In the age that we live in, technology makes the world go round. It is the biggest enabler humanity has ever seen, and it might even be the key to introducing equity in a world marred by social and financial problems.
Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and cloud computing are playing a crucial role in powering how the industries are today producing and distributing products and software. They are leading from the front when it comes to innovation. But they are also reinventing how humanity engages with technology, especially with electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. And these technologies are being leveraged to drive engagement and consumption. While that’s great for businesses and social media behemoths like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, how does it affect us?
Today, a typical adult spends eight-plus hours a day looking at a screen, at work, or for some leisurely scrolling. On the whole, people spend about two-to-three hours on social media. An unbelievable 31 per cent of internet users also prefer spending time online than with friends and family. But what makes being online so addictive?
“It’s similar to how alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs work and cause addiction – dopamine release”, explained Dr Ajith Partha, a psychiatrist.
“Whenever we drink, smoke, or do drugs, these substances facilitate the release of dopamine, giving us a sense of happiness. The same thing applies when we get a certain amount of likes on our photos online, or get recognised because of social media, or win at a game”, he added.
The human brain develops tolerance to such dopamine shots over a period of time. But then it also pushes us to increase the number of hours of online exposure to sustain the ‘happiness’. “This cycle continues, and we reach a point where without technology, we feel like we have lost something important. This in turn, leads to a craving for more and thus starts the addiction cycle”, said Dr Partha.
For children, the risk is even larger. Parents are now finding themselves quite engaged with work or smartphones themselves, leading them to hand over electronic devices to pacify children. While this works seemingly well, its long-term effects are debilitating as they tend to make children anti-social, addicted, or worse – they find themselves preyed upon by miscreants online.
Children of an impressionable age (between 2 to 12 years) need to avoid phones or at least reduce screen time for the normal development of their brain. “Especially post Covid, society has accepted the digital way of life – where in-person connections and meetings have reduced drastically. Children haven’t even been playing with each other due to the fears of Covid. Building connections and relationships is an important skill that children are missing out on. Also, problems like obesity/lack of physical fitness are increasing among young children due to lack of physical activity”, emphasised Tejas Bala, founder of Atmana, a company helping youngsters cut down on technology products.
Over-Reliance on Digital
The pandemic has shown the true potential of the digital world. In a way, digital technologies carried humanity in a big way last two years. And yet, so many problems came forth as a direct result of this increased usage of the digital medium.
The rapid rise in the instances of back and neck pain and skyrocketing cases of depression were two major tell-tale signs that so much time indoors isn’t exactly great for health. There was a huge jump in the cases of reported social anxiety among children as schools opened up too.
During the pandemic, we grew accustomed to many apps that made our lives easier and safer. This has given rise to a situation where we expect that there is an app for everything. This requirement for an app to get things done has had even more of an impact on young children, who tend to now reach for an app or technology for anything they want to do in life.
Tejas Bala feels that this over-reliance on apps could greatly affect us in the long run. “Children expect technology to solve their problems, which is making them vulnerable and too dependent”, he said.
“The next generation of adults could be weak and unable to handle tougher aspects of life like lack of money, getting fired, breakups, and be more prone to addictions than the current generation”, Tejas added.
Moreover, increased screen time adversely affects how much time we give to our loved ones, including spouses/children/family. This will eventually lead to relationships becoming transactional and less caring. The signs of this are already showing in our societies.
The founder of Atmana says that one of the biggest flip sides of social media is that it degrades human ingenuity. “Because we share our thoughts and ideas with each other on a daily basis through social media, we all end up thinking alike. There are fewer and less genuine and authentic ideas. We end up valuing ideas/things that others approve of (through likes/comments/engagement) and optimise for things that our network likes and disregard things that we genuinely value”, shared Tejas.
But technology addiction problems extend to adults, too, despite not being as impressionable as children. “I have been engaged with technology for a long time. In fact, my day starts with it – in the way of interacting with a virtual yoga guru”, admitted Shuvankar Pramanick, Deputy CIO, Manipal Health Enterprises Pvt Ltd. “Social and professional groups on social media platforms are, once again, unavoidable. So, whether it’s in my personal or professional life, life without technology is unthinkable”.
So, what is the solution? Tejas says that the best way to control technology addiction is by following a two-step strategy which entails having a clear daily goal of what work has to be accomplished in the duration of a day. “This sets a strong intent, and there is less chance of wandering around and wasting time on unwanted things”, explained the founder of Atmana. The second step is to use tools that can help monitor and limit technology usage. “We at Atmana have products like Kreemana (a chrome extension) and BlockerX (a mobile app). These products are great tools to avoid addictive usage of technology and stay productive”.
The solution to tech addiction may lie with technology itself, which can help us limit the amount of screen time every day. Interesting, isn’t it?