You are in the middle of a giant meadow. All that stretches above is deep, blue sky. Out of nowhere, a steady, blaring siren breaks through the peaceful space. Frustrated that something so loud and annoying has ruined your quiet moment, you open your eyes to find your iPhone blaring beside your bed: 7:30 a.m. Barely awake, you reach for it and check for any new messages you may have received in the night. Then, you proceed to check your Twitter, Facebook, and email accounts, scrolling through the feed as your eyes burn from the brightness of the screen. Finally, you decide its time to get up. First though, you must check the weather. So, with your window two feet away, you go to your trusty weather app to deliver the latest radar report predicting exactly what the weather will do every hour-- no, every minute-- of the day. Satisfied, you are ready to begin your day. Oh wait! You can’t forget to check your phone again; your feed has surely updated by now.
If this is you, you may be suffering from a very recent and very real epidemic: technology addiction.
Edward Hallowell, MD and author of CrazyBusy: Overbooked, Overstretched, and About to Snap!, puts our culture’s obsession with being “crazy busy” on the level of cigarette smoking and obesity. A paper published the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2007 recommended Internet addiction be regarded on the same level as gambling, sex addiction, and kleptomania. Researchers at the University of Maryland found students forced to unplug for a full day experienced feelings of panic, extreme isolation, and fear of being ostracized by their friends.
The addiction arises from a chemical process in the brain that releases dopamine every time you check a message. Jean Hoffman, CEO of the Phoenix-based J Brand Group, receives 500 emails and texts every day- and responds to each one.
“Its like an itch you have to scratch. Like Pavlov’s dog, I run to the Blackberry salivating. I will keep texting until I’m in pain,” she said.
Hoffman is the very definition of what she defines as the Type A person, compulsively responding to every message sent her way. According to Hallowell, Type A people experience “toxic stress” and waste large amounts of energy on their PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) devices, energy that could have been devoted to personal interactions.
“In that state they do bad work, lose friends, and lose clients. Its bad for them in every measurable way,” Hallowell said.
It’s not breaking news that technology hampers personal relationships; just consider how many interactions people have a day that never actually involve hearing the other person’s voice. People gain bravery behind a keyboard. Since they don’t have to confront the person face-to-face, see their expressions, and empathize with their emotions, they can treat them as more of a one-dimensional idea than an actual person. This is when online arguments become intense and can border on cyber bullying.
John O’Neill, director of addiction services for the Menninger Clinic in Houston, believes people should follow certain rules when communicating with others through technology. Namely, emails, or texts should never be used for firing an employee, breaking up with a partner, or breaking traumatic news to someone.
Hannah Gage saw firsthand how differently people acted when stripped of their tech devices. The State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) sophomore spent three weeks this past summer in the school’s Cranberry Lake Biological Station, located in the northwest Adirondacks. One of the station’s most notable features was its lack of cell service. That is, unless you were willing to make the mile trek up a small mountain to a mosquito infested overlook to use your phone. All of sudden, people had lost their go-to in awkward situations, their way of checking what was going on in the world at least every 5 minutes.
“At Cranberry, interacting face-to-face wasn’t a choice,” Hannah said.
While she admits there are pros and cons to only being able to interact with the same people for three weeks, she found the overall experience inspired connections in people that would have never come about in a normal campus setting.
“I got to know people I would have never talked to otherwise.”
So maybe next time you get that text in the middle of a face-to-face conversation, or that Facebook notification on a hike in the middle of the woods, try something new and cutting-edge--put the phone away.
You won’t regret it.