Internet addiction even worries Silicon Valley

Experts warn of the addictive power of technology

The latest trend on the internet is to step away from the internet, according to a growing band of American technology leaders and psychologists for whom the notion of the addictive power of digital gadgets is gaining sway.

Although the idea of a clinical disorder of internet addiction was first mooted in the 90s and is now regularly treated by doctors on both sides of the Atlantic, attention is shifting from compulsive surfing to the effects of the all-pervasive demands that our phones, laptops, tablets and computers are making on us.

In China, Taiwan and Korea, internet addiction is accepted as a genuine psychiatric problem with dedicated treatment centres for teenagers who are considered to have serious problems with their web use. Next year, America's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authority on mental illness, could include "internet use disorder" in its official listings.

In February, leaders of the largest social media companies will gather in San Francisco for the Wisdom 2.0 conference. The theme for the \conference, attended by some of Silicon Valley's biggest names, is finding balance in the digital age. Richard Fernandez, Google's development director, has called it "quite possibly the most important gathering of our times".

Fernandez plays a key role in Google's "mindfulness" movement. Aimed at teaching employees the risks of becoming overly engaged with their devices and to improve their concentration levels and ability to focus, he says teaching people to occasionally disconnect is vital. "Consumers need to have an internal compass where they're able to balance the capabilities that technology offers them for work with the qualities of the lives they live offline," he says.

Newsweek recently held up the case of Jason Russell, the film-maker behind the Kony 2012 video. Russell's film went viral, bringing him fame as 70 million people watched it. After spending days online with little sleep, Russell had a psychotic breakdown – all digitally documented via social media on his Twitter and YouTube accounts. His wife said he had been diagnosed as having "reactive psychosis", which doctors had linked to his extreme internet exposure.

It was an illustration, said Newsweek writer Tony Dokoupil, of the proof that was "starting to pile up" that the web was making us more depressed, anxious and prone to attention deficit disorders than ever before. "The first good peer-reviewed research is emerging and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of web utopians have allowed," said Dokoupil.

Psychologists are deeply worried about the effects digital relationships are having on real ones. Facebook is working on plans to curb anonymous "stalking" by allowing users to see who has visited any group of which they are a member – with the possibility in future of extending that to allow people to see who has looked at their page.

"Checking Facebook to see what the ex is doing becomes a drug," according to psychologist Seth Meyers, who said the checking could quickly decline into obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Stuart Crabb, a director at Facebook, said people needed to be aware of the effect that time online has on relationships and performance.

However, some doubt the notion of technology addiction, pointing instead to the rising demands of the workplace, where employees are working longer hours and then going home still tethered to devices pinging them emails and messages. "Are we addicted to gadgets or indentured to work?" asks Alexis Madrigal, a writer for the Atlantic. "Much of our compulsive connectedness… is a symptom of a greater problem, not the problem itself."

Contributor

Tracy McVeigh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Lessons the tech world learned in 2012

Raspberry Pis were an unexpected success, while publishing via tablets was an unexpected failure. John Naughton assesses what the year has taught us

John Naughton

30, Dec, 2012 @12:05 AM

Article image
Cloud control is key to the future of the internet
With the growth of smartphones and tablets, mobile technology is now at the heart of personal computing, writes John Naughton

John Naughton

21, Jul, 2012 @11:03 PM

Article image
Tech's terrible year: how the world turned on Silicon Valley in 2017
From the #DeleteUber campaign to fake news, the industry found itself in the crosshairs this year – and it was a long time coming, experts say

Olivia Solon in San Francisco

23, Dec, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Quora, the specialist Q&A web brand, leads new Silicon Valley revolution

After the first social networking wave, the digerati are now focused on how Q&A sites like Quora, Stack Overflow and Answerbag will drive the future

Jemima Kiss

27, Feb, 2011 @12:06 AM

Article image
Facebook and Twitter fuel iPhone and BlackBerry addiction, says Ofcom

Regulator says half of British teenagers and 25% of adults now have smartphones as sales outstrip regular mobiles. By Josh Halliday

Josh Halliday

03, Aug, 2011 @11:01 PM

If you have lofty ambitions for your legacy, head for the attic

If we don't print off our documents we could be consigning the records of our lives to the digital shredder, says John Naughton

John Naughton

09, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
'Our minds can be hijacked': the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia
The Google, Apple and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks who worry the race for human attention has created a world of perpetual distraction that could ultimately end in disaster

Paul Lewis in San Francisco

06, Oct, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘Pics or it didn’t happen’ – the mantra of the Instagram era
The long read: How sharing our every moment on social media became the new living

Jacob Silverman

26, Feb, 2015 @5:59 AM

Article image
Google's Larry Page takes a swipe at Facebook and Apple
Google chief says Facebook 'doing a really bad job with its products' and iPhone maker's product range is 'unsatisfying'. By Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur

18, Jan, 2013 @10:56 AM

Article image
Ruha Benjamin: ‘We definitely can’t wait for Silicon Valley to become more diverse’
The sociologist on how discrimination is embedded in technology – and how we go about building a fairer world

Sanjana Varghese

29, Jun, 2019 @2:00 PM