Paul Marks, New Scientist Magazine
For women and adolescent girls, social media and instant messaging platforms seem most addictive, one researcher found
When does our predilection for Internet technology cross over into harmful, addictive behavior? It's a question that's taxing lawmakers and health professionals.
For some, the idea that technology can be addictive is simply wrong-headed. That notion may soon be tested in the American courts. In August, 51-year-old
The argument that Internet addiction should be treated seriously was given more weight recently when a group of psychiatrists used MRI scanners to show changes in the brain activity of a group of South Korean gamers receiving treatment for addiction to online game StarCraft.
After a six-week course of the antidepressant bupropion, the addicts showed decreased brain activity when exposed to game cues, which tallied with a reduction in their craving to play (Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology).
It's not just online games that are proving hard to resist.
"There appears to be a group of young men in particular who are getting completely stuck within multiplayer online gaming environments such as World of Warcraft (WoW)," says Graham. "For women and adolescent girls, the social media and instant messaging platforms seem just as compulsive."
In a survey published in August, the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, highlighted our obsession with screen-based media. It reported that, through multitasking, the average Briton is managing to cram 8 hours, 48 minutes of daily screen-based media consumption into just 7 hours. And it's much higher for people aged 16 to 24 years: they manage to shoehorn 9.5 hours of media into just 6.5 hours a day.
"We are in the midst of a technology revolution and we don't really know what it is doing to us," Graham says. "I'm not saying technology is all bad -- it has some very positive aspects -- but there is an issue about its constant availability: technology is much more accessible than drugs."
Graham's clinic is one of a new breed designed to help those whose technology use is crippling their relationships, education or health. The plan is to enable them to strike a better balance. Set up earlier this year at the
Graham says one of the attractions of the virtual gaming world for adolescents is that it offers an easily acquired route to prestige among their peers. "Three solid days of playing WoW can elevate them far quicker than success in a two-year GCSE course. Some turn to this world when they have failed in an exam, a sport or musical test," he says.
Some, however, can barely stop playing, and get "depressed, aggressive, anxious and agitated" if they do. "But their mood improves a lot after only two or three days away from it," he says.
Ramlakhan observed the growing grip of the first home computers in the 1980s, and then cell phones in the 1990s, and sees their effect on the attention spans of her patients. She says sleep is the major victim of tech addiction in adults: "These people are often running on empty, on adrenaline and caffeine. They don't take breaks and they skip meals. Their energy levels drop, they lose sleep and they gain weight."
Such descriptions are eerily reminiscent of the writings of artificial intelligence pioneer
JUST 10 MORE MINUTES?
For almost as long as there's been information technology, there have been arguments over whether it is possible to become addicted to it.
One definition of behavioral addiction is a recurring compulsion to act in specific ways which may have detrimental impacts on the person's well-being. There are well catalogued examples of people's Internet activity fitting that pattern.
The idea of behavioral addiction is not universally accepted, however. Psychiatry's bible, the
The question of whether Internet addiction should be included as a diagnosed condition in the next edition, DSM-V, is a hot debate right now.
Some people, such as psychiatrist
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