Is your pocket vibrating or are you just an iAddict?
Here’s a challenge. Try getting to the end of this article without fidgeting. That means no phone calls, checking text messages, scrolling through emails, updating Facebook, nothing. Keep your hands off your electronic device.
For an increasing number of us that’s a tough ask, we are bewitched by the our access to instant information and for many of us its becoming an unhealthy obsession.
According to this week’s Essential Report, that shiny new compact handheld computer the boss provides has roped us into 24/7 employment; 31 per cent of us regularly check our work emails out of hours, 30 per cent of us on weekends and 21 per cent of us on on holidays.
Fourteen per cent of us of us admit to checking our devices while driving either often or sometimes - akin to placing more than one million drunk-drivers behind our nation’s steering wheels.
We seem incapable of ignoring our little buddies during meals, while having conversations with friends, like that Japanese electric pet fad where the thing would die if you stopped ‘feeding’ it, we are becoming more committed to our virtual relationships than our real-life ones.
If you are under 24 the compulsion is stronger, 25 per cent admitting checking their smartphones during meals often, with nearly half admitting they usually check them before getting out of bed.
One quarter of us confess to checking text messages at least once an hour – 59 per cent of those aged 18-24 and one third of those in the 25-34 age bracket. And if we go offline we start to panic – 18 per cent of 18-24 year olds say they get anxious if they can’t check their text messages every 15 minutes.
These findings mirror research conducted in the United States where 51 per cent of those aged under 35 say they become anxious if they can’t access text messages as often as they would like - with more than a quarter getting the same pangs when away from Facebook.
These behaviours have promoted a team of psychologists at the University of California to question whether this technology is actually doing us serious damage.
In his book iDisorder, Dr Larry Rosen makes the case that the way we are using mobile technology looks a lot like some of the conditions you would find in textbooks on psychological disorders and mental illness.
For many of us our use of the internet bears the hallmarks of a mild addiction - pleasurable enough, sometimes a bit hard to control. But for others, it’s more serious.
The anxiety that is being reported when users are offline provides a conducive environment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to thrive. Where in the past sufferers of OCD had to create objects of their obsession for themselves, now we have it neatly packaged and mass-produced.
As the information floods in it becomes a challenge to actually focus on anything in particular. With increasing regularity emails are responded to within minutes, providing a constant interruption to clear thought, all the hallmarks of ADHD.
The rise of the social network means we can place ourselves on public display, updating our profiles on Facebook as if we are our own soap opera has fed the narcissistic tendencies of many of us, encouraging us to tweet as though the world is listening.
Our handheld devices are affecting us in weird physical ways too - there is now a condition known as ‘vibrating phone syndrome’ where sufferers experience the false sensation of a message lobbing while the phone is on silent (I think I’ve experienced that one).
But these are just the mild impacts chronicled by Rosen and his team. The serious stuff is the way internet use can actually bring on more serious mood disorders like depression and manic attacks.
For many sufferers of these disorders, the online world becomes home, creating a vicious cycle of isolation, lack of exercise and natural sunlight, constant interruption, interactions with others who may or may not exist, switched focus – a gumbo that can actually trigger serious episodes.
Rosen is not blaming technology on these effects, indeed he admits to embracing his handheld himself, but he does pose some serious questions about what whether we are allowing our new toys to send ourselves mad.
And if we are what can we do? Like any addiction the first step is admitting we have the problem - that its not OK to interrupt the family meal or risk lives on the roads because someone has texted us.
From there a bit of tech-free time every day would help, as would a national consensus that emails are a convenient but not-urgent mode of communication.
Who knows? Before long we may even be asking friends out for dinner rather than just clicking the like button when they cook something and post the photo online.
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