Addiction is escapism.
It is an attempt to escape the unappealing realities of life; pain, boredom, loss, emotional turmoil, suffering.
The widely accepted definition describes addiction as excessive use of drugs or alcohol to escape, relax, or as a reward to enjoy life, with the belief that you can’t cope without them. Addiction has two basic qualities: you do more of the thing than you would like to, and you continue to do it despite its negative consequences.
In addition, at least three of the following criteria must be met to be diagnosed for addiction: tolerance, withdrawal, limited control, negative consequences, neglecting or postponing activities, significant time or energy spent, and the desire to cut down.
The digital world is no exception.
Most of us addicted to our devices or social networking sites can check at least three of the above seven criteria in regards to our relationship with technology.
Restlessness when smartphone is out of reach? Withdrawal. Scrolling through Instagram instead of working on that report due tomorrow? Neglecting or postponing activities. Spending hours on social media every day? Significant time or energy spent.
But, why are we so addicted to these tools? Why do we spend more time than we want to compulsively checking email? It’s not your boss: it’s because the alternative sucks.
The alternative is boredom, emotional discomfort, FOMO, loneliness. The attention economy exploits our boredom, FOMO, emotional discomfort and loneliness by providing an endless amount of entertainment and distractions that we use as coping mechanism.
When we demonize the internet, or our smartphones, or social media, we use them as scapegoat for the real issue: real life is complex, difficult and challenging, and we want to escape, at least some of the time, by any means necessary.
In this fantastic article, the author eloquently argues that the issue with digital addiction is the void that is left after we give up our constant streams of distractions and entertainment:
Eliminating the constant distractions of digital life only opens up another void. Stare into it long enough, and there’s no guarantee you’ll like whatever stares back.
So, what can we do about it?
Most addiction reduction approach urges individuals to practice self-control by completely avoiding the substance.
This approach is gaining momentum amongst digital well-being proponents too; delete social media, switch to a flip phone, and if you are brave, quit the internet all together. If you’re really brave, don’t check your email after 6pm.
This is a flawed approach because it ignores an important aspect of compulsive tech behaviour: What are we avoiding or escaping from? What it missing? Why do you check your email at 11:54pm? I know because I do too.
It is a bit delusional to claim that if only we got rid of our smartphones, deleted all social media accounts, and quit the internet that we would be freed from our addiction.
Without attending to the real issue(s), we will just replace one addiction with another; Quit social media, then spend all day on Reddit or YouTube, switch to a flip phone and rarely leave your PC or laptop, and so forth.
Instead, we should intentionally examine the place technology has in our lives. The best way to be intentional about technology is to ask yourself, what is known in the coaching world, powerful questions.
Why am I really checking my email right now? What am I really trying to achieve when I constantly refresh my Facebook feed? Is there anything that’s bothering me that I’m avoiding by scrolling through Instagram? How can I deal with my emotions without using social media or my phone as a pacifier? How can I spend my free time better?
This approach has led me to rethink my anti-digital approach and dedicate more focus on creating an offline life that I don’t need to escape from; at least most of the time. I deliberately create routines and structures to be conscious of my technology use and continuously try to improve my offline life.
By being intentional and deliberate, we become aware of the reasons for our digital addiction and we can figure out ways to find life-tech balance. In any case, we should be aware that blaming our digital tools is scapegoating for a bigger problem.
Until next time…
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