Cyber Addiction - The Other Apocalyptic Virus

Computers & TechnologyInternet

  • Author Priya Surana
  • Published June 20, 2021
  • Word count 2,030

Cyber Addiction - The Other Apocalyptic Virus

With all our attention focused on the COVID-19 outbreak, we are potentially overlooking the most threatening calamity of our generation - cyber addiction. The global pandemic is a trigger for this pre-existing crisis because virtual learning is only increasing the amount of time we spend glued to our screens. It is natural to expect increasing rates of screen time within adolescents and even children. We can’t control our screen time spent on online learning, although we can control the amount of screen time we spend on recreation such as social media, Netflix, instant messaging, and so on. If we don’t create and maintain balance in our use of screens for academics versus our use of screens for leisure and entertainment, we may be inflicting upon ourselves a deadly addiction to screens. Our electronics can become barriers that prevent us from productivity, and, inturn, success. Our ability to procrastinate will only grow with this addiction and our efficiency will weaken. Cyber addiction is often disregarded but we must give it equal importance as any other addiction because it is equally destructive, if not more.

So, what is cyber addiction? True to its namesake, cyber addiction simply means the addiction to information technology. It is characterized by a compulsive and excessive use of screens. Many people worldwide inevitably experience cyber addiction, though it is often undiagnosed. People think it's completely harmless to spend a couple hours scrolling through Instagram or binging on some cat videos on Youtube, but there’s a fine line between responsible use and addiction. In fact, screens have become so convenient that we are becoming increasingly dependent on our devices to a point where our life revolves around them. Virtually it is impossible to imagine a world without our phones and computers. People are overusing their devices to a point where they are obsessively checking their phone every five minutes. For many adolescents nowadays, even performing a simple task seems impossible to do without using electronic devices simultaneously. For example, going on social media while using the toilet or watching Netflix while doing homework are all examples of the many multitasking uses of electronic devices. Many people can’t even watch television without using their phone at the same time. People assume that they can use devices simultaneously while doing other work, but studies show that multitasking is not possible. Research suggests that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. In fact, some researchers suggest that multitasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40%.

I recently conducted a survey asking twenty three adolescents around the world how much time they think they spend on screens excluding school work (this can be any electronic device). 40% of the respondents reported that they spend more than six hours of screen time on entertainment. 26% reported that they spend more than four hours. While this is just a small representation of massive numbers expressing hours of time of students dedicated to electronics, the global numbers are much higher. A CNN study suggests that US teens spend over seven hours everyday on their screens on average, excluding schoolwork. Other studies suggest even higher numbers of time spent online in teenagers - such as nine hours or more.

So why are teenagers spending so much time on their screens? Teenagers use their screens for a variety of reasons, social media being a significant one. Many teenagers in my generation hold extremely active social media presences. This is because social media creates a naturalistic environment and allows them to connect with their friends immediately through instant messaging. Many teenagers spend hours chatting electronically but barely talk in person. They are more comfortable to converse through social media than face to face as physical communication is foreign to them. Online communicating has become more efficient than ever, and the global pandemic has forced us to make use of it. Teenagers also often overuse social media because of an undiscovered fear of missing out. It’s completely natural that teenagers have a strong desire to “fit in” and stay updated with all the current trends, and social media gives them a chance to feel connected to the rest of the world. The topics of pop culture are widely discussed between adolescents, and social media is a convenient way to allow adolescents to engage in conversations about the subject. Teenagers fear that without their active participation on social media, they will be disconnected to the rest of the world. There’s no harm in spending some time trying to be up to date with all the happenings of the world, but like mentioned above, balance is key.

Why are our screens so addictive? According to Business Insider, software applications such as Instagram and Facebook are intentionally conditioning users to treat phones like a drug. The behavioural design of these programmes are coded to captivate public attention by increasing posts that appear to be of interest to each individual. These apps are deliberately designed to be addictive because the more time spent on the app, the more profit it generates. Using these apps may hamper productivity, but developers of the apps grossly benefit from the user’s waste of time.

The respondents to my survey answered the following when asked why they spend so much time on their screens.

“It's addictive, there's always something to do, and it's hard to put your device down when you get on. Especially with the pandemic, there isn't much to do, so sometimes your device is almost tempting.”

“Well, I do procrastinate on school work sometimes, meanwhile I watch shows and youtube videos. For me, I lose track of the time while using my device for entertainment.”

“I'm usually on my screen to do my school work, but I also am on it to talk to my friends and communicate with them.”

“Since I can't really do anything other than look at screens and can't go outside much I think I've been spending 3 times the amount than when corona was not here.”

“I prefer my screen life to my real life.”

How are our screens harmful to us? As commonly said, an excessive amount of anything can become toxic. This cliché completely applies to screen time as well. There are many hazards and harmful effects that unrestrained amounts of time on screens can have on teengers. If children and teenagers are growing up reliant on screens, they will become adults with an even deeper addiction to electronics. Our generation, and the many to follow are becoming trapped into a cyber conducted cataclysm.

Here are some (out of the many) ways that cyber addiction has proven to have toxic and negative impacts on us.

Cyber addiction has been associated with depression and indicators of social isolation.

Social media. The unrealistic lifestyles exhibited on social media often entrap people into a false belief that life is perfect for everyone else except for them. People find themselves with lower self confidence and an abundance of self doubt.

People are losing their social skills as instant messaging replaces the concept of physical communication.

We’re losing intellect. Electronic devices have become so convenient that it is no longer required to expand people’s critical thinking abilities. For example, people are reliant on calculators, analytics, and other tools that make work easier, but it limits the use of our own thinking. The more problems we solve manually, the sharper we can hone our minds.

Distracting notifications interrupt thought processes and reduce quality of work.

People's long term memories are impacted by their dependence on technology because many daily habits that improve brain power have now been replaced by the functions of electronics. For example, instead of taking time to memorize phone numbers, we save contacts in a matter of seconds. According to Maria Wimber from the University of Birmingham, the trend of looking up information "prevents the build-up of long-term memories”.

Constant use of electronics shortens attention spans and makes it difficult to focus.

Now that the negative effects of cyber addiction have been constructed, let’s think about the process of rehabilitation.

Step 1. Recognize addiction

Some people are so engrossed in their electronic devices that it starts to prevent them from completing more important duties of their daily lives (such as school, work, relationships). If any action or desire holds that much power over individuals, it is definitely identified as an addiction. Recognizing addiction rather than denying it is the first step to resolving it. Here’s how to identify addiction. Ask yourself the following questions :

How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?

How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend online?

How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will go online again?

If you find yourself answering these questions with ‘frequently’, then you have a problem.

Step 2. Drop the belief that there is nothing else to do.

When the addiction is established, it is not to be ignored or accepted. Cyber addiction cannot be justified regardless by belief that there is a lack of other things to do. Being given a chance to be bored for once induces thought and awakens creativity. Cyber addiction suppresses imagination! There are a million things to do that don’t involve electronic devices. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Carve out a device free time period everyday. Here are some things to do aside from electronics :

Try cooking!

Play a sport

Read a book (I can’t emphasize this enough, reading is magical if you find a good fit)

Draw, paint, write!

Take a walk, explore nature

Workout!

Organize your workspace or your wardrobe

Meditate

Ride a bike

Listen to an educational podcast

Read the newspapers, instead of social media alerts.

Embroidery

The possibilities are endless.

Step 3. Start monitoring screen time

It’s important to be aware of the depths of addiction. Monitoring screen time allows us to understand the magnitude of the addiction. Trust me, the numbers are shocking. The hours of time that people spend on screens are much higher than what they assume. Each time the phone is picked up adds seconds to the enormous daily total. Screen time can be set up on system preferences. This will visually represent screen use. Many smartphones also have the option to set up time limits that prohibit apps use after a certain time. If screens withhold people from completing important work, creating to-do lists to distribute time is a balanced option. To-do lists and planners are very beneficial because they limit the chances of procrastination by reminding people of tasks that need to be done.

Step 4. Delete apps that you waste time on!

Spending hours scrolling through social media can be distracting individuals from daily tasks. Deleting engrossing applications such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat can be very liberating as it allows a detox from the sidetracking online world. Fear of missing out prevents people from doing so, but everyone should remember that they can download it again when the work is done. Deleting these applications allows people to actually notice and realize their constant urge to check notifications but they’ll also realize that life without these apps is much more meaningful.

Conclusion : Master the addiction

Remember, we control our electronics, not the other way around. With a balanced distribution of time on screen vs time off screen, cyber addiction can be overcome and people can learn to balance time on screens between academic use and entertainment use. People can choose to indulge spare time watching Netflix or communicating with friends, but it shouldn’t interfere with necessary aspects of daily life. People can choose to stay updated with the trends of pop culture, but it shouldn’t dictate their life. Everyone must remember that electronics are just devices for convenience and not our whole life! I hope this article helps acknowledge the severity of the underrated crisis of cyber addiction, and I hope that the readers are more motivated to improve their relationship with electronic devices.

Works Cited

CNN, Kristen Rogers. “US Teens Use Screens More than Seven Hours a Day on Average.” CNN, 29 Oct. 2019, www.edition.cnn.com/2019/10/29/health/common-sense-kids-media-use-report-wellness/index.html .

“FOMO: How the Fear of Missing out Drives Social Media ‘Addiction.’” BBC News, 1 Mar. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/technology-39129228 .

Hoeg, Natalie. “5 Types of Internet Addiction - Get Help Today - Addiction Center.” AddictionCenter, 2019, www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/internet-addiction /.

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