Are You Trying to Quit Twitter Cold Turkey ? Be careful!

Tame internet addiction by socializing more, not cutting yourself off cold.

Posted Jul 02, 2019

 Sam Hames, Creative Commons
Socializing with your screen, or with another person?
Source: Sam Hames, Creative Commons

The Internet becomes a blight on our being when it becomes the sole avenue for personal fulfillment. Its power of instant gratification can become so enticing that we forget other ways of fulfillment and engagement.

Are you addicted?

Since 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) has deliberated the health implications of excessive Internet use. Recently in 2018, WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD–10) labeled “video gaming addiction” a behavioral addiction.

Both physical and behavioral addictions activate the same electrochemical circuits in the brain. As with the physical kind (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, drugs), behavioral addictions center on the feelings you get, but in this case feelings from repeating an action as in pathological gambling, compulsive sex, online gaming, overeating, anorexia, or constant screen checking.

Reward deficiency

Psychiatry’s diagnostic handbook, the DSM–5, is perhaps more on target in using the phrase “Reward Deficiency Syndrome” to describe the root problem: not getting enough affirmation or feeling that you don't belong.

In deciding whether to call someone’s screen media usage addictive, the American Psychological Association weighs how strongly a user’s mood is tied up with screen time, and whether the amount of time spent online interferes with family relationships or social engagement [1].

Research has repeatedly shown social media and gaming addiction to be correlated with depression and anxiety. An extreme example of this at play is Japan’s hikikomori phenomenon, in which individuals trying to cope with social fears and personal anxieties withdraw into their homes for months, even years. There are more than 700,000 hikikomori recorded in Japan, most of them spending their days playing video games and surfing the Internet [2].

Shame and isolation

These individuals have a difficult time transitioning from school to the workforce. They become isolated due to shame from failure in their social and professional lives. The Internet then becomes a substitute for reality, and the longer they spend on it, the more their social skills erode to the point where it becomes impossible to escape from their homes.

What to do? From a medical perspective, denial never works when trying to get someone to change behavior. This is why going cold turkey is ill-advised. Substitution works better (instead of eating ice cream each night, could a diabetic be satisfied with fresh fruit or a bowl of frozen grapes?). So instead of taking away a phone or hiding it, you can temper screen addiction by increasing opportunities for socialization—more face-to-face interactions, physical activities, reading books, and for children in particular, simple old-fashioned play. [3]

Writing in the Washington Post, Arthur C. Brooks suggests that we must learn to become “masters” of the digital medium, as opposed to its servants [4]. He reminds us how we once worried that the telephone would become addictive (especially to teenagers!) and wreck society. And then we learned to “use the technology beneficially” by making it “complement” our lives. [5]

Face to face with others

Perhaps, then, the key to tempering digital addiction is trying to use screens and social media to accentuate the core elements of our lives instead of letting them be the sole source of interpersonal engagement. Speaking on NPR, Anya Kamenetz suggests that “technology may be more like a food than alcohol” addiction in that smart screens have become so integral to our lives that it is impossible to completely separate ourselves from them. [6]

This point of view suggests that we use tech as a tool to initiate new connections in person with others, deepen the existing friendships we have, and create avenues to engage in more face-to-face interactions overall.

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[1] Domoff, S. E., Harrison, K., Gearhardt, A. N., Gentile, D. A., Lumeng, J. C., & Miller, A. L. (2019). Development and validation of the Problematic Media Use Measure: A parent report measure of screen media “addiction” in children. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8(1), 2-11

[2] William Kremer and Claudia Hammond. “Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms.” BBC. July 5, 2013

[3] Cytowic, Richard. “There Is a New Link Between Screen-Time and Autism.” Psychology Today. June 29, 2017

[4] Brooks, Arthur. “Social media should be a complement to real life. Not a substitute.” The Washington Post. June 14, 2019

[5] Brooks, Arthur. “Social media should be a complement to real life. Not a substitute.” The Washington Post. June 14, 2019

[6] Kamenetz, Anya. “Is ‘Gaming Disorder’ An Illness? WHO Says Yes, Adding It To It’s List of Diseases.” NPR. May 28, 2019