Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Technology: How much is too much?

By Nat Whiting

There may be a surprising amount of truth in the term "crackberries". The sudden rise of portable technology - like Blackberries, and the ever-increasing use of internet in our homes, schools and workplaces, has some experts claiming people are now becoming addicted to technology.

While support for the diagnosis continues to grow, debate persists within the medical profession, as to whether the term "addiction" is too strong. Dr Robert A. Zucker, director of the Addiction Research Centre at the University of Michigan in America, said the term addiction is used indiscriminately, and that the criteria of the psychological definition must be met before someone is labelled an addict.

When talking to Homepage recently, Federal vice-president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Steve Hambleton said he supported the diagnosis of technology addiction.

"Technology addiction certainly exists. That's when people are using technology in various forms, be it the internet or be it games or be it other things, and just find that it begins to take over their life."

Research is continuing to show that excessive technology users display similar behaviours to people with more common addictions, such as craving, withdrawing from others, neglecting responsibilities and compulsive usage. Dr Hambleton insists technology addiction is having detrimental impacts on people's lives.

"If you look at other addictions, in the more traditional sense, it's when people can't control their ability or they can't say no to the substance or the issue they're addicted to and it starts to interfere with their life - that's when it becomes a difficult problem... and certainly technology can take over."

Director of addictions services for the Menninger Clinic in Houstan, John O'Neill, said excessive technology use can cause people to neglect their families, and hamper their ability to communicate.

Despite on going debate over the validity of the disorder, treatment centers have already been established, targeting aspects of technology usage such as internet addiction and gaming addiction. Mr O'Neill recommends people at risk to observe their current technology use and then enforce limits on it, dedicating a certain number of hours that must go uninterrupted.

Dr Hambleton insists the first step to treatment is acknowledging excessive technology use as an addiction.

"A lot of the things that work for other forms of addiction do work. The first thing though, is getting the person involved to actually recognise they have got a problem."