Is Personal Technology a Drug?


As many of you know, I have discussed the adverse effects of technology on numerous occasions. Specifically, I am talking about such things as mobile phones, video games, tablets and personal computers, those devices we embrace in the daily affairs of our lives. I have argued there is no documented proof it improves productivity (at least not with the U.S. Department of Labor), and that it affects our socialization skills particularly in the area on interpersonal relations. Such technology may allow us to express our creativity faster, to quickly access information, to communicate with anyone on the planet and share such things as notes and photos, but there is nothing to substantiate it enhances our ability to think. If anything, it diminishes the use of the brain. For example, many people can no longer perform basic math without the assistance of an automated calculator; We cannot communicate except by constant text messaging; We no longer believe we can compose letters or essays without a word processor, etc. It should come as no small wonder to watch an average office come to a complete standstill when the power is cutoff. Studies have also shown that extensive use of such devices actually lowers IQ. As Hicks points out in his book, “The Digital Pandemic,” technology has the ability to alter our minds; that it can assume the same robotic mannerisms as the technology we use. This means we are subliminally adjusting our lifestyles to adapt to technology.

We tend to think of drugs as chemicals or substances that are either used for medication or as a stimulant or depressant affecting the central nervous system, thereby causing changes in behavior. Under this paradigm, drugs are absorbed into the bloodstream orally, injected or smoked. In contrast, personal technology is absorbed through our senses particularly sight, sound and touch which, in turn, stimulates and arouses the brain, and provides a convenient venue for escapism. If used in moderation, there is little problem, but when used on a prolonged basis it leads to addiction and can alter moods, perceptions, and thinking patterns which leads to both positive and negative side affects. One obvious positive side effect would be a sense of accomplishment as in winning a game or successfully completing a task. The negative effect though comes from extended use whereby people become dependent on their technology to perform a variety of mental functions, such as math and writing. Further, we become impatient for results; as we grow accustomed to instant information, instant cash, instant photos, instant food, instant everything, and as a result, we become less tolerant of any form of delay which increases stress levels and leads to anger.

I contend our extended use of technology leads to an increase in violent behavior. This is a proposition that is hard to prove as it is difficult to locate reliable data tying technology to violent behavior. Also, such things as road rage, sports rage, work rage, bullying, anger management, animal cruelty are relatively new phenomenons and weren’t very prevalent just a few short decades ago. Consequently, finding reliable data over an extended period of time is very limited. The closest thing I could find was data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (its “Arrest Data Analysis Tool”) which revealed an increase in assault, sexual abuse, and threatening communications over the last ten years (the period when the use of personal technology soared). However, there is no direct connection to technology being the cause. Because there is no hard data, my premise will remain a theory until sufficient data can be assembled tying the two together.

In terms of addiction, technology exhibits the same type of powers as chemical dependency or, at the very least, gambling which also does not require drugs in the usual sense. Actually, the parallel between technology and gambling addiction is quite remarkable, and can be just as devastating. One interesting report that attests to the power of technology addiction is “The World Unplugged,” a global media study led by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), University of Maryland. As part of their conclusions, the report comments on how students in the study handled the lack of media (meaning electronic devices):

“Going without media during ‘The World Unplugged’ study made students more cognizant of the presence of media – both media’s benefits and their limitations. And perhaps what students became most cognizant of was their absolute inability to direct their lives without media.

The depths of the ‘addiction’ that students reported prompted some to confess that they had learned that they needed to curb their media habits. Most students doubted they would have much success, but they acknowledged that their reliance on media was to some degree self-imposed AND actually inhibited their ability to manage their lives as fully as they hoped – to make proactive rather than reactive choices about work and play.”

Like anything, if used in moderation, technology holds no ill-effects. However, we have turned it into an 24/7 extension of our lives and can no longer imagine living without these devices. Because it offers instant gratification, it has become a new form of pacifier which we scream for when it is taken away from us.