Have you ever found yourself aimlessly scrolling through your feed for hours? Even when you planned to use that application for just a few minutes? If the answer is yes, then you’re not alone.
What Is Technology Addiction?
Research shows that scrolling through your feeds for an indefinite period is addictive. It results from the ease of doing so (just using one finger and moving it vertically across the screen). Along with our intrinsic motivation to reduce the uncertainty about what the next post is!
Many people have tried to come up with technology addiction explanation and what causes it in the first place. One of the most influential models in the area to explain this is the Hook Model, defined by Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked.”
The Hook Model
The model is a four-step process that results in addiction. We will be discussing the model concerning technology addiction.
The model begins with triggers. These are actuators of behavior. There are internal triggers (intrinsic motivation to use the app without any external prompting). Also, the external triggers (external prompting that directs you to use that app in the first place). Triggers are very powerful and are the main reason you log into an application. Although applications initially make heavy use of external triggers such as notifications etcetera. Once you have started using an app, internal triggers (such as reducing boredom) become much more powerful in keeping you hooked to the applications.
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Next to the triggers is taking action. This is the behavior you indulge in in anticipation of a reward. Such as actually logging into an application.
The next phase is that of variable rewards. Research has shown that variable rewards are very powerful reinforcers. Continuously rewarding something does not lead to addiction as much as variable rewards do. This is because the variable rewards have an element of uncertainty attached to them, and the human brain loves uncertainty.
The human brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine (a “feel good” chemical). Whenever it is expecting something uncertain (such as the number of likes on a post, or a message from your loved ones). Thus, adding an element of uncertainty (whether I will receive likes on my new job or not) makes these applications very addicting.
The last phase in the cycle is that of investment. This is the phase of the period, which ensures that the user will make another visit to the application soon. Any time, energy, effort, or money invested in the app makes the user feel compelled to revisit it.
Snapchat Streaks Addiction
This applies to the use of Snapchat. By displaying the number of streaks you have with every individual, what Snapchat is showing to you is your commitment to the use of the application. The higher the number of streaks, the more likely you’re to keep using the app. Because of the time, energy, and effort, you have invested in maintaining those streaks.
This also relates to the concept of sunk cost fallacy to which humans are usually very vulnerable. As per this fallacy, humans tend to make their decisions based on the costs incurred in the past instead of the benefits that they are likely to reap from that decision in the future. Thus, an individual user is going to give more weight to the number of streaks that he/she has. Rather than the emotional, physical, and mental state of well-being that they can achieve if they quit using Snapchat today.
By going through this hook cycle consecutively, the outcome is addiction. This is not to say that technology is there to exploit humans. But, excessive use of it can do more harm than good. Yes, technology has helped in globalization, connecting people living hundreds and thousands of miles apart, and has solved many problems.
A study found that 4.4% of all European adolescents were going through what researchers termed as “pathological internet use”. Almost 14% of those adults also showed signs of “maladaptive internet use” which refers to the consistent and never-ending use of the internet impacting the daily functioning of the individuals.
More recent studies have shown that about 10% of people’s internet usage interferes with their work, family, or social life. This statistic obviously counters the fact that video game creators and pioneers of social media are actively trying to create products that tap into this particular “addictive tendency” to gain more traction and basically earn more from their applications.
The internet in particular is extremely addictive due to its ability to bring us closer to a plethora of information at rather unimaginable speeds. Moreover, the accessibility to the internet via mobile devices such as phones, tablets, and watches has also created the constant need of being “up-to-date” and keeping up with anything and everything that’s happening around us.
For teens in particular what glues them to their devices is the simple “fear of missing out”, also called FOMO. This phenomenon has taken over the lives of teens and young adults across the world who now feel the need to stay connected to the internet in the fear that they might miss out on something or find out about a social story later than everyone else.
One must be thinking, why technology is so addictive and we all depend upon it? To answer this question, let’s dive into the world of video games. To better understand why individuals choose to dedicate huge amounts of their daily routine glued to the screen.
It’s human nature to feel competent, autonomous and create relationships with those around us – all needs that are met through engaging with video games. Through these games, players can feel a sense of accomplishment. Coupled with the feeling that they’re “good” at something leaves them wanting more validation.
Moreover, these games also offer a variety of choices to players, with there being several genres of games. All of which are targeted at various personality types.
In the real world, we choose to judge our success by the amount of wealth we’ve accumulated or the accomplishments we’ve gained along the way. This same model replicates in video games. Whereby players can amass huge sums of virtual wealth which can lead to respect from the “gamer community” and recognition across a variety of channels – even if it is all virtual.
The ability of gaming to channel our inner needs and create an environment that mimics the real world. Also, coupled with the “escape” it provides from the real world is what keeps individuals addicted to it. This constant reinforcement and the provision of a detached reality are both strong components that leave the players wanting for more and returning to their screens over and over again.
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The Impact Of Technology Addiction On The Brain
According to experts, technology addiction operates similarly to chemical addictions on a neurological level. It creates a cycle of expectation followed by rewards that lead the brain to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. These rewards might be as simple as level up in video games or getting “likes” on a picture on social media.
Just like with all addictions, over time the individual begins to not only crave this dopamine release but also sees an increase in the frequency. What this means is that for someone who would find some validation in gaining “10 likes” on their picture. You would see a gradual increase in their wants whereby they would now want “20 likes” on their pictures to achieve that same release they got previously.
However, what makes this addiction slightly different from drug/chemical addiction is the uncertainty attached to it which makes the reward that much more satisfying. For example, when someone uses cocaine, they’re convinced that the reward will follow once they take the first “hit”. But, when playing a video game there’s this uncertainty that they might not really pass that particular level or might lose a game. So that’s why when they ultimately passing that level, they feel a greater intensity of release which makes that experience that much more rewarding for them.
Technology Addiction Symptoms
In a world where everyone’s so occupied with their individual lives and is “connected” to each other without really sharing a connection, how do you really recognize when someone’s usage of technology has actually crossed into the realm of addiction?
Here are a few signs that you can watch out for to understand whether or not someone is truly addicted to technology:
1) Poor hygiene – this may be something as simple as not changing into clean clothes often or disregarding basic hygiene such as keeping themselves clean and presentable.
2) Decreasing interest in offline activities – when you notice someone preferring their online activities to actual real-world interactions. That’s a major sign showcasing that the individual has developed an addiction that makes them stay away from the reality around them
3) Irritability or frustration when forced to disconnect – whether this disconnection happens due to a lack of internet or having to carry out their tasks in real life, whatever the reason.
4) Persistent use of technology despite negative consequences at school, in relationships, or at work – if someone’s using their devices or spending time online or playing games despite knowing that this is impacting their life and the relationships in it, that is an obvious sign that they’ve begun preferring the online over the real.
5) Preoccupation with online experiences – this refers to when individuals in their offline time tend to think about past online experiences. Or maybe are planning for future online experiences.
It’s Not The End
Even for someone who’s dived a little too deep into the world of information technology. There is always a way to get out of the rut and create a balanced relationship with technology that doesn’t negatively impact their life.
To say that one must completely remove technology from their life is a rather extreme statement. In today’s digital age where technology forms the foundation for almost everything. One must look to create a healthy relationship with it that isn’t based on dependency.
The first step to creating this healthy relationship is to simply educate those individuals and help them understand what is happening inside their brains and bodies when they indulge in such usage. Also, helping them recognize the consequences of their addiction, set limits, interrupt the compulsive cycle, and maybe even look for alternatives.
To take the extreme route and expect someone to completely rid their lives of technology is unfair and simply a method that won’t yield long-term results. However, the use of technology needs to be monitored, nevertheless. If we are using these applications for our good, that is good enough. However, where these applications start directing our lives as per the desires of their creators. It is time to heighten our sense of alertness.