Have you ever experienced ‘Phantom Vibration Syndrome?’ If you occasionally swear you feel your iPhone vibrating in your pocket even when it’s not, you’re among the 2/3 of iPhone users who report experiencing this phenomenon.
Did you know that the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) recognizes various types of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) as conditions for further study? It’s true! It’s the first time in history we’re exploring a pathological diagnosis for human-machine relational problems.
According to Dr. Arch Hart, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, the digital world is adding tremendous stress to our daily lives and causing an epidemic of anxiety, depression, and relational problems.
As studies progress and the evidence continues to mount, psychologists across the world are starting to sound the alarm. Evidence suggests that new pathologies are emerging and unforeseen relational problems are proliferating. But it’s not our technology that is the problem – it’s the way we use it.
Last year, Newsweek ran a story called ‘Is the Web Driving Us Mad’ describing the emergence of some of these disturbing trends. As the article explains, the Internet is a place we can constantly find relational, sexual, and professional gratification. When we do, dopamine is released in our brains – the same stimulant enhanced by using cocaine. As a result, the Internet lends itself to compulsive behavior – even addiction – leading some researchers to refer to the Internet as ‘electronic cocaine.’
Herein lies the most worrisome aspect of the emerging trends.
Unlike technological innovations of the past such as television, the Internet is far more pervasive and permeates almost every aspect of our lives. It’s not limited to your living room. Instead, you’re ‘plugged in’ all day at school or at work; it’s with you in the car; it’s waiting at home…
Let’s be honest, many of us even have our smart phones with us on the toilet or in bed! (I’m guilty on both counts!)
The human brain’s response to the constant stimulation is to form new synaptic pathways for speed and multi-tasking. This sounds fantastic, however it comes at a cost – namely, the devolution of deep analytical thinking and healthy attachment.
Connected But Alone
Social psychologist, Dan Gibbert says that successful relationships are the key to human happiness and a major contributor to long-term health and fulfillment. Unfortunately, our compulsive use of technology is short-circuiting our ability to form these kinds of relationships.
It’s really a vicious circle! When stress levels increase, attachment decreases; and when attachment decreases, stress levels increase. You can blame it on your hormones. Healthy relational attachment is fostered by a hormone called oxytocin. Think of oxytocin as ‘liquid trust!’ It evokes feelings of contentment and security, and reduces anxiety. It’s produced during attachment-building relational exchanges, such as face-to-face conversation. However, oxytocin is blocked by another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is released during times of anxiety.
This is where technology enters the picture.
We are currently allowing technology to invade every area of our lives. The compulsive behavior it fosters impedes our relationships and inhibits healthy attachment, which prevents the release of oxytocin. As a result, anxiety increases, causing the release of cortisol. Cortisol then blocks oxytocin, which results in more anxiety and causes the release of more cortisol. The cortisol then blocks oxytocin…
Now you understand the cycle!
Notably, according to Dr. Hart, oxytocin is not released during Skype sessions, as it would be during a normal conversation. We cannot trick our bodies into complying with our digital demands!
So, how can we continue to enjoy technology, while combating the emerging dysfunction?
Just Be Where Your Butt Is!
The answer is simple: We need to ‘unplug’ on a regular basis so we can reconnect to real life. We need to find time to escape the constant distraction. Some psychologists recommend choosing a 24-hour period once each week during which you shut off your phone and stay off the computer. If you feel like that is too much to ask, perhaps a 12-hour period would work.
Still not sure?
As an alternative, try learning to practice mindful reflection through silence, solitude, and simplicity. Block out five minutes of your day and find a place where you can be alone, perhaps by shutting your office door or taking a break in your car. Then, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and embrace the following:
Silence – Let go of inner distractions. Our minds are active and prone to wander, so rein in those fleeting thoughts and expel the worries from your mind. Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize a positive word in your mind and just focus on it.
Solitude – Let go of outer distractions. As soon as you stop the arbitrage of anxiety inside, your attention will be drawn to other noises happening around you. Simply acknowledge them, and move them aside. Return your focus to your positive word.
Simplicity – Let go of excess. Forget about your cell phone and your computer. Set aside anything else you’re physically holding. Embrace the simplicity of nothing demanding your attention and no responsibility to which you must attend.
Used correctly, mindful reflection can serve as an extraordinarily effective ‘reset’ button to combat anxiety and renew your ability to focus!
Unplug to Plug-In
Next time technology is getting the better of you, unplug.
If possible, refuse the tyranny of constant digital distraction by putting aside your personal electronics and letting your social network fare without you for a while. It’s tough, but it’s worth it!
As an alternative, employ mindful reflection to combat anxiety, enjoy renewal, and take a few minutes to reconnect to real life.
Either way, the secret to enjoying the benefits of technology in our fast-paced world is simple: Every so often, remember to take some time and just ‘be’ where your butt is!
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