Ever since the term “Internet addiction” cropped up in the mid-90s, researchers have been trying to pin the idea down. So far, they haven’t managed to convince the experts who put together the latest version of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," popularly known as “DSM-5.” Too many hours online often emerges alongside other problems — depression, attention deficit disorder, or social anxiety, making it hard to define as an illness alone.
If you’ve ever called yourself an “Internet addict,” consider that your conscience talking. Chances are, you’re surfing to avoid something or someone, writes psychologist John Grohol, PsyD, who sits on the board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior: “It is no different than turning on the TV so you won't have to talk to your spouse.”
Maybe you’re anxious about office politics — so you surf at the office. You’re low on cash — so you post Facebook updates instead of filling out a budget spreadsheet. Cell-phones offer ever-present temptation. People who seem to have enormous self-control often arrange their lives to remove temptations. You can do that, too.
One good rule: keep electronic devices out of your bedroom. Beds are for sleeping and lovemaking — period. You might also decide not to use cellphones during meals or before or after 9 o’clock, mornings and evenings. Give yourself an electronics “sabbath,” on Saturday or Sunday. Remove the Facebook app from your phone. Remember that your employer can see what websites you’re visiting on an office computer.
Complaints from loved ones are always a red flag. A new buzzword refers to the intrusions of technology into our love lives: “technoference.” In a small study of 143 women with spouses or live-in partners, three-quarters of them complained that computers, phones, or TV frequently interrupted their couple-time, including meals. The more technoference they reported, the less happy they were with their partners and with life.
Perhaps you prefer the term “phub,” combining phone with snub, coined by a committee at the behest of an advertising agency promoting a dictionary. You’re “phubbing” when you choose to use your phone rather than pay attention to your in-the-flesh companions.
You may feel isolated and crave a hit of socializing when you need to study or go to bed. Extroverted people who tend to stay up late are more likely to be overusing Facebook, one study found. Here’s a quick test:
(1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Very often
Scoring "often" or "very often" on at least four of the six items is dangerous territory.
People seem to be even more glued to their devices in Asia and the Middle East and generally in nations with dissatisfied citizens. Among Americans, a 2013 study based on eight years of surveys about how we spend our time concluded that for every hour of online leisure, we sacrifice 16 minutes of work and 7 minutes of sleep.
Is this a choice or a bad habit getting worse? You decide. Evidence continues to trickle in that some people are more vulnerable to destructive habits; for example, Internet abusers seem to be more likely to have a gene variation associated with cigarette addiction. (But don’t blame the phone: Social networks can also help people quit smoking, and much evidence shows that social contact boosts happiness and health.)
All things in moderation.
March 20, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN