Imagine for a moment your own life without technology – no smartphone, no voice recognition software, no laptop, no satellite navigation system, no Siri responding to your every query, no podcasts to allow you to catch up on the latest news as you drive home, no asking the Google gods for an answer to a question as soon as it pops into your head, no social media to distract you from the tasks you are really supposed to be doing.
Over the past decade, our love of technology has exploded exponentially to the point where it is challenging to spend even a portion of your day out of sight (or reach) of some form of technology device.
A recent study by the University of Western Australia has suggested the existing guidelines for screen time use amongst children may need a redesign, given we know that despite Australian Health Department guidelines recommending children over two years spend fewer than two hours looking at screens daily, 45 per cent of eight-year-olds were already exceeding the limit, and the proportion climbed to 80 per cent for children aged between 15 and 16.
We know that excessive screen time is not desirable for children and young people and yet somehow the use of screens seems to be ever on the rise, rather than decreasing. Adolescents in particular spend large amounts of their day engaged with screen-based activities and often continue this when they come home at night.
There is an increasing body of research available on the phenomenon known as internet addiction disorder (IAD) and its potential impact upon young people. To date, however, the condition seems to be doing little to slow the use of technology amongst young people in their school and social lives. So what is internet addiction? Is it a recognised condition or simply a pop psychology term developed to boost clicks on web pages using the term?
In fact, internet addiction does seem to be rapidly making its way into the reputable information channels and is becoming the subject of serious academic research. Both China and South Korea consider it to be a significant public health threat and studies in the US and Europe have uncovered large numbers of people who have difficulty moderating their use of the internet.
The Better Health Channel provides this definition of the condition: “Internet addiction is an umbrella term that refers to the compulsive need to spend a great deal of time on the internet, to the point where relationships, work and health are allowed to suffer”.
The jury seems to be still out on exactly how internet addiction works and why it seems to affect some people and not others. There is also at present little that is known about the most effective way of treating it and whether traditional approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy are useful in helping people to use the internet in a non-problematic way. There is some research to date which seems to suggest that people with internet addiction may experience changes in their brain and how it operates.
People who have significant difficulties with their internet use behaviour tend to be preoccupied with the internet, spend increasing amounts of time online, may lie about their use and can become moody, irritable or depressed if they attempt to reduce their usage.