The recent buzz in blogs and magazines considers the big question: have we become addicted to tech—to our smart phones, Wikipedia instant answers, text messaging, tweets and email?
And if we have, how is that affecting our brains? Though this new life of continuous connection seems “normal” to us, is it healthy?
In four years smartphones, which keep us clinging to the net, now outnumber old cell models. Research shows that 1/3 of users get online before they even get out of bed! Where is the time to breathe, to pray, to consider what to do with one’s day?
Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, states that “the computer is like electronic cocaine.” It fuels cycles of manic behavior that are followed by depressive stretches. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will include for the first time the category Internet Addiction Disorder. States Elias Aboudium, psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, “I’ve seen plenty of patients who have no history of addictive behavior—or substance abuse of any kind—become addicted via the Internet and these other technologies.”
Gary Small, the head of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center, has documented brain changes as the result of moderate Internet use. He found that Web users displayed fundamental changes in their prefrontal cortexes. Over time the brain becomes addicted to the pleasurable experience that is triggered by the expectation of a new text, tweet or email. The brain becomes habituated to this quick fix that causes brain structures used for concentration, empathy, and impulse control to shrink. At the same time new neurons are growing, neurons that respond to speedy processing and instant gratification.
This research might be the reason that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are teaching their employees how to meditate and be mindful, as they warn them of the dangers of constant Internet use. Techy Soren Gordhamer states, “We’re done with the honeymoon phase, and now we’re in a phase that says ‘Wow, what have we done?’”
Some experts connect Internet addiction to the new way we work: companies expect employees to be available 24/7. The ups and down of the economy puts pressure on people for nonstop productivity which is often connected to the culture of the net.
But it’s certainly time to talk about what we can do RIGHT NOW to move away from our smartphones, our obsession with instant knowledge and the need to communicate immediately. To consider our health.
Leo Babauta of the blog Zen Habits http://zenhabits.net/ writes about constant Google searching: Not knowing isn’t bad. It’s just different. And really, I think there’s something minimalist about it. Let’s let go of the need to know, every second of the day, and let our minds wander around in the dark for a bit.
Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times that a basic cure for addiction to the net is nature. The illusion of control that technology pushes disappears in the great outdoors. We become “deflated, humbled, and awed all at once.” Tramping through a woods or a field and leaving cell phones behind restores health and fights nature deficit disorder. It’s a way of starting communication with not only nature but yourself. You matter and being in nature helps you escape the endless conversation of the net. You feel relief as the chatter fades away, your body relaxes, and the tension for that next text or email disappears.
In the very near future, we might head to the gym to work our bodies for an hour, but even more importantly we might need to head to the park, to the backyard, or pull the plug, shut down the smartphone to rest our brains.
What do you do to disconnect?
Thanks to Tony Dokoupil IS THE ONSLAUGHT MAKING US CRAZY? Newsweek