Why Are We So Addicted to Technology?

Have you ever stopped to think how many hours a day you are dependent on technology?

It’s pretty shocking when you stop to think about it. 

Recent research shows that on average adults spend an average of seven hours a day using some form of digital technology as part of their day.

Speaking for myself, I recently tracked my digital technology usage, and it accounted for over 13 hours a day! 

That is a terrifying amount of time to be engaged with anything, and it made me wonder why are we all so addicted to technology.

What causes us to be so tied to our electronic devices such as phones, televisions, computers, and gaming systems?

In this article, I want to break down some of the main reasons we feel compelled to constantly use technology, and how it is affecting our quality of life.

Technology is a Modern Blessing

Technology is a normal part of our lives today, but it’s a pretty recent evolution.

Less than 100 years ago, less than 60% of households used the radio regularly for news and entertainment, but there was little to no other technology in their homes.

The boom in technology – and particularly digital technology – only started about 40 years ago with the invention of the internet and the growth in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

The true growth of online media began with the boom in social media, and the growth of smartphones after the iPhone was introduced in 2017.

When you look at the speed at which technology has advanced, it’s truly remarkable how much better it has made many of our lives.

(Almost) Everything is a Type of Technology

In reality, most of the conveniences we use in modern life are a form of technology.

The word technology derives from the Greek word ‘tekhnologia’ which means ‘systematic treatment’. In other words, any device, system, or piece of equipment we use to solve a problem we have is a form of technology.

Based on this description, a fork, a toilet, or a piece of paper could be classified as technology. 

When most people think of technology, they immediately visualize a smartphone, computer, or something with a screen. This more modern type of technology that is tied to media seems to be the most addictive.

What is Technology Addiction?

Technology addiction, also known as ‘problematic internet use’ or digital dependence, refers to any excessive and uncontrollable use of technology that interferes with daily life.

It is a growing concern as technology becomes increasingly integrated into our lives. Digital addiction and technology dependency are recognizable everywhere you go today, as you see people’s faces buried in smartphones, with earphones in their ears. 

It’s crazy to think just how much human beings today live their lives completely guided by and immersed in technology. And even more amazing is how poorly we can cope when we are separated from it.

What Causes Technology Addiction?

There are many personal, psychological, and environmental factors that can cause us to become addicted to a technology or digital device.

One of the most interesting theories is from Michael Easter in his book Scarcity Brain, which explores the hidden ways humans get trapped by our obsession with avoiding scarcity.

The scarcity loop consists of three parts: The first is opportunity, the second is unpredictable rewards, and the third is quick repeatability.

If you look at technology such as smartphones, TV, and gaming, these three factors are perfectly in line with this scarcity brain pattern.

The Science Behind Technology Addiction 

There are several reasons why technology is so addictive. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Dopamine release: When we use technology, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and rewarded. This can lead to a cycle of addiction, as we crave the feeling of dopamine and use technology to get it.
  • Escape from reality: Technology can provide an easy way to escape from the stresses of everyday life. For example, we can use social media to connect with friends and family and can use video games to immerse ourselves in another world.
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): In today’s world, it’s easy to feel like we’re constantly missing out in some way. Social media can make it seem like everyone else is having more fun than us, and this can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and social isolation.
  • Social validation: We all crave social validation, and technology can provide a way to get it. For example, we can get likes and comments on our social media posts, or we can win games and competitions.
  • Convenience: Technology is incredibly convenient, and it’s easy to become reliant on it. For example, we can use our smartphones to order food, book appointments, and even manage our finances.

Common Triggers for Technology Addiction

None of us started out being addicted to technology. It’s a learned behavior pattern that most of us have slowly adapted into our lives.

Generally speaking, the compulsion to use technology is a result of triggers in our lives that make us think we need to use it.

Very often, our technology addictions are driven by our desire to mask other emotional problems or pain. 

Conditions such as boredom, loneliness, lack of purpose, or a desire for recognition can drive us to seek solutions through technology.

In addition to these triggers, there can be factors such as inherited genetics, changes to brain structure, unhealthy environmental factors, and hidden mental health conditions that can cause us to become addicted to technology.

Rather than beat ourselves up for compulsive use of technology, it’s more important to understand the reasons why we do it, and the common ways it happens.

The Six Most Common Types of Technology Addiction

Every person uses technology in unique ways, depending upon their lifestyle and also which needs it can fulfill for them.

For people who feel addicted to using technology, it usually appears with common patterns.

Here are the six most common types of technology addiction:

  1. Internet addiction: The most general form of technology addiction encompasses a wide range of online activities, such as email, social media, online gaming, pornography, and online gambling.
  2. Gaming addiction: this specific type of internet addiction often involves an excessive preoccupation with playing video games online. Many people who have gaming addictions may spend between one hour and four hours per day playing online games.
  3. Smartphone addiction: with the growth of mobile internet, many people have developed an excessive reliance on smartphones. People with phone addiction may constantly check their phones for messages, social media, emails, sports scores, gambling results, or other types of notifications.
  4. Social media addiction: excessive use of social media platforms has become a very common form of online addiction. People with social media addiction can spend several hours per day scrolling through their news feeds, posting updates, and interacting with other people.
  5. Online shopping addiction: the internet today is a shopper’s playground, with the ability to browse and buy almost anything online. People with online shopping addiction may spend hours browsing, comparing, reading reviews, and purchasing online, even when they cannot afford to do so.
  6. Cybersex addiction: the anonymity of the internet allows people to experience sexual gratification through online sexual activities, such as viewing pornography, engaging in webcam services, or subscription services.

None of these types of technology addiction is better or worse than the other, but they can very often lead people to experience some of the same problems in their real lives.

What Problems Can Technology Addiction Cause?

Constantly using technology would not be such a problem if it didn’t cause other issues for people.

Unfortunately, all this screen dependence does harm our lives, and our mental health. Here are the most common symptoms that technology addiction can cause:

  • Preoccupation with technology such as a smartphone, television, or gaming device
  • Inability to stop using technology for a reasonable amount of time
  • Irritability or feelings of stress and anxiety if you are separated from your devices
  • Withdrawal symptoms cravings for technology, or a fear of missing out (FOMO) 
  • Lying or hiding technology use, or using it more than you know is reasonable
  • Neglecting work, school, or personal relationships to use technology
  • Experiencing negative emotions such as irritation or stress when not using technology

It’s important to note that not everyone who uses technology is addicted to it. Using an electronic device in your life is an essential practice for most people to work and function today.

As internet use has increased as part of our working lives, many people are in front of computer screens for the majority of their work day.

However, if you find that you are spending more time than you’d like on technology, or if it is interfering with your work, school, or relationships, this may be a sign that addictive behaviors have crept in.

Can We Break Free of Technology Addiction?

If you relate to any of the common symptoms of technology addiction, you are not alone. Even in writing this article, I can relate to many of these problems I have had to consciously avoid.

The good news is, that along with the rise of this new behavioral addiction, there are many people, support groups, and resources that can help.

Technology Addiction Therapy

Sometimes talking to someone about your tech addiction can help you to work through it. Whether you choose to talk with a friend, family member, or a professional is a personal choice.

Many licensed therapists have begun to specialize in technology addiction treatment. You can visit services such as Better Help or Talk Space or find a therapist closer to you via Psychology Today.

Technology Addiction Support Groups

If you feel like you need support from a community of people who are struggling with technology addiction or technology dependency. There are several organizations that offer online and in-person support groups.

reSTART Internet Addiction Center
Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous
Media Addicts Anonymous

Books on Technology Addiction

Several excellent books have been written in the past decade that can help you better understand how technology addiction can take over your life.

The best books on overcoming technology dependence or internet addiction disorder are:

Irresistible by Adam Alter (2017)
Indistractible by Nir Iyal (2019)
Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke (2021)
Overcoming Internet Addiction by David Greenfield (2021)
Your Brain on Dopamine by Matthew Reed (2023)

TED Talks on Technology Addiction

If you want to learn from real people’s experiences with technology and internet addiction, there is no better way than TED and TEDx talks.

What You Need to Know About Internet Addiction by Dr. Kimberly Young (2015)
Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy by Adam Alter (2017)
The Smartphone Hostage by Robin Grebing (2017)

Awareness is The First Step

If you are feeling like you have some screen addiction issues that are limiting you, or reducing your mental well-being, there is good news.

Being aware that your problematic internet use or technology dependence has negative consequences helps you start to make a change.

Simply starting to monitor your time on your digital device each day, or each week is a good way to curb this addictive behavior. In some respects, we are all technology addicts in the modern era. For this reason, we must be conscious and pay attention to how much it dictates our lives.

But the fact we are still navigating this new arena means there is cause for hope. As the compulsion to technology use becomes more talked about, more people will be willing to find ways to help each other.

In time, hopefully, we will all see that technology is to be used for our own devices, rather than our devices using us.

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