The most amusing sight for me is to see two young people on a date in a restaurant spending all their time on their respective screens without so much as a glance at each other. This kind of behaviour is common among digital natives. Undoubtedly, the mobile and internet revolution, which has exploded simultaneously all across the world, is the defining story of our times. In this ‘Age of Technology’, no task is more than a touch away, and no social, family or work-related network is ever out of reach. We’re reaching a point where being connected constantly is no longer a professional necessity, it is becoming an emotional need.
According to a 2012-15 survey by Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, Texas, an average person checks his phone 150 times in 16 hours of awake time-or once every six minutes. Another study conducted by Cisco in 2012 revealed that a staggering 96 per cent young Indians check social media first thing every morning, as opposed to an almost-as-high 90 per cent globally. No wonder then that technology companies, dealing in the latest hardware that helps save nanoseconds for any task, and software firms ranging from social media applications to e-commerce marketplaces, are the new corporate behemoths of this age. According to the 2015 list by Forbes magazine, the top three companies of the world in terms of brand valuation were all in the technology business.
While constant connectivity brings certain natural advantages, its side effects are slowly changing the way we are by impacting our personal and professional relationships, as well as our mental and physical well-being. Experts say that there is now a thin line between being a social media enthusiast and a digital addict. They contend that the link between mental health and 24×7 digital connectivity is a complicated one, and that it is sparking a new wave of illnesses that we’re all equally susceptible to.
Although internet addiction is not yet a clinical diagnosis in India, doctors and researchers at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, describe it as a cause for “serious concern”. Syndromes such as Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), in which people want to be the first to share or comment on a post, and Facebook Addiction Disorder, in which users keep checking their phones for ‘likes’, are more than just social disorders that are now being debated as hotly as Phantom Vibration Syndrome, where people think their phone is vibrating even when it isn’t, and the loosely coined Selfitis, which is the obsession with clicking selfies.
China was one of the countries to wake up early to the dangers of internet addiction. In January, the Shanghai Mental Health Center conducted a study which showed that being addicted to the Net can cause neurological changes similar to those who have alcohol and cocaine dependency.
There are numerous examples of people battling with various digital disorders, offering us an astonishing new perspective on the Internet Age. An engineer living in Lucknow, was so hooked on forging “cyber relationships” with women that he is unable to establish a real-life relationship any longer. Another, a 13-year-old boy from Mumbai, had to be hospitalised because he attacked his parents for taking “my phone-my life-away”(stories of both the cases were published in September 16, 2015 issue of India Today magazine).
We surround ourselves with the technology we love-smartphones, tablets, social media, shopping apps, instant messaging-but it may be time to ask ourselves, do we love it too much? While the growing influence of digital products is inevitable, acknowledging its dangers may be the first step in finding a healthy balance. We need to remember there is nothing that can replace a warm handshake, a tight hug, or eye contact that isn’t made through Skype.
By Aroon Purie
This article was originally published as an editorial in India Today magazine.