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Closer to diagnosing digital media addiction clinically

Photo of various smartphones by Phil Roeder.

Digital media addiction

We recently wrote about research that shows media such as smartphones, social media and the like as addictive, rewarding the brain similarly to gambling.

As more studies roll in revealing the long term impact of our constant connectedness to our smartphones, it is becoming more clear that it is a legitimate addiction and the medical world is likely near calling it a clinical diagnosis (although online gambling has just recently been named a clinical addiction despite years of its existence).

Results of a recent global study

A recent study of 1,000 college students in ten countries across five continents who were asked to abstain from all media for a full day reveals nearly universal results in how they are addicted to media, one respondent calling his behavior while abstaining like that of a “crackhead.”

The study points to this group of students being of the age of laptops but because they were born in the late 80s and early 90s, on average they were privvy to in-home technologies (smartphones and laptops included) for only the second half of their lives as opposed to the next generation of college students who were born into the technologies. The question becomes if the results below hold true universally, how will these same results look in just five years?

Results summary

According to the study, below are the fifteen key findings:

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  1. Students’ ‘addiction’ to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings sure seem real – as do the anxiety and the depression.
  2. A clear majority in every country admitted outright failure of their efforts to go unplugged.
  3. Students reported that media – especially their mobile phones – have literally become an extension of themselves. Going without media, therefore, made it seem like they had lost part of themselves.
  4. Students around the world reported that being tethered to digital technology 24/7 is not just a habit, it is essential to the way they construct and manage their friendships and social lives.
  5. Students construct different ‘brand’ identities for themselves by using different communication tools to reach different types of people.
  6. For many students, going without media for 24 hours ripped back the curtain on their hidden loneliness.
  7. Many students, from all continents, literally couldn’t imagine how to fill up their empty hours without media.
  8. Mobile phones function both as this generation’s Swiss Army knife AND its security blanket.
  9. What is ‘news’? To students, ‘news’ means ‘anything that just happened’ – worldwide events AND friends’ everyday thoughts.
  10. ‘We no longer search for news, the news finds us.’
  11. ’140 characters of news is all I need.’
  12. TV is all about escape.
  13. Across the world, students depend on music not only to make their commutes to school and work more tolerable, but to regulate their moods.
  14. Across the world, students depend on music not only to make their commutes to school and work more tolerable, but to regulate their moods.
  15. ‘Simplify, simplify.’ Across the globe, some students turned out to be Transcendentalists-in-the-making: they noted that they ‘were able to revert to simple pleasures’ when they gave up all media for 24 hours.

For the full findings, click here.

Tell us in comments- do you consider yourself addicted to media? How would you feel or behave if you had to spend 24 hours with no media?

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.


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