Dion Chang Dis­con­nect­ing from our cy­ber re­al­i­ties can be a process with anx­i­ety

CityPress - - Voices - Chang is founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit www.flux­

Our “al­ways on, al­ways con­nected” vir­tual lives should have come with a health warn­ing. We are now slowly dis­cov­er­ing that the dig­i­tal era is giv­ing rise to phys­i­cal and men­tal ail­ments, and doc­tors are only be­gin­ning to un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of this grow­ing prob­lem. The first phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of our cy­ber­lives started out with in­ci­dents of carpal tun­nel syn­drome, a painful con­di­tion which is felt in the hands and fin­gers, and is caused by the com­pres­sion of a nerve where it passes over the carpal bones in the wrist. The cause? Too much typ­ing on a key­board with your wrists at an un­nat­u­ral an­gle.

Now that many peo­ple have mi­grated to mo­bile de­vices, new phys­i­cal ail­ments have sur­faced. One of them is “iNeck” pain, aka “text neck” – a re­sult of hav­ing your head bowed while in­ter­act­ing with a smart­phone.

While th­ese phys­i­cal ail­ments are eas­ily treat­able, the men­tal or psy­cho­log­i­cal ail­ments are more dif­fi­cult to treat and iden­tify be­cause the rip­ple ef­fect of the tech­nol­ogy we con­stantly adopt and adapt to is so new.

‘iDisor­der’ is a term coined by Dr Larry Rosen for dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion. He claims “peo­ple are at­tached to their de­vices and of­ten driven to use them ob­ses­sively by fear and worry. Miss­ing out on so­cial in­for­ma­tion, work in­for­ma­tion and our per­sonal pur­suits can put us in a state of anx­i­ety and even cause panic at­tacks.” This is Fomo (fear of miss­ing out) at a higher level and linked specif­i­cally to your at­tach­ment to your de­vices.

Rosen claims that many of us are on the verge of an iDisor­der. “Our daily in­ter­ac­tions with tech­nol­ogy cause us to show signs and symp­toms of one of many psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders in­clud­ing nar­cis­sism, ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive disorder, ad­dic­tion, at­ten­tion-deficit disorder, an­ti­so­cial per­son­al­ity disorder, hypochon­dria and even body dys­mor­phic disorder.”

All th­ese symp­toms point to a new con­cept of dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion. Can we re­ally be ad­dicted to our dig­i­tal lives? Ap­par­ently, we can.

Although dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion is not (yet) of­fi­cially clas­si­fied as a “real” ill­ness, many psy­chol­o­gists are now say­ing it sparks the same brain chem­istry as “real” ad­dic­tions, which can re­sult in the same ad­dic­tive be­hav­iour. A “plea­sure path­way” in the brain lights up when we ex­pe­ri­ence plea­sure as the body re­leases a com­bi­na­tion of neu­ro­chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing dopamine and opi­ates, which give us a “high”. This can be brought about by in­gest­ing cer­tain psy­chotropic chem­i­cals found in al­co­hol or drugs, but can also be trig­gered by thoughts and ac­tiv­i­ties like fall­ing in love, a gym work­out, gambling, gaming or, in­deed, surf­ing the net.

For peo­ple driven by so­cial-me­dia ex­pe­ri­ences, their ego or nar­cis­sis­tic ten­den­cies can get the same “high” when they re­ceive so­cial-me­dia re­sponses such as likes, com­ments and in­creased fol­lower count, which adds to the dopamine ad­dic­tion. When you’re ad­dicted to a dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence, just touch­ing your gad­get or be­ing on­line can trig­ger the sub­lim­i­nal “high”. Th­ese crav­ings can be­come so strong they over­ride the part of your brain that makes ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions.

Re­search is al­ready un­der way to specif­i­cally mea­sure mo­bile ad­dic­tion. An av­er­age smart­phone user checks the de­vice 150 times a day and launches apps 10 times a day. A “mo­bile ad­dict” is some­one who launches apps six times more than the av­er­age and will check their phones more than 200 times daily.

An­a­lyst and in­ter­net trends ex­pert Mary Meeker says the num­ber of mo­bile ad­dicts has surged to 176 mil­lion peo­ple – a 123% in­crease from last year.

In Asia, with its many tech-driven so­ci­eties, dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion is be­ing taken more se­ri­ously. Psy­chi­a­trists in Sin­ga­pore are urg­ing med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties to for­mally recog­nise in­ter­net and dig­i­tal-de­vice ad­dic­tion as a disorder (87% of Sin­ga­pore’s 5.4 mil­lion peo­ple own smart­phones and there are al­ready two coun­selling cen­tres in the city-state deal­ing with dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion).

In main­land China, there are al­ready about 300 in­ter­net ad­dic­tion cen­tres in op­er­a­tion. A re­cent survey shows more than 24 mil­lion young Chi­nese peo­ple have been clas­si­fied as in­ter­net ad­dicts. Here, dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion is de­fined by the in­abil­ity to con­trol crav­ing, anx­i­ety when sep­a­rated from a smart­phone, loss in pro­duc­tiv­ity in stud­ies or at work and the need to con­stantly check one’s phone.

While the rip­ple ef­fect of dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion is only just be­ing ex­plored, the num­ber of new iDisor­ders grows daily. They now in­clude the fol­low­ing:

Phan­tom call syn­drome: Hal­lu­ci­nat­ing that the phone in your pocket rings or vi­brates, but noth­ing hap­pens Nomo­pho­bia: Fear of be­ing left with­out a cell­phone Cy­ber­sick­ness: Dizzi­ness, dis­ori­en­ta­tion and nau­sea when in­ter­act­ing with elec­tronic de­vices

Take this test to see if you are a dig­i­tal ad­dict: http://psy­ch­cen­­tad­dic­tion.htm

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