Hours-long Internet surfing that contributes to severe weight loss or gain, obsessive e-mail checking and freaking out (beyond the initial few minutes) when your cell phone goes missing may be signs that you have a digital addiction.
Executive Director Cosette Dawna Rae, MSW, LSWAIC heads up an Internet addiction recovery program called RESTART in Washington State. It is the first of its kind in the United States, although not the first in the world. China has long since recognized the addictive nature of the Internet with youth programs designed to help video game addicts regain their footing.
The program's Web site even has a helpful survey for those who think they, or someone they love, may have an addiction. If you answer ‘no' to most of the questions, you're out of the woods.
Family therapist and author of Take out Your Nose Ring, Honey, We're Going to Grandma's: Hanging In, Holding On and Letting Go of Your Teen Carleton Kendrick warns "We are becoming sicker and less evolved, sophisticated social beings, obsessively and feverishly reaching for our electronic gadgets for fear we will miss out on not being considered a valued member of the Digital Tribe."
In fact, a recent social media addiction study by Retrevo reveals 27% of those surveyed under 35 years old admitted to checking their social media pages such as Twitter and Facebook more than ten times a day. Thirty-six percent of the 35 and under group admitted to updating their platforms right after having sex, while 40% in this same age group admitted to updating while driving.
Organizational psychologist Dr. Paul R. Damiano, who is also President of Good Works Consulting, sees the adverse impact such behavior is having on people's relationship with time. When I asked him about our current digital behavior, he compared the time it takes to write a letter to the time it takes to write an e-mail. In essence, it takes a lot less time to dash off a dozen emails than it would to compose a dozen hand-written notes. "Digital devices impact our sense of time by truncating normal reaction time and perception of relative importance," he remarked. "Since it took several days [for letters] to be written and to arrive, reciprocity theory would suggest that you had an equal amount of time to reply." Today our expected reaction time is faster because of what Dr. Damiano calls our ‘mirroring' behavior. It doesn't take nearly as long to write an e-mail. Because of its rapid delivery system, the writer quite frequently expects an almost immediate response. "The perception of e-mails is that they do not come from ‘afar', they are not ‘wrapped', there is no ‘real cost' to send one, and they certainly are not an infrequent occurrence. Thus, any single e-mail is diminished in value in the eyes of the receiver."
As we continue this cycle of action and reaction, we spend more and more time on things of lesser and lesser value. Dr. Damiano points to the addictive component of this behavior. Firing off a ton of e-mails, while fueled by our lack of mindfulness, "still gives us a sense of responsiveness, accomplishment and fulfillment, hence we continue to do more and more of it." If you've ever had a full inbox of Facebook notifications that you have then felt compelled to address, you know what he means. Dr. Damiano compares our digital addiction to rats pecking at a keyboard as they look for reinforcement.
So what can we do about our digital dilemma? Certainly instant communication can alleviate our workload, but it can contribute greatly to it as well. The power of slow suggests you consider inserting a digital-free day into your week. Take a cell phone sabbatical for an afternoon. Unplug to the online world and plug into the tangible world around you. Make an effort to have face-to-face contact with people every day. Give someone a real-live hug. Then take a romp in the park to reconnect to who you are as a person, not as an Avatar.