Tech Addiction: Examining How Technology Use Can Hinder Life
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As we reckon with our culture's dependence on devices, we often employ the language of addiction. It's easy to declare that we're "hooked" on our smartphones or complain about social media's "addictive" algorithms.
But are these terms merely figures of speech, or are we describing real psychological issues on a grand scale?
Experts offer conflicting assessments. Some claim that concerns about technology addiction are wildly overblown and fueled by unnecessary fearmongering. Others say we must be vigilant, watching for signs of problematic use.
In the experience of average Americans, is technology actually a compulsive and harmful force? We asked 1,230 people about their use of devices - and how their digital dependence affects other areas of their life.
Our findings reveal the dark side of our devotion to technology and the price we pay for our constant connectivity.
Keep reading and decide for yourself whether your own tech use could be a pressing problem.
According to recent studies, Americans check their phones dozens of times each day. Among our respondents, most could only leave their phones alone for brief periods.
On average, one hour and 16 minutes was the longest they went without checking their phones on a daily basis.
This smartphone attachment may have an emotional basis: a majority of respondents said they turned to the internet to boost their mood.
Among members of Generation Z (people born between 1998 and 2017) and millennials, the figure was even smaller: On average, each said 72 minutes was the longest they went without checking their phones. This finding resonates with existing research suggesting that Gen Zers find it particularly difficult to take a break from technology.
Wake Up to Technology
For all but 13% of respondents, technology use began when they opened their eyes each morning.
Twenty-five percent checked their email upon awakening, while 24% checked their texts or online messages.
According to experts, this immediate immersion creates mixed effects: while it can jolt us awake, it also starts our days on a stressful note.
In the diagnosis of substance use disorders, two key considerations are failed attempts to cut back and symptoms of withdrawal:
- Does the individual experience negative feelings when trying to curb their use?
- Have they tried and failed to reduce or end their use in the past?
Cutting Back on Tech Use
When we asked equivalent questions about technology, most respondents who had tried to reduce their tech use reported some form of psychological withdrawal.
These negative feelings were most common among Gen Zers trying to cut back on technology use, although they were also prevalent among Gen Xers and millennials.
Baby boomers were somewhat less likely to report negative feelings due to reducing their use, despite evidence that older Americans also rely heavily on digital devices.
Reduced Use Failure
Moreover, nearly a quarter of respondents said they failed in their attempts to use technology less often.
Once again, Gen Zers seemed to struggle the most in this regard, whereas baby boomers were far less likely to fall short.
Having lived most of their lives without smartphones in hand, perhaps baby boomers are better prepared to go without them.
Technology proponents suggest that devices help us form social connections, and some social platforms have given rise to real communities.
Tech Interferes With Relationships
Our findings suggest that technology interferes with relationships at least as often. Three in 5 respondents said technology use hindered them from deepening relationships with friends.
A similar percentage said devices impeded their connection to family members and their significant others.
Additionally, many people expressed an aversion to in-person interaction. A majority of respondents said they'd prefer using their technology at home to going out with friends.
Similarly, most respondents said they'd rather catch up with friends via text than meet up in person.
Tech Causing Loneliness
These patterns could be fueling a recent rise in loneliness among Americans who often long for face-to-face experiences. In our data, increased technology use was strongly correlated with feelings of social isolation.
When asked what they did instead of going out with others, respondents were most likely to report nonsocial activities, such as streaming a show or movie or playing a game on their phone or computer.
Slacking and Self-Care
Aside from social connections, which other life aspects do we neglect in favor of technology?
Forty-eight percent of respondents said they dropped the ball on some obligation because of the time spent using devices.
Once again, Gen Zers were the most likely to experience this tech-related struggle. To be fair, these statistics likely reflect their youth: this generation is still developing.
Additionally, respondents found that technology interfered not only with outside obligations but also with their personal goals.
In some cases, technology use interfered with basic health goals. While almost two-thirds of individuals aimed to work out more often, 61% of them said their technology use was an obstacle to exercise.
And while most people wished to get more sleep, the majority of this group said their technology kept them awake.
Balance and Boundaries
The results of this study are certainly unsettling, illustrating the difficulty of detaching from the technology we use each day.
Worse, the challenge seems most acute among Gen Z respondents whose young lives are inextricably entwined with digital tools.
In many cases, there appear to be serious ramifications, including social isolation and poor work performance.
Whether our dependence on technology qualifies as an addiction, the causes for concern are clear.
If we seek to change our relationships with technology, our approach must be both practical and collaborative. While we cannot withdraw from our devices completely, moderating use is a reasonable goal.
Tech Businesses Can Help
Companies that design websites and apps can be part of the solution, building products that serve users, rather than ensnaring them.
To even focus on these ethical questions, however, tech businesses must have the basics of their operation under control.
At WhoIsHostingThis.com, we've got you covered on all matters related to hosting your site. Our guidance lets companies focus on serving customers - responsively and responsibly.
Methodology and Limitations
To perform this study, we surveyed 1,230 people on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform. Because everyone taking the survey had to have experience using technology on some level, everyone was capable of taking it.
Those who failed an attention-check question located roughly halfway through the survey were disqualified, and their responses were excluded.
The generational breakdown of people sampled was as follows:
- Baby boomers: 143
- Generation X: 434
- Millennials: 448
- Generation Z: 205
When asking about respondents' technology use, we clarified that it was their "recreational technology use outside of work," and provided examples including spending time on social media, watching Netflix, and playing video games.
This study is contingent on the self-reported data from our respondents' survey answers. There are several limitations associated with self-reported data, including but not limited to telescoping, exaggeration, and selective memory.
Share This Work!
Did you find it surprising that more than half of our respondents would prefer to spend a night in with technology rather than out with friends? So did we!
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