Internet Addition - Drawing A Line And Choosing A Side

by Dr. Nilam Behere-Kolekar

As we navigate through these tough times with the COVID pandemic, the digital world has taken intense shapes. Internet addiction has already gripped the 21st century generation, and we are more dependent on it in this pandemic. A recent study from India, during COVID lockdown, reported that problematic internet use, of variable severity, was reported in as high as 80% of the study population. 

It is interesting to know that the first description of a patient of Internet addiction was published by an American Psychologist K. S. Young, way back in 1996. Since then, research on internet addiction and digital use has grown rapidly. Internet addiction may be generalized to any kind of web browsing or could be specific like online video gaming, online shopping, online social networks, and online pornography. Excessive gaming is now officially a 'disorder' in the International Classification of Diseases(ICD)- 11. Smartphone addiction, along with the above list of internet addictions, forms a large subset of digital or gadget addiction and let us call it 'digital overuse' hereafter. 

However, we may all agree to a point that digital use is also helpful, beneficial, and connecting people in this era of social distancing (or physical-distancing). Many of us are working from home, so digital platforms are sustaining us financially as well as being a companion in our lonely moods. 

In these black and white opinions about digital use, it may be prudent to identify the grey zones, where our 'good' digital use turns into a bad one. Between useful and harmful, we need to draw a line and choose a side!

How do we understand our side? Here are some tips.

Who are the victims?

It’s funny that there are a lot of applications or operating system settings that measure screen time but most of them come in conjunction with 'parental control'. As if digital addiction is a problem only with children! Let us have an adult realization here. All, we adults, are using digital devices excessively. Digital overuse is not a paediatric diagnosis! 

How much use?

The next question follows. How many hours am I exposed to a digital device? Well, a vast majority of us have never timed it. It’s time to time it now. Keep a log of your screen time.

How much use is excess?

"Tell me a number of hours and let me find my digital use to be safe!" But to your realization, excess use is not ‘n’ number of hours. It is a degree to which you feel compelled to use your device or the web, feel restless on taking off the device, the degree to which you engage in the digital world, and neglect the real world, people, and pursuits. Excess digital use is a qualitative concept, not a quantitative one.

So what? Does it harm me?

Yes, in several ways. Although the psychological impact of digital overuse will be talked about subsequently, here is a list of physical harm caused: eye problems, with disturbed vision and watering and burning of eyes, sleep disturbances like insomnia, non-refreshing sleep, frequent awakenings, sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and hormonal imbalances, compromised higher brain functions like poor concentration and memory, backache and spine problems. The list is exhaustive.

But what if I want to use the internet or my smartphone?

Certainly a valid argument. You may surely want to browse a social media site as it gives you pleasure, a sense of gratification, and many other feelings that you seemingly 'want'. A website or a smart device is, in fact, 'designed' to provoke this 'want' in you. But certain characteristics in you make you have these 'wants'. 

What are they? We shall see this subsequently.