Are your kids constantly staring at their phones? Does that worry you? It may not be an addiction as the media portrays, but more of a compulsion or habit…
Nowadays, we read and hear a lot about technology addiction, but I think ‘addiction to technology’ calls for a little explanation and, perhaps, some refinement. Let’s start by defining our terms. Technology, according to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, is simply the practical application of knowledge. Addiction is defined as the “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal”. It stands to reason then, that since technology isn’t a substance (though it can be argued that checking our phones releases dopamine in our brains, which is a substance), that perhaps saying that we’re addicted to technology is a little off base. Perhaps saying that we feel a compulsion to check our phones constantly is more accurate.
There are loads of articles in the vast corners of the web that beg your clicks saying things like “5 ways technology is taking over our lives” and “addiction to technology runs rampant with today’s youth“. What these articles should really say is that we, as a developed nation, have adopted habits and compulsions that we’ve never had before, and that times, they are a-changing.
Upon reflection, it seems to me that people used to have to use many different technologies in order to accomplish the tasks that can now be accomplished by using only the smart phone. For example, let’s say you need to make a doctor’s appointment and the year is 1975. You pull out your contact book to find the number, then you have to look to your spin-dial phone and wait a billion years for that stupid dial to spin around in order to put the number in. Then, when you finally get connected, the receptionist (looking at her calendar), gives you a choice of days and times for you to come in next month. Then you have to pull out your calendar/day planner to see which of those days work for you. When you decide on a date, you rummage around in your desk for a pen write it down in ink, and continue about your day. You’ve used four different devices, whereas now, it would all be done with one.
I think this convenience and the consolidation of personal technology is where the aforementioned compulsion lies. I can make appointments, keep track of my days, look stuff up, chat with friends, take photos, track my exercise, make shopping lists, create art and music, read books, and SO much more, that I have almost no use for paper anymore. I don’t need a calendar (although I still use one), and I don’t need to buy paperback books (though I still do, because I’m I’m a romantic). So because I can manage my entire life with one device, one application of knowledge, if you will, I tend to stare at it…a lot.
The device, or the tool, or the technology doesn’t cause addiction, but if left unchecked, the compulsion to stare at them can.
With these things said, I am an adult, and I grew up playing on the street with other kids. I skinned my knees A LOT, and because of that, I know that I need a certain amount of fresh air to function, and I know that if I don’t get enough exercise, then my body starts to (figuratively) whither and die. I also know that if I want to learn something, and retain that information, I need to write it down, pen-to-paper. I know these things, because I know what it’s like to be without the luxury of modern-day, handheld technology. I was forced to take notes in class, not type them out.
I think where we need to be cautious is with regards to kids having such unlimited access to these new handheld devices. The internet is a black hole of content, both good and awful, housing some of the brightest and darkest aspects of humanity. Without the proper education in place, without face-to-face conversation, kids run the risk of encountering the worst, and not having any way to put it into context. They also run the risk of compulsively staring at their phones because everything is possible there. They (like me) can kill time, be distracted, laugh, and make friends. On the flip side, they can (and will) also waste time; be distracted from homework, school and relationships; cry; and make enemies. The device, or the tool, or the technology isn’t evil, but if left unchecked, the compulsion can be.