Maryam Mohseni, '24
Our generation –Gen Z– is the first to grow up in an age where the internet and digital technologies such as smartphones and personal computers are instantly accessible. The constant use of these technologies has made maintaining a healthy relationship with them difficult, especially since they are able to fulfill our natural human need for stimulation and interaction instantly.
That’s not to say that technology is bad. In fact, without technology surviving the pandemic would have been nearly impossible, as it was the only way to communicate with the rest of the world. However, similar to alcohol and drugs, technology can become addictive. Even though using technology isn’t the same as using drugs or alcohol, the brain responds to both the same way. The instant gratification we receive from using technology releases dopamine, the happy hormone, just like drugs and alcohol. Over time, we begin to crave this dopamine release, which compels us to use technology and internet-enabled devices even more. This tricks the brain into believing it doesn’t need to create and release dopamine naturally. Without enough dopamine, we feel irritated, have trouble concentrating, and struggle to stay motivated. In response, we crave more dopamine. The brain, which now identifies technology as a way to instantly release dopamine, signals us to spend even more time using digital devices, which can ultimately lead to a technology addiction.
Technology addiction (also called internet addiction or internet use disorder, among other names) is a broad term used to describe any obsessive tech-related behavior. This includes gaming, online shopping, social media, video watching or anything else involving digital technology. In 2018, the WHO recognized “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a mental health condition, but the international behavioral and mental health community doesn’t yet recognize technology overuse as an official clinical addiction. Nevertheless, technology addictions impact countless teens and cause significant harm that has a lasting impact.
Although technology addictions can affect anyone, teens are the most vulnerable to addiction and the most impacted by it. Recent studies show that the average teen spends 7.5 hours a day using some type of digital technology. That number increases up to 9-11 hours a day when you consider multitasking and the many screens that teens find themselves surrounded with at any given moment. Another study reveals that 45% of teenagers admitted they are online “almost constantly” and 90% of teens felt that spending too much time with technology is a serious problem facing their generation.
Although spending excessive time on digital devices can be a sign of addiction, experts say addiction cannot be measured solely by screen time. Instead, what's more important is the relationship one has with technology. Just like any other addiction, technology addictions can have a negative impact on one's daily life, well-being, and relationships. They can cause disrupted sleep, social isolation, heightened attention-deficit symptoms, and impaired social and emotional intelligence, to name a few. The risk of these effects is heightened when it comes to teens, because their brains have not yet fully formed, and they can have a lasting impact. That’s not to say that anybody experiencing those symptoms has a technology addiction. These symptoms can be signs of many other behavioral addictions and/or mental health issues.
In today's world, total abstinence from technology is unrealistic. Although video games or social media may be avoided, teens need to use computers for school assignments and building tech skills for later in life and in the workplace. In order to prevent an addiction to technology, teens must work to find moderation and balance within their lives, so that they can enjoy the benefits of a healthy relationship with technology.
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