Roughly a quarter of Americans go online "almost constantly"
Countries are beginning to crack down on addictive tactics in apps and games
Screenslaver interrupts this program for an important announcement.
“You don’t talk; you watch talk shows. You don’t play games; you watch game shows. Travel, relationships, risk: Every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance so that you can remain ever-sheltered, ever-passive, ever-ravenous consumers who can’t bring themselves to rise from their couches, break a sweat and participate in life.”
Screenslaver – if you haven’t seen the summer blockbuster “Incredibles 2” – is the villain of the film who berates the public for its dependence on both screens and superheroes. The movie is set in the 1960s, but how much different is its world of technology overuse from our own? If anything, it’s only gotten worse, research shows.
An addiction is born
Caitlin Jaird, 28, is a self-described technology addict, and she can trace her addiction to 2000. That was the year she discovered the now-defunct text messaging tool AIM and the social media platform MySpace, once the largest in the world.
That time in her life was especially chaotic: Her father was working at night and sleeping during the day. Weekends were especially tricky. She tiptoed around the house so as not to wake her dad.
“It was almost like social media was my only escape,” she said. “In that world, everyone was happy, interesting and successful.”
Two years later, her parents announced that they were getting a divorce, and Jaird said she clung to the Internet as her safety net.
By the time she left home for college in 2008, MySpace had fizzled out and been replaced by the social media site Facebook.
Nowadays, she’s mostly on Facebook. And she has lots of “friends” joining her. According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of American adults say they go online “almost constantly.”
Where people choose to spend their time online varies significantly, but gaming and social media are the frontrunners.
Almost half of all Americans have ever played a video game, according to Pew survey data. Likewise, 68% of US adults are Facebook users. Newer forms of social media, such as Instagram and Snapchat, have taken off with younger Americans.
An increasingly online population isn’t only a domestic trend, either. Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly active users and 1.45 billion daily active users around the world, as of March 31. By comparison, China, the most populous country in the world, has a citizenry of about 1.4 billion.
Technology overuse has emerged as a modern disease and is beginning to be classified as such: Recently, the World Health Organization classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition.
Beyond that, experts say technology overuse has the potential to stunt growth and development of social skills, mask mental illness and isolate us in an increasingly connected world.
Coping with technology
Mike Bishop sees a pattern in kids age 10 to 18 who attend his summer camp, Summerland, the first summer camp for kids with technology overuse habits. At first, the kids are anxious without their phones, computers and other devices, and that gives way to grumpiness, which in turn gives way to resentment. Bishop, the director of Summerland, calls these “withdrawal effects” and said they tend to peak after roughly a week without technology.
Technology overuse manifests in two separate but overlapping ways at Summerland, which has locations in California and North Carolina. Typically, the girls who attend the camp will overuse or misuse social media, while the boys will overuse video games.
These technology habits come at an important point in teens’ social development, when they should be interacting face-to-face instead of behind screens, Bishop said.
“What we tend to see at our program is kids that have essentially stopped growing socially, so we’ll have campers in a 15-year-old body that act like 12-year-olds.”
After the initial period of withdrawal, though, Bishop and his staff often experience a breakthrough with the kids, and they discover conditions that may be fueling their technology habit, like social anxiety. Often, Bishop says, teens use technology as a coping mechanism without addressing their underlying struggles.
And it’s not just teens: Cam Adair, the founder of Game Quitters, the largest support community for people with video game addictions, said roughly half of the group’s tens of thousands of members meet the criteria for anxiety, depression or a mood disorder.