Tips for Modern Life

Digital World – Are We Internet Addicts?

Are we addicted to the internet? to online gaming? to the idea that multi-tasking is somehow a way of being more productive? The fact is that we are connected ALL the time and this is creating some social problems as many people young and old are abusing the internet by monitoring social networks all day, playing games online for countless hours causing them to get distracted from other tasks such as school, work, family, etc… Are we just too connected? let’s take South Korea for example which is one of the most connected nations in the world, just see the infographic below:


Kids in South Korea are the most connected people in the world, unfortunately this has caused some social problems and even some death in some extreme cases of online gaming addiction. In July, 2012, a 21-year-old online-gaming addict was found dead in his home in Inchon, South Korea. He’d played intensely since graduating from high school, rarely sleeping or leaving his room, according to family members. Two months prior to his death, he’d begun complaining of difficulty breathing but had refused to seek medical attention. The Inchon death is not the only sensational gaming case in South Korea, there have been many other cases in the past 10 years that involved a young person loosing their life due to playing online games non-stop without eating or drinking anything.

In the US, researchers say the lure of smart phones, social media, YouTube, etc, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,

said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger:

The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.

What’s interesting is that even as parents and school officials express their worries about this, most parents and everyone for that matter is in favor of intensifying efforts to make sure students use more technology in classrooms and at home. In the US, schools are adding more digital resources to help take back the student’s attention from technology using technology that they can control. It is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games and on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter… during classes.

Many people are used now to the instant gratification that smart phones and tablets offer where any song, any video, answer or blog are just a click away. This always-connected generation has the risk of making poor life decisions based on status updates in Facebook or Twitter, a search in Google or Bing or even a text message response from a friend or family member.

Many people today are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who count on the Internet as their external brain

said the “experts” surveyed by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Internet Project.

People have become accustomed to this idea of instant gratification, where you just type something on your phone and the next thing you know, you have what you need.

– TaskRabbit spokesperson Johnny Brackett, talking to the New York Times about retailers’ attempts to offer same-day shipping.

Being a hyper-connected society has also brought many good things such as the ability to be more connected with friends, family and even co-workers that live far from us, it has also helped many communities around the world to tell the world about unjust government actions, etc… But the problem is that many people are becoming addicted to the internet, to their smart phones, not being able to go for more than a few minutes without having to look at their phone looking for the latest Facebook or Twitter status update, a Google search, a text message or a new email. Many of us have drank the kool-aid about the idea that multi-tasking is good and let me tell you this, it is not. We are less productive when we try to do more than one thing at a time such as writing an article while at the same time checking on social network updates, etc…

Image Source: Modern Intelligentsia
Image Source: Modern Intelligentsia

We are also loosing our brain’s memory capacity, the Internet has dumbed down society as for most people the Internet has become an external storage unit that “feels” as it enhances and increases our brain’s memory capacity. It is the opposite; led by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow, the researchers conducted a series of experiments whose results suggest that when people are faced with difficult questions, they are likely to think that the Internet will help them find the answers. In fact, those who expect to able to search for answers to difficult questions online are less likely to commit the information to memory. People tend to memorize answers if they believe that it is the only way they will have access to that information in the future. Regardless of whether they remember the facts, however, people tend to recall the Web sites that hold the answers they seek. In other words, as we continue to depend less in our brain to store information, its efficiency and capacity to retain information decreases and this is not a good thing, it can’t be.

How do we gain control of our time, keep our brains healthy and start focusing on the important tasks and people who are in front of us? disconnect, it is like any other addiction, you need to first accept you are spending too much time online in order to be able to reduce your “connected” time. These are some things that might help you achieve this:

  1. Sleep well: A well-rested brain is less likely to be distracted.
  2. Eat well: Good nutrition is important to brain functionality.
  3. Minimize stress and anger: it tends to ramp up production of brain chemicals such as norepinephrine and cortisol, which can lead to problems.
  4. Watch out for time wasters: It’s easy to get distracted when you have your smart phone in your hand or in front of you, put the phone down and do not pick it up unless somebody calls you, you’ll be surprised by how much time you’ll gain back just by doing this. Stay focused by setting time limits for online activity.
  5. Keep it simple: It is about performing simple tasks, one at a time. This allows you to work smarter and not harder since you’ll be concentrating on one task at a time which will lead you to better results and eventually become more productive.

Today is the Internet, before the Internet it was the TV the reason many people lost jobs, relationships and their intellectual capacity due to spending long periods of time in front of a TV set. The problem of distraction is not new but today’s digital world have exponentially increased our ability to get distracted anytime and anywhere. It is the Poverty of Attention as Sam Anderson pointed out in New York magazine and we need to do something about it today, before it is too late.

Check out our latest project, http://www.thetechmap.com

2 responses to “Digital World – Are We Internet Addicts?”

  1. Kudos

    I’ve been there.. not death by video game, but “trying” multitask too much. Studies and objective self examination are decisive: people are bad at multitasking and multitasking is bad for people, Google it > http://sqrn.ch/VRev4C

    1. Same here, and the reason I did some research on this and wrote about it is to hopefully help myself and others reduce or eliminate multitasking and the idea that you can get more stuff done.

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