Look around. A majority of people around you in almost any situation are probably attached to their phone. Today, technology is becoming more and more popular, and it continues to evolve. Apple keeps coming out with new features, such as facial recognition and emojis. Samsung comes out with new phones frequently. Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook all constantly update to new features or looks to intrigue viewers, and more than often the people are unaware of the consequences these new features and phones have.
When a person buys a smartphone, they are essentially buying constant internet access as well as access to an endless amount of information. Every month, nearly 100 hours is lost to checking emails and social media, playing games, texting, and shopping. Based on an experiment conducted using the Moment app to test cell phone usage, it is typical for an individual to spend at least three hours a day on their phone and pick it up a minimum of 40 times (Alter 39-41). Furthermore, daily internet use directly associates with social networking site addiction. In fact, two-thirds of people who use the internet also use social networking sites (Kircaburun and Griffiths 2). As popularity and usage of the internet continues to increase, so do the disorders associated with them, such as behavioral addiction, internet gaming disorder, and other psychological and physical issues.
Many people who are addicted to the internet may only be addicted to one part, such as gambling, social networking, or shopping, rather than the internet as a whole. However, the two most common of these behavioral addictions are social networking and video gaming. Many times, people confuse the terms social media with social networking, when in reality, there is a big difference between the two. There are a number of differences between social media and social networking sites. However, the main one is social media is a broad category including things like blogs and virtual worlds, whereas social networking sites are a subcategory of social media (Kircaburun and Griffiths 1).
Moreover, individuals often are not aware of the exact definitions of these addictions. According to Halley Pontes , video gaming addiction, or Internet Gaming Disorder , is defined as “a clinical condition that comprises a behavioral pattern encompassing persistent and recurrent use of video games, leading to significant impairment or distress,” and social networking site addiction is defined as excessive concern with social networking sites as well a constant drive to log in to them (2). This is similar to how people perceive behavioral addicts, but not perfect. More than often, people assume an addiction is caused by a lack of self-control. However, that is not always the case. This being the reason Pontes defines it as a clinical condition.
In addition, people generally do not know the signs or symptoms to identify a behavioral addiction, such as Internet Gaming Disorder and social networking site addiction. On page 32 of Adam Alter’s book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, he explains behavioral addictions include six components. Those being “compelling goals that are just beyond reach; irresistible and unpredictable positive feedback; a sense of incremental progress and improvement; tasks that become slowly more difficult over time; unresolved tensions that demand resolution; and strong social connections.” Because a majority of people are unaware of these six components, these addictions are often left unnoticed and untreated. Due to this lack of knowledge in identification, a majority of social media and internet use addictions go unreported. Also if an individual is diagnosed with a behavioral addiction it is likely they will hide it from their loved ones because they are ashamed of who they have become. As the years have gone on, the number of people with internet-based addictions have increased. Most recently, a study determined 40 percent of all people are affected by these addictions, and evidence suggests that number is only going to increase, due to constantly evolving of technology (Alter 54-60).
During the 1960’s the main sources for addiction were cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs whereas during the 2010’s the main sources were Facebook, Instagram, email, online shopping, and other online sources (Alter 23). While the sources from each decade seem very different, they are in fact, very similar. In comparison with substance addicts, some internet users are addicted to the internet in the same way substance abusers are addicted to their substance. This being they experience the same symptoms as well as feelings of withdrawal (Kircaburun and Griffiths 1). Furthermore, Adam Alter explains on page 32 of his book that substance addictions and behavioral addictions stimulate the same brain area and are built on the same needs. Because of this, factors, such as attachment, appear in both behavioral and substance addictions (Estevez 10).
Additionally, because the same area of the brain is stimulated, it is common to see these addictions occur in the same individuals. However, this is more likely to occur if the individual becomes addicted to a substance before the internet. This is because individuals addicted to substances often times seek sensation engaging activities such as the internet or online gaming. Thus, increasing their risk for internet use addiction (Estevez 8).
While there are a number of similarities between behavioral and substance addictions, there are differences as well. One of the major differences being how it is identified. Typically, with substance abusers one can look at them and know they have been addicted to a substance for a long time. Often times, it can be noted they have red-eyes, bags under their eyes, and dilated pupils. However, this is not the case with behavioral addicts. As stated in Adam Alter’s book on pages 22 and 23, it is very difficult to differentiate between a “normal” person and a person addicted to social media. Although there is no difference between “normal” and addicted people, there is a difference between them mentally. Addicted people constantly think about checking their phones, whereas “normal” people can perform tasks while completely disregarding their devices. More so, something hidden inside of us can make any of us a social media addict.
Because social networking site use is popular today, it is very difficult for adolescents to manage how long they are using sites. This and poor impulse control lead to excessive usage and addiction levels (Pontes 6). While growing up, individual’s are told it is good to be unique and different. More specifically that they need to “find themselves”. During adolescence, individuals are trying to find themselves and build their character. At the same time, they are being exposed to different social interactions (chat rooms, social networking sites, online games, etc.) on the Internet, which can complicate their personal development. Furthermore, this failure to construct their own character leads to an array of mental disorders (personality, addictive, depressive) that often persist into adulthood (Lemenager 13).
Previous research strongly reports that social networking site addiction is related to a number of interpersonal factors, including personality traits, how impulsive the individual is, narcissism, identity, and environment (Monacis 2). One of the main arguments is how gender and age widely affect an individual’s risk for developing and internet addiction. Some studies on SNS addiction suggest gender and age affect the risk of developing it. However, other studies say the exact opposite. In a study conducted and written by Halley Pontes, there was not a direct correlation between social networking site addiction and age and gender (6). On the other hand, a majority of studies suggest males are more likely to develop an addiction to online gambling and gaming. One explanation for this is because they feel the need to be in control This excessive need for control eventually leads to them becoming addicted to the game (Estevez 9). To further test theories, a survey following the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale was given 734 participants of varying age, gender, relationship status, and educational level. After examining these participants’ answers, it was concluded young adult females were more likely to become addicted to social networking sites. However, this survey did not incorporate all spectrums of people, so there could be some bias (Monacis 6).
Another risk factor for internet addictions is an individual’s attachment style – how people react with each other emotionally and physically. In a recent study, it was determined that anxiously attached people often use more social networking sites and visit them more often than low attachment people (Monacis 3). An additional factor that possibly causes behavioral addictions is friendships. For the people with a number of friends and feel like they belong, the risk of them developing this addiction decreases. However, if they do not have a lot of friends and feel left out in their everyday life, they will more likely resort to online communication means, suggesting they are more likely to become addicted (Wang 2).
Personality, self-esteem, and parental relationships are all also factors that increase the probability one will develop an internet addiction. According to Kagan Kircaburun and Mark Griffiths, self-esteem is a combination of self-liking and the one’s thoughts oneself and their strengths. Adding to self-esteem, Those that have low self esteem are at an increased risk of developing addiction. If linked with the desire of acceptance, there is an even greater risk for addiction (Wang 7). Additionally, social phobia can be added in with self-esteem. One of the main aspects of social phobia is being nervous or unable to communicate face-to-face with other people. Because of this, many people resort to playing video games and interacting with people online as their form of communication. Because of this, a number of online gamers can also be considered internet addicts (Pontes 2).
As for personality, it is not directly associated with internet addiction. However since genetics play a role in personality and personality affects risk of developing a technological addiction, genetics indirectly can increase or decrease an individual’s risk of developing an addiction to technology. In recent studies conducted and published by Kagan Kircaburun, he compared extroverted people to people who have introverted, agreeable traits, and neuroticism. His results showed the introverted, agreeable, and neurotic people tend to appreciate themselves less due to a lack of social skills and failure in a social environment because of this, these people are more likely to develop an addiction to technology. Moreover, Professor Wang’s study concluded those who strongly feel the need to belong are more likely to become addicted to the Internet and social networking sites than those who do not feel the need to belong (6). More so, personality flaws can be the reason people begin using the internet. For example, if a person is not confident in themselves, they will hide behind a computer screen because it makes them feel more confident and in control. Not only that, but virtual identities make gamers more confident in themselves. This is why they drift towards playing games online more than communicating with people in person (Estevez 9).
In regards to parental relationships, people with behavioral addictions, such as an addiction to technology or Internet Gaming Disorder, usually have a poor relationship with their family. More so, their parents often are not supportive.. On top of that, parental relationships play a key role in determining how well their children are able to regulate their emotions. If the child has a poor relationship with their parents then they are likely to develop risky behaviors, such as drinking, internet use, and drugs (Estevez 11).
A final determining factor in behavioral addiction is the sites themselves. There are certain aspects the sites use that increase the risk of addiction. Some of these being live streaming, endlessness, and design. On the subject of live streaming, recently, several social networking sites added the live stream feature. This feature allows people to show others what they are doing at that exact moment. As a result of needing approval, live streaming increases the urge to check others streams, post their own streams, constantly check notifications, and “stalk” other people. Thus, leading to unhealthy use of the internet (Kircaburun and Griffiths 2).
As for endlessness, many social media sites are just that. With Facebook, an individual can continuously scroll through feed. However, this is not the case with just Facebook. Greg Hochmuth, an engineer for Instagram said it best. He said while using Instagram there is always another hashtag, picture, or comment to click on, and it eventually takes over the individual’s life causing them to become addicted . Also, with design, creators of video games and social networking sites use their job to their advantage. By doing tests, the are able to determine which variables (font, color, size, etc.) makes an individual more engaged. By doing this they are drastically increasing the risk of their players developing an addiction (Alter 21-25).
Since there is an increase in the number of people with internet-based addiction, it is important to understand the effects they have. Recently a survey was conducted amongst a group of adolescents. Of these adolescents, 50 percent of them said they often use social media while doing their homework. Now, a number of people assume this causes distraction and lack of work ethic. However, a number of experiments have been done testing this and they do not show a unanimous result. Instead they show results that differ: some say multitasking with social media decreases their ability to do both tasks due to the distraction. And others say it increases their ability because they can get work on the device and the other task (Mills 5).
As technology continues to advance, people are essentially putting themselves into a social experiment. However, the outcomes are unknown. Moreover, internet-based addictions cause a wide variety of psychological issues, such as ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and increased stress. Yet, they still are not classified as mental disorders (Pontes 3). A recent study was conducted using 3 groups: a healthy group with 79 people, a problematic group with 35 people, and a addicted group with 93 people. During this study they tested for a number of disorders, such as ADHD and Depression Disorder. The results of this study showed 0% of the healthy and problematic people recently developed ADHD whereas 11.5% of the addicted people recently developed it. Furthermore, 0% of the healthy and problematic people and 9.7% of the addicted people recently developed Depression Disorder. Additionally, in the previous experiment, the subjects were tested for Cluster B Personality Disorders. Of the 93 addicted people, 7.5% of them tested positive for these personality disorders. Not far off from this was the problematic group. In their group, 8.6% tested positive for these disorders. Compared to the normal group percent of 0, these are high (Lemenager 3). Thus, increased internet use can cause ADHD and Depression Disorder. It also suggests there are stages to becoming an internet addict.
Furthermore, internet-based addictions can have physical effects as well. In a study done by Halley Pontes, the results suggest internet-based addictions have consequences like sleep deprivation and cognitive failure (2). Meaning these individuals will lose sleep thinking about their social networking site, and at the same time they will develop issues with memory and reasoning. However, another study conducted by Ana Estevez concluded internet addictions have consequences like dropping out of school or terminating friendships. The reason for this is these individuals want to spend more of their time on the devices talking to unknown people rather than communicating with their friends in person (2).
Additionally, internet addictions can cause mood changes in adolescents. One of the main concerns about adolescents being constantly connected to the internet is how they could feel like they are constantly being evaluated. When put to the test in an experiment, it determined that when adolescents were doing a task and being evaluated by their peers they were more alert and aware. However, their ability to the work and quality of the work was worse than the adolescents not being watched. Likewise, when being evaluated by their peers, adolescents showed more of a response to negative feedback and rejection than positive feedback (Mills 7).
Similarly, with the new technology certain communication aspects have been removed. An example of this is interpersonal cues. Today, interpersonal cues are less present in digital communication than face-to-face communication. Additionally, a decrease in interpersonal cues is linked to a lower level of bonding between the communicators . However, it is still possible to elicit feelings using digital communication. This is done by the use of emoticons as well as video chat (Mills 6).
Also, the access to an endless amount of information on the internet changes the way people behave. For example, when individuals expect to have future access to information using the internet, they are less likely to remember specific information. Or when an individual is able to look a question up online and find or check their answer, they are more confident in their answer (Mills 4). Ironically, large corporations, such as Google or Apple, make their search engines or devices to benefit themselves rather than their consumers. As mentioned previously, designers tend to create their products to produce the best interest, therefore increasing their income and the risk for addiction. Yet, as Adam Alter explains on page 17 of his book, the CEOs of these companies rarely let their children use the devices because they are aware of the negative effects they cause.
On page 22 of Adam Alter’s book, he discusses that while doing research into self-regulation his team noticed our knowledge on addiction is extremely narrow, and it would benefit everyone to broaden it. To combat this lack of knowledge, Kagan Kircaburun suggests scientists study all social networking sites, big and small, and their features. He said every social networking site has its own platform with unique features. Because of this they all have different motivations for using them. By determining these motivations, it is his hope to develop better tests for behavioral addictions Additionally, Professor Wang recommends future studies try to obtain data from a variety of participants, such as adults, parents, teachers, and peers, to examine connections between varied interpersonal relationships, as well as test clinical samples to better understand the factors of Internet addiction (7).
On the other hand Griffiths, a psychologist, wants to focus on making the existing tests better rather than gaining more knowledge. He suggests studies use a more reliable and valid scale to test for social networking site addiction and develop more knowledge (Monacis 2x). After reading through a variety of experiments, it can be noted none of them used the same system to determine a behavioral addiction. Therefore, creating a test that can be used unanimously throughout all experiments would be beneficial.
In addition, multiple scientists and psychologists have been trying to study the factors of behavioral addictions to attempt to reduce them. By studying these factors, they have produced various measures that can be taken to prevent people from developing behavioral addictions. One of these preventative measures was introduced in Professor Wang’s article (9). He suggested in order to prevent or reduce smartphone addiction, people must put prevention and intervention measures in place for people with increased desire of acceptance. Another measure was recommended in Dr. Halley Pontes’ article (7). While doing research and experiments into the factors that increase one’s risk for internet addiction, she noted a major factor was educational settings. During her experiments, she studied a number of people in educational settings as well as people not in educational settings. From these experiments, she concluded a majority of internet addicts are present in educational settings. Because of this, she believes performing experiments in educational settings would help create preventative techniques and decrease addiction rates among students. However, ultimately the only way to avoid or fix becoming an internet addict is to mitigate internet use, since there is no way to completely avoid the internet (Alter 34).