Twitter, Facebook and email are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 14, 2014 21:09 IST

Staying unplugged from the rest of the world is unimaginable, but the Jammu & Kashmir deluge has made the nightmare of being lost and going incommunicado a reality for many of us.

Also read: Jammu and Kashmir floods in 50 pics

The almost blanket week-long telecommunication and power outage in the flood-hit state has left the rest of the nation feeling equally powerless. People have gone crazy calling, messaging and mailing everyone they know in the state for news about people they know and people they don’t.

Things are no different in Jammu & Kashmir. The fact that there’s no network does not stop people from constantly trying to call, tweet, text or mail. And in areas where power is restored intermittently, the first thing people do is rush to recharge their cellphones, laptops and tablets, again knowing they couldn’t use them.

Full covergae: Flood fury hits Jammu & Kashmir

Staying unplugged leaves us powerless, and here’s why: Twitter, Facebook and email are more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. A study of 205 people aged 18 to 85 in the German City of Wurtzburg found that sleep and sex were the two things people most long for during the day, but it was the urge to keep connected was the hardest to resist. The study found that the urge to stay on top of social media, email and work was stronger than the need to smoke or have a glass of 12-year-old single malt. The highest rates of “self-control failures” were tied to social-media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google’s G+, LinkedIn and Groupon, reported researchers in Psychological Science (June 2012).

So compulsive is digital addiction that people prefer hurting themselves to sitting alone without their gadgets. People, especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they’d rather be in pain, reported the journal Science (July 2014). In the study, two-thirds men and a quarter of women were asked to sit alone for 15 minutes and let their mind wander. They chose to administer mild electrical shocks to themselves rather than sit doing nothing. One man gave himself mild shocks 190 times in 15 minutes.

Also read: Facebook addiction can leave you lonely, depressed

Adults are more distracted by digital devices than young children, reported a study in Pediatrics. To find out how common it is for parents to use mobile devices around their children, Dr Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental behavioural paediatrics at Boston Medical Center in the US, surreptitiously observed 55 parents out for a meal alone with one or more children under 10 years. Most parents were found texting, swiping, scrolling or reading on their smartphone or tablet while the child fidgeted across the table.

Of the 55 parents, 40 used a cellphone during the meal, 16 used it throughout the meal. Three of them even gave a device to a child to keep the youngster occupied.

Also read: Youth and social media: Addiction metre

So strong was the smartphone/tablet pull for adults that even attempts to engage with them fell flat. In one instance, a little boy started singing ‘Jingle bells, Batman smells’ only to have his smartphone-clutching dad hush him. The boy did, but started singing again, which made his dad to look up just long enough to snap at him before going back to his phone.

Most updates and responses can wait unless, of course, your job depends on it. Checking social media and mailbox updates in social situations or more than once each waking hour is a sign of trouble. And if you reach out for your smartphone each time you wake up at night or the first thing in the morning, you seriously need to unplug your brain and slow down.

Unless it comes with the job, immediate communication is not as essential as believed. In fact, the reverse is true. Constantly switching between mails, updates and texts distracts and muddles the mind, lowering concentration and productivity.

If you want to reach digital nirvana, you’ve to start by admitting whether you have a problem. You don’t have to go quite the Alcoholics Anonymous way and say out loud, “My name is ABCD and I’m a digital addict”, but admitting it to yourself is a start.

As in quitting smoking, delaying the moment you feel an urge to check updates. Tell yourself you’ll do it in a few minutes and then gradually increase the time till you do it only at leisure. Another way to check compulsion is to use “technology breaks” every hour to read updates and then putting the gadget away to focus on work or conversation at hand.

Achieving zen in digital multitasking is not easy, but your mind needs to unplug more than you realise.

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