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Digital addict is used to refer to a person who compulsively uses digital technology, which would manifest as another form of addiction if that technology was not as easily accessible to them. Colloquially, it can be used to describe a person whose interaction with technology is verging on excessive, threatening to absorb their attention above all else and consequently having a negative impact on the well-being of the user.
The primary theory is digital technology users develop digital addiction by their habitual use and reward from computer applications. This reward triggers the reward center in the brain that releases more dopamine, opiates, and neurochemicals, which over time can produce a stimulation tolerance or need to increase stimulation to achieve a “high” and prevent withdrawal.
Used as a conversational phrase, digital addict describes an increasingly common dependence on devices in the digital age.
Founded in current research on the adverse consequences of overusing technology, digital addict is used as an overarching phrase to suggest an increasing trend of compulsive behaviour amongst users of technological devices, recognising that over-exposure to and over-use of technology can result in a dependence on digital devices, leading to behavioural symptoms similar to any addictive disorder, as the user neglects to maintain a healthy balance between using technology and socialising outside of it.
The negative side-effects of overusing technology have in recent decades attracted increasing attention as a legitimate psychological disorder. Unrestrained use of technological devices may impact upon developmental, social, mental and physical well-being and result in symptoms akin to other behavioural addiction. Several clinics worldwide now offer treatment for internet addiction disorder, and several studies have sought to establish a connection between the use of the internet and patterns of behaviour Whilst not yet listed as a legitimate mental health disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, in the 2013 edition (DSM-V) internet addiction disorder was recommended for further study within an appendix of the manual, demonstrating the addictive qualities of technology as warranting further medical and academic research.
It is clear that, whilst still debated, the potential for internet or digital devices to have addictive qualities is an emerging concern. In recent years particular attention has been paid to how the over-use of technology may be affecting the younger generation. With an influx of technology designed for day-to-day use, many children are becoming increasingly reliant upon digital devices for education, social networking and entertainment. With young people spending less time interacting with their peers face to face and more time indoors than previous generations, the direct impact of digital devices on both physical and mental well-being is becoming of concern. The potential developmental side-effects of internet use are also recognised by the American Academy of Paediatrics in children under two years of age. Furthermore, South Korea's concern for the attachment its younger generation has to technology is even greater, with their parliament considering passing a law to curb obsessive game use within the country by classifying online gaming as a potentially anti-social addiction.
Whether by academics, medics, journalists or users themselves, concerns are voiced worldwide about the potentially addictive qualities of technology, building a legitimate case for considering digital addict a valid social descriptor, aptly describing a collective trend in media habits. Although the extent to which digital addiction can be considered of medical interest continues to be discussed, the recognition of technology overuse as a developing cultural and social issue remains important.
The phrase has been used informally amongst some internet users and bloggers, one of the earliest uses being in 2009 in an article by Rupinder Gill on the popular blog SparkLife.
The term was then independently adopted and promoted by Stephen Dilworth MD Member Network UK for Foresters, the international financial services organisation. Foresters defined, developed and applied the term digital addict to substantiate use of the phrase within discussion on the potential danger in being over-exposed to technology. The term has been used in several published resources, first appearing in its commercial use between October – December 2013.
The phrase has been used significantly, and persuasively, as part of the Tech Timeout campaign an international initiative encouraging families to consider how reliant they are upon the devices within their home by taking an hour out of their day to spend away from technology and instead spend that time as a family. The Tech Timeout campaign was devised to negotiate the growing issue of technology addiction and addresses the importance of moderating our use of digital technologies so as not to become dependent upon them. Digital addict is used within this context to hint at the growing obsession with digital devices, and although an informal descriptor, it is used from a position of concern for the growing dependence upon technology in wider society and within the home.
Born of the recognition that the acceptance of technology in the modern world has hidden the extent to which populations are becoming reliant upon, and over-attached to, digital devices 'digital addict' offers a collective term to recognise the increasing amount of time dedicated to using internet or digital devices in contemporary society.
The digital divide has led to the development of many phrases seeking to define trends in behavioural use of technology and patterns of behaviour, ranging from digital native to digital detox to digital omnivore, all recognising the prevalence of technology in our lives. Digital addict fits within this discourse and begins to consider the psychological effects of internet use and the impact this has upon mental, social and even physical well-being.
Children using digital devices
Studies have shown that children’s technology use has greatly increased over the past two decades. As of 2015, children as young as one year of age are using technology, such as tablets, iPhones, and computers. Although these devices can be a good learning tool as it teaches children how to use these technologies, it can also harm them in various ways. Researchers have found that the use of these devices can cause or contribute to child obesity because children spend so much time on their devices. It is also common for these children suffer pain because they are looking at their screens for long period of time. Moreover, children in the future may experience having poorer muscle tone because of being hunched over while using the devices.
With increased time spent in front of the screen, children spend less time playing sports, exercising or participating in other activities, such as reading or engaging with other children. This is not only having a physical effect, but it also is affecting the children’s social development. Face-to-face interactions are highly crucial in a child’s development so that they can learn social and communication skills but increased technology time limits this and can impede learning. The time spent on screen can make young children suffer by affecting their learning abilities in a detrimental way. Children can learn and retain information better in person than from a screen between the ages of 12–18 months. A specific term called "video deficit" occurs when an infant learns better from a live presentation than from a video presentation. There has been multiple studies that showed children between the ages of 12–36 months who learn how to imitate and solve problems more adequately when they observe an in person demonstration versus when watching it from a video screen. Because of the technological age that children are growing up in, this is becoming an increasing problem due to its accessibility to children but taking away digital devices would also have a detrimental effect.
Although there are many significant sources claiming that the negatives outweigh the positives in children’s technology use, it should also be noted that effects of prosocial video game play have been correlated with a child’s ability to feel empathy making them more inclined to help others according to Greitmeyer & Osswald in a 2010 study. The use of technology by children can also contribute to the overall improvements of motor skills. By playing interactive games and knowing how to navigate through a screen using buttons, children are able to learn how to coordinate their brains with their fingers.
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