessive use – The technology may be used as an escape mechanism to avoid unpleasant life situations or relieve boredom. Immoderate use may be accompanied by an impaired sense of the passage of time and neglect for basic needs, such as hunger or sleep.
Negative repercussions – The addictive behavior continues in spite of adverse consequences, such as social isolation, arguments, fatigue, problems at school or work, lack of achievement or lying.
Withdrawal symptoms – The addict may experience feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression or irritability when attempting to self-limit use of the technology.
In 2018, the Center for Humane Technology, a coalition of business professionals in the tech industry, partnered with Common Sense Media, a nonprofit watchdog group, to launch an ad campaign about tech addiction aimed at educators and legislators. The campaign, which is called The Truth About Tech, is intended to address the potentially harmful effects that business models built on user engagement are causing. Specifically, the coalition is concerned about how the monetization of digital attention places financial profits above the general population’s social, emotional and mental health and purposely encourages addictive behavior.
Some tech industry leaders, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, have proposed that technology addiction is addressed with government regulations that restrict advertising to minors and educate consumers about potential dangers. Others argue that while an approach like that has proved to be somewhat successful for addressing the health hazards posed by cigarettes, smoking is a physical addiction and the exploitation of a vulnerability in human psychology requires a different approach. To help curb tech addiction, they maintain, tech companies must self-regulate and include features that encourage users to set time limits and turn off notifications.
Other industry leaders urge tech companies to self-regulate before it becomes necessary for the government to step in and legislate the technology industry, much the same way they legislate the gambling industry, requiring mandatory warnings and placing limitations on advertising.