Are people really that addicted to technology?

I’m considering a screen detox at my house. Why? Because one, I’m tired of people paying more attention to screens than to other people and other interests and two my household has a lot of red flags related to screen addiction and low physical activity. I’m just not feeling like my household is using screens in a responsible, healthy or moderate manner.

I know for a fact that people in my household don’t think excessive screen use is a big deal. I know tons of people outside of my house who also think screen addiction is a big old myth. Many might say I’m overreacting. In fact, I’ve not been entirely on board with screen bans in the past, partially because I felt like tech obsession is something only going on at my house. I didn’t get that there’s a much bigger picture involved. After some research, I’ve found that quite a lot of people are extremely addicted to screens and tech gadgets.

Below are some insane facts about tech use today…

Kids are spending 75% of their life in front of screens:

A huge study by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that kids ages 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  The report also notes that because kids spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

PLUS in this same study, 7th to 12th grade kids also reported spending an average of 1 and 1/2 hours a day sending or receiving texts. Texting WAS NOT counted as media use in this study. If it had been counted, kids would be on average, on screens about 9 hours a day. Assuming your child gets 8 hours of sleep, meals, showers and uses the bathroom once in a while, that means about 75% of their available lifetime is screen time.

The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week,” said Drew Altman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.  “When children are spending this much time doing anything, we need to understand how it’s affecting them – for good and bad.

People really are crazy addicted to technology

Above, it’s clear that kids are using too much tech. If you don’t attempt to instill some sort of tech moderation in your kids now, they may end up very addicted to technology and their gadgets. Consider the research related to adults below…

OCD email behavior: Research from the University of Glasgow shows that many people report checking their email once an hour all day long, and some individuals check up to 30 to 40 times an hour. An AOL study revealed that 59% of PDA users check every single time an email arrives and 83% check email every day on vacation.

Media is a drug: A HUGE study out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, shows that for many, the desire to check a social network like Twitter or Facebook is stronger than the need to smoke a cigarette or have an alcoholic beverage.

Media changes your brain: A study from 2003 showed that video games can change how your brain functions. Of course lots of stuff can change brain functions, but what was alarming about this study was how the researchers used an fMRI machine, loaded with a popular game called Tactical Ops. Participating in an fMRI study involves lying for extended periods of time in an extremely confined and loud space and even if you’re just mildly claustrophobic you usually end up finding the experience intolerable –  most people need a break after 20 minutes. However, most of the Tactical Ops players happily stayed in the fMRI machine for an hour, totally oblivious to the discomfort and noise because the game distracted them.

Death is better than not texting: Even though it’s extremely dangerous to text while driving and may kill you, most don’t care and do it anyhow. 60% of teens report texting while driving and so do plenty of adults. Keep in mind that some research shows that people who text as they drive are possibly more dangerous than drunk drivers, so it’s not just you, but others at risk.

Folks will give up food, sex and toothbrushes before their phone: A recent national survey commissioned by TeleNav, Inc. shows that people are willing to give up some surprising things if it means keeping their tech gadgets. This survey was insane and revealed all kinds of crazy facts about tech use in America, such as…

  • 40% of iPhone users say they’d give up their toothbrush for a week before their phone.
  • 83% of iPhone users say other iPhone users would make the best romantic partners.
  • Nearly half of all survey respondents said they sleep with their phone.
  • A full third of mobile phone users are willing to give up sex before their phone.
  • 54% of folks say they’d give up exercise for a week before giving up their mobile phone.
  • 55% of respondents will give up caffeine before their phone.
  • 63% of survey respondents will give up chocolate for their phone.
  • 70% of people will give up alcohol before their phone.
  • One in five people said they’d go shoeless rather than phoneless for a week.

Your phone choice may affect your manners and behaviors: According to that same TeleNav survey above, smartphone users are more inclined to have poor manners and poor human interactions than basic cell phone users…

  • 26% of smartphone users think it’s appropriate to use their phone at the dinner table.
  • iPhone users will give up their significant other before their phone.
  • Smartphone users say they judge people based on the type of phone they carry.
  • 31% of smartphone users admit they check messages or email at the movies.
  • Smartphone users would rather give up showers than their phone for a week.
  • 18% of smartphone users say they’ve ended a relationship via tech like voice mail, text message, email, Facebook update or Twitter post –  just 7% of basic phone users will do the same.

It’s not just phones – all media is addicting

A global study by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) in partnership with the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change revealed some surprising facts about tech and university students.

This study was hyper interesting because researchers asked 1,000 students in ten countries on five continents to abstain from using any and all media for a full day. After 24 hours of abstinence, the researchers looked at the students success rate (at giving up tech for a day) and the student responses to what it was like to do so. The results were insane…

Tech is a drug: Students around the world repeatedly used the term ‘addiction’ when telling the researchers about their media dependence. For example, one UK student said, “Media is my drug; without it I was lost. I am an addict. How could I survive 24 hours without it?” This response was typical to others. One USA student said, “I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone” while a student from Argentina noted, “Sometimes I felt ‘dead.See the full poster of student statements (pdf).

Most students couldn’t go ONE day without tech: Without media, a student from the University of St. Cyril and Methodius in Slovakia said, “I felt as though everything I knew was taken away from me and that I was being tortured.” This may be why this experiment was such a failure. The researcher report there was a “Clear failure” on the students part to follow through. Most couldn’t manage to stay away from tech, and we’re talking about just one day. According to the research, the failure rate was not linked to the affluence of the country, or students’ personal access to a range of devices and technologies but to overall student mindset. Students noted things like, “I didn’t use my cell phone all night. It was a difficult day… a horrible day”  and “After this, I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT MEDIA! I need my social webs, my cell phone, my Mac, my mp3 always!

Students say media is an extension of themselves: When students were forced to go without media for one day they noted they felt like they had lost part of themselves. Students reported feeling lost and confused. Some lost the ability to manage even simple tasks like telling time using an analog clock. Many failed to complete basic responsibilities. Worst of all students said they couldn’t figure out how to connect with others once their media was taken away. One student said, “I did not speak with anyone outside my family, a fact that shocked me.

Facebook is a must to live: Students across the globe said that without access to Facebook they felt cut off, isolated and disconnected from friends, families and life in general. Many students said that without Facebook running in the background of their computer or on their mobiles during a class they lost the ability to write well or understand what a professor was saying. One student noted, “Without social networking I had no idea what people were up to, no idea what was happening and generally didn’t know what to do with myself. I even often found myself thinking of status’s I could put if I was to go on.”

Media is the only thing protecting many from total isolation: Many students said that not having access to media showed them how lonely and isolated they were. In fact that was the first problem most students noted once they unplugged from media. For example, one student said, “All I wanted to do was pick up my phone and become a part of the human race again.” A student from China said, “When I couldn’t communicate with my friends by mobile phone I felt so lonely as if I was in a small cage on an island.” A student from Chile said, “I felt lonely without multimedia. I arrived at the conclusion that media is a great companion.

Without tech people are overly bored: Many students, from all continents, literally couldn’t imagine how to fill up the hours they used to fill with media. Students from every country said how desperately bored they were when they unplugged. The researchers say that it was “Particularly noteworthy” how short student attention spans became. Most students quickly became bored and lost interest in any alternative activities they did try. Many students said they lasted only a half an hour, fifteen minutes, or even less time before they ran out of ideas of what to do with themselves without media to entertain them.

Above are just key findings. This is a much longer and much more fascinating study if you read the entire report.

I would say that yeah, the research above shows that many people are pretty darn addicted to media and tech. I don’t think tech in moderation is bad. I do think that tech becomes an issue when people favor tech instead of human relationships. I think there’s a clear problem when humans can’t live properly or think for themselves for a single day without media. Tech alone isn’t bad, but how we’re using it in such an unbalanced way is deeply concerning.

What do you think? Have our media attachments gone too far?

Images via Flickr Users khrawlings; tinkerbrad; Cooperweb

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  1. says

    There has to be a way to find a healthy balance. I’m often ridiculed by friends (and even some family) for being old fashioned in my use of technology. I’m not on facebook or Twitter (though I do blog) and I have a basic pay as you go cell phone. I don’t text much if ever since I pay by the text. I hate that my extended family can all sit in a room together and almost every person in the room is on a laptop, cell phone or other electronic device. No one is conversing or if they are no one is really listening because they are distracted. (I don’t consider e-readers as obnoxious as other technology if they are only being used to read since that is no different then reading a book, though it is still a screen). I really hate it. Example: My dad is a wonderful grandfather but yesterday during my daughter’s birthday party in the middle of her opening presents, his phone rang and he took the call. My mom could have killed him. Yes, his job does mean that he receives work related calls at all times of the day and night, but it probably could have waited until later. But there is something about technology that seems to demand our attention over people. It really upsets me. I’ll be interested to see how you find a solution for your own household. Maybe some of it will work for my family as well.

  2. Jennifer Chait says

    I HATE the everyone is looking at a screen situation too. Even more so than video games and TV and such, I think that smartphones have seriously thrown me over the edge. I have an old cell, no internet, and barely ever text. IMO phones are for calling people. When I’m out with other people though or even sitting at home hanging out, someone is always looking at their phone instead of interacting with others. You can be sitting there talking and another person will just pull at their phone and stare at it. It’s SO annoying. That birthday situation you brought up is so typical in my world and it makes me crazy. Like the world will end if someone can’t look at their phone!

    Rant over. In good news, I brought up a screen detox + screen minimizing campaign with my partner and he says he’s on board. But, we’ve decided to gear everyone up first, by talking to them this weekend. i.e. so no screens for a week is not a huge shock to anyone’s system. Hopefully we’ll be detoxing in two weeks and cutting back a lot thereafter. I’ll be posting our official plans soon – the first step was getting the partner on board. He’s really into his smartphone and Facebook and video games, so he was the first person I had to talk into this.

  3. says

    Yeah, it’s crazy.

    But there are bright sides if you control how much you use your iPhone, watch TV, etc. I can sit in a comfy chair and read, and if I want to look up a word or research an idea, use my iPhone. Also, if I’m in a grocery store and need to look up a recipe, I can. If I’m shopping for a product and want to look up reviews, I can do it there in the store. We also get crazy storms around here, so it’s helpful to be able to look up weather no matter where I am. I held out getting an iPhone until last May, but I am glad I finally got one.

    However, I am seeing more and more people staring at their phones or some portable gaming device while they should be visiting with people, talking with people. I’m thinking about banning iPhones in my living room. My husband has a personal iPhone and a work iPhone. And the work iPhone is always buzzing and beeping, etc. He checks emails on it while sitting in the living room. Yeah, he has a demanding job, but I think he needs to disconnect more at home and the iPhone is preventing that.

    So Facebook — More and more I just hate it. Twitter is much more useful to me because I actually learn helpful things from the people I follow. I’m not saying I don’t care about some of the things people post on Facebook, but sometimes it just seems like a few people are a little too in love with themselves. I also don’t like it when people assume I’ve heard about some major event in their lives just because I follow them on Facebook. I spend maybe 15 minutes a week on Facebook, and I don’t read everyone’s updates. For Twitter, I guess it’s more like an hour. Other than this, I read blogs and websites for fun or to learn or for work, but not excessively.

    My problem is TV, I think. I have cable, including HBO, which is so addictive. I also recently signed up for the streaming part of Netflix. I only turn the TV on late at night, but it’s still a big distraction. My cat Oscar also has come to expect TV time. He gets bent out of shape if he can’t sit in my lap while I watch TV. I call him the lazy maker. :)

    I’ll be interested in seeing how your new screen detox goes. And I agree with you. When someone whips out their phone at a birthday party it’s rude and implies they’re bored with their present company.


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