BBC Radio London
Next Tuesday I’m going to be on the Late Show with Jumoke Fashola on BBC Radio London talking about ‘technology addiction’.
Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for Scarlett Magazine:
‘Addicted!’ My husband jokingly says as he walks back in the room to find me on my laptop after his minute-long bathroom break.
‘I was just checking my emails!’ I say. We both know I’m lying. I worry that he might be right. I can spend up to 12 hours a day on my computer – writing, researching, Photoshopping, designing a webpage, reading message boards, blogs and emails. I’ve learned many valuable skills and met many interesting people over the years. It’s adding to my life not destroying it. I’m nothing like an addict. Or am I?
Steve Stephens, the Director of National Addiction Services for Priory Healthcare in the UK, is concerned that the generic usage of the word “addiction” may undervalue it. Many of us describe ourselves as “addicted” – to cars, to chocolate, to watching Big Brother- therefore when we talk about computer addiction, we need to work out whether it is simply overuse, misuse or, indeed, a true addiction. In order to do that he suggests asking yourself some questions.
Do you have a sense of euphoria at the computer?
Do you have a preoccupation with your computer both in the amount of time you use it and in the amount of time you think about it?
Do you neglect your friends, family or work because of your computer usage?
Do get angry when you are interrupted?
Do you get agitated or frustrated when you are deprived of your computer?
Do you find yourself lying about or “minimising” the amount you use your computer ie ‘I was finishing up some paperwork’ when you were in a chatroom or ‘I was just on for an hour’ when you were on until 2am?
I’m getting uncomfortable right now.
Stephens wonders though if a lot of it is to do with generational differences.
‘I am in my 50s, ‘ he says, ‘My preferred mode of communication is face-to-face. I can put up with the phone, but I prefer to look people in the eye when I’m speaking to them.’
I, on the other hand, am 20 years younger than him and I prefer email or instant messaging. If I really need to see someone face-to-face I always have a webcam. I’m not being facetious.
Holly Cox, 29, a market researcher in Pennsylvania is an archetypal example of Generation OS X.
‘I rely on my computer to a fault,’ she says, ‘Sometimes, I feel like my brain has been replaced by an external hard drive. I’m not sure, however, that this qualifies as addiction. I would classify it more as cult member-like behavior, because deprogramming, as opposed to rehab, is a more likely cure.’
Holly isn’t the only one. I have friends who spend hours and hours late into the night on computer games, in chatrooms or on messageboards. I have friends who communicate with their spouses by instant messaging, when they are sitting across the room from one another, each on their own computer. I have one friend who regularly spent all night at work surfing rather than go home where he only had a dial-up connection. I have friends who can’t go outside without checking weather.com or finding directions on streetmap.co.uk. Most of my friends get a bit jumpy if they can’t pick up their email for a day or even a few hours. In my world these are all normal behaviours.
They mightn’t be as extreme as the man I interviewed a few years ago who, while suffering from various chemical dependencies, was compelled to endlessly defrag his computer – finding an almost ironic escape in watching the graphical representation of the computer putting itself back together again piece by piece as he was falling apart- but I will concede that my friends and I are slightly “geekier” than the average person. Surely, we are just living a different kind of lifestyle to non-geeks. Or have I just aligned myself with like-minded individuals in order to normalise and rationalise my own behaviour?
Stephens thinks that perhaps our culture is geared towards addictive behavior, caught in an unending quest for more and more. In Generation OS X’s case, more communication, more information. Still, if computer usage is interfering with your “real life” you might want to test yourself first before running off to find an addiction counsellor.
Agree with someone else the limits of your computer usage. It needs to be reasonable to both you and your family.
Recognise how you “minimise” your usage.
Recognise how you rationalise your usage – ‘I had some important emails so I had to stay on an extra hour’ when they were just from friends.
Realise that if you keep pushing the barriers upwards that you may, indeed, need some help.
Now, I’ve got some emails that I really must answer. So, I’ll set a limit on my usage tomorrow…