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Digital Dependency

Digital Dependency

Technology is so woven into our lives that we cannot imagine life without it. The overall advancement of technology has changed not only the way we live our everyday lives, but also the way the world communicates. When we are so dependent on gadgets and devices to live, entertain, interact and work it is difficult for us to focus on the experiences that truly bring value into our lives.     


The amount of time we spend on the internet every day has enslaved us to the convenience and speed it offers to communicate and work. Therefore, we start our day by reaching for our smartphone as soon as we wake up to check emails and respond to messages. The rest of the day we are constantly on the phone, laptop, tablet either messaging, browsing, tweeting or sharing. Smitten by the technological bug, we are always online, plugged in, or connected.


But, are we really connected? Or are these gadgets disconnecting us from the real world?  Isn’t technology supposed to supplement our relationships rather than replace them? When these thoughts cross my mind, I start to wonder are we addicted to technology?


How real is this addiction?


One of my friends was traveling from Mumbai to Delhi. He reached home at midnight and as he was unpacking his bag, he couldn’t find his cell phone as well as the laptop charger. After frantically searching for it he realized that he had kept all the chargers in a separate packet and taken it out to charge his phone in the aircraft. Unfortunately, he forgot to keep the packet back in his bag while deboarding. Somehow, he managed to get it traced by the airline staff and was happy to drive at 1 am to the airport to get it back. On hearing this I was more concerned than startled to hear he drove back to the airport past midnight.


I was concerned for his well-being. For him, the need to be ‘online’ was far greater than the need to rest after a tiring journey. Somewhat similar to ‘Nomophobia’ defined as having a fear of not being with your phone. His desperate urge to charge the phone made me believe that this addiction is real. Technology addiction or phone addiction whatever we may call it, let’s accept the fact that we are as dependent on technology as we are on air, food, and water.     


In pursuit of instant gratification of our needs we have various apps to shop, travel, manage finances and even to find a date. While we happily click on these apps, we tend to forget that we are letting our dependency on them seep into every corner of our lives, and not just virtually.  As internet burrows deep into our lives we get hooked on web browsing, social networks, and online gaming or just scrolling our lives away. 


According to a report by Bankmycell, the average smartphone user checks their device 47 times a day/17,155 a year and 85% of smartphone users will check their device while speaking with friends and family. Much worse, the average user will tap, swipe and click their phone 2,617 times a day. This data is not just a number, it represents each one of us who are constantly on phone either due to work or by choice.  What about children?


Children and screen addiction


The recent news about a three-year-old boy from Bareilly, the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh should be an eyeopener to all parents. The toddler who didn’t stop wetting his bed was taken for counselling to the district hospital. His parents were exasperated to hear that the boy was addicted to mobile phone. Reportedly the child who spent nearly eight hours a day watching popular cartoons ‘Doremon’ and ‘Motu Patlu’ was not going to relieve himself because he didn’t want to leave the phone for even a few minutes. 


Therefore, when I see parents letting their kids get engrossed on to their tablets and earphones plugged on to their ears it worries me. Not because these electronic gadgets are expensive for a kid to handle but because this may lead to kid’s addiction to the internet at such an early age. Internet addiction among children is already a growing concern all over the world.


Some children cannot study without listening to music, others cannot eat without watching their favorite cartoon and there are many who are most of the time glued to their gaming consoles. With World Health Organization including ‘gaming disorder’ - the inability to stop gaming, into the International Classification of Diseases, it is imperative for parents to cut down the screen time for kids, anyhow.  


Cutting down screen time will not be easy because more the amount of time a child is habituated in being glued to the screen, greater is the resistance to follow the new restrictions. Mandy Saligari, addiction and relationship expert is right in saying ‘when you are giving your children a phone or a tablet, it’s like you’re giving them a bottle of wine or a gram of coke.’ Therefore, let’s not be happy when a toddler learns to swipe, click, scroll and search rather let’s be aware that this can be the first step to digital addiction. If we don’t limit their screen time these young minds will not know how much is too much.


 Time for digital well-being


Dependency on technology is not bad but too much of it may affect our well-being. Our constant interaction with the digital domain shapes the way we learn; the way we form relationships and the way we interact and nurture it. Only when it subtly destroys the meaningfulness of human interactions and replaces it with emoticons, we realize how disconnected we can become with what’s going on while connecting with the digital world. 


This disconnection is because we are overwhelmed by the deluge of information we get, distracted by every notification or perhaps always anxious about the appearance of our social media profiles. Every new text, email or alert injects a hit of dopamine into our brain making us feel important and, in a way, satisfies our need for social belongingness. The more we interact in our digital world and the more we get tempted to check our phones with every notification, the greater is our dependency on our digital devices which is as great, if not greater, than our dependency on bodily nutrition.


Therefore, it is time to digitally detox ourselves, from time to time. Internet, phones, connections and social media are important but creating a balance between our ‘online’ life and our ‘offline’ life is way more important for our well-being. And sometimes it is necessary to disconnect from the world to reconnect with your own self. 


Published in Republica on Oct 17, 2019

 Photo Courtesy: Yuwak