Why is the idea of technology addiction nothing but a vastly exaggerated problem?

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The idea that “technology” may cause addiction and brain damage is likely nothing but a vastly exaggerated misconception. Although it’s not exactly a “myth” since the WHO has recognized it as a disease, many other organizations, such as the American Psychological Association and UNICEF have criticized this choice, arguing that “the decision was poorly informed by science.” Even some of the papers that allegedly found a correlation between technology use and suicide rates were later debunked by other studies based on larger samples of patients.

In a nutshell, some people overdo a wide range of activities, from shopping, to gaming, eating, having sex, and even using computers and smartphones. They do this because the pleasure centers of the brain release a substance known as dopamine every time we perform a fun activity. However, although modern medicine has recognized some conditions such as binge eating, compulsive gambling and shopping addiction, no one is going to demonize food or the necessity to buy stuff for this reason. Psychologist Christopher J. Ferguson put it into perspective: “People don’t think that depressed people who sleep all day have a ‘bed addiction.’”

The main problem comes from the fact that uninformed media chasing the “scoop,” kept confusing correlation with causation by putting way too much attention on self-reported, correlational data. However, correlational data is only the first step in a much more complex process to determine causes – it is a hint that tells researchers that two phenomena are correlated (e.g. linked to each other), not that one is the cause of the other.

For example, if there’s a correlation between the time spent watching a smartphone and depression, we cannot say whether overuse of social media causes depression (causality), or if people who are already depressed tend to ease their mental state by looking at their cellphones’ screens. And even the purported “negative effects” of technologies on the healthy mental development of newer generations have often been vastly exaggerated. Did you know, for example, that the whole “goldfish study” was overly elaborated??

There may well be a problem, but the problem isn't necessarily technology. People with "technology addiction" likely have a propensity to develop addiction or just have inadequate healthy coping skills. While it is true that the World Health Organization (WHO) classified “Internet gaming disorder” as a mental health in 2018, it is also true that people got addicted to every form of pleasure way before modern communication technologies existed.

Technology itself is not more dangerous, nor more likely to be overused than any other enjoyable activity. To put things in perspective, food and video games increase baseline production of dopamine by 150% and 175%, respectively. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamine, however, increase it by 450% and 1,000% – definitely not on the same level.

On the other hand, technology itself can be used to support some activities used to treat or help people suffering from addictive behaviors. Modern innovations such as remote working, telemedicine, telehealth psychology services or even streaming live church services all had a fundamental role in keeping our mental, physical and social health intact during the hardest moments of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Claudio Buttice
Data Analyst
Claudio Buttice
Data Analyst

Dr. Claudio Butticè, Pharm.D., is a former Pharmacy Director who worked for several large public hospitals in Southern Italy, as well as for the humanitarian NGO Emergency. He is now an accomplished book author who has written on topics such as medicine, technology, world poverty, human rights, and science for publishers such as SAGE Publishing, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Mission Bell Media. His latest books are "Universal Health Care" (2019) and "What You Need to Know about Headaches" (2022).A data analyst and freelance journalist as well, many of his articles have been published in magazines such as Cracked, The Elephant, Digital…