My name is Professor
and in my humble opinion,
technology addiction is a myth.
Casual use of the term addiction
has a very real effect of
potentially trivialising how we talk
about addiction more broadly.
We might say a popular game,
app or streaming series is addictive,
but what do we really mean
when we use that word?
Are we seriously equating this kind
of behaviour with a problem with
drink or taking drugs.
What we really mean is
the activity is fun, it’s engaging,
it’s immersive and it’s enjoyable.
We know the amount of dopamine that’s
released when you do something
like have sex, eat food or
play video games.
It’s kind of in a pretty narrow band,
but taking drugs like cocaine,
ecstasy or amphetamines
has a much larger impact.
Something that not many people know
is that technology addiction itself,
started as a bit of a practical joke.
In the mid 1990s, the American
psychiatrist Dr Ivan Goldberg,
grew frustrated with how psychiatry
was medicalising everyday life.
He wanted to use the internet as an
example, he took symptoms from
gambling disorder and substance abuse
disorder and he pushed them together
to kind of illustrate how silly
the manualisation of
everyday life had become.
Here we are 20 years later,
talking about video game addiction,
internet addiction and smart phone
addiction, as if they’re their real,
own things along with checklists,
acronyms and media headlines.
Though headlines might seem very sure
about the addictive potential
of technology, the actual research
itself is a bit of a mess.
We’re not really sure if technology
might cause problems
in people’s lives, or if those who
already have problems in their lives,
gravitate towards using technology
in less healthy ways.
One of the most worrying things is,
because there isn’t a lot of good
evidence in hand, there are a lot of
people trying to sell the general
public on some big ideas.
At the very least, this means that
people are selling books,
they’re going on chat shows,
they’re kind of being influencers.
But at the worst it means that some
people are taking advantage.
They’re running for-profit clinics,
they’re using methods of treatment
that haven’t been either standardised
or validated or shown to help people.
In some cases, we have people
who are running clinics,
publishing research on technology
addiction and not disclosing
that they themselves are
profiting directly from
treating technology addiction.
What’s currently missing from the
debates and the worries about
is a historic perspective.
In the 1980s we were very worried
about Dungeons & Dragons,
playing role-playing games that
involved young people’s imaginations.
We were worried that they would
lose connection with the real world,
that they would engage in
Then in the late 80s and early 90s,
we became very worried about
rap music and violent video games,
we thought that maybe they
changed young people,
drove them to commit violent acts.
We didn’t stop worrying about rap
music, Dungeons & Dragons
or video games because
of new empirical evidence.
We stopped worrying about them
because our anxiety shifted
from those fields, from those topics,
to things like the internet
and online games.
So as scientists, as psychologists
we need to ask ourselves,
is there really something special
Or is this a new panic that
we have to grapple with.
Thanks for watching! 🙂
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