- Written by Peace Loise Mbae
A group of former Facebook employees has about-turned on their approach to social media with the launch of a rehabilitation campaign for technology and social media addicts, following last month’s classification by the World Health Organisation of gaming addiction as a mental health condition.
Research by Nottingham Trent University shows that across the general population, people are now checking their phones an average of 85 times a day.
But former Facebook investor and adviser Roger McNamee and former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris have now launched the Centre for Human Technology running a campaign Truth about Tech in an effort to help rehabilitate the rising numbers of technology addicts.
The campaign aims at pressuring technology companies by speaking up against products designed to get people hooked, working with engineers to make products that have less potential to inflict harm on users while sensitizing people about dangers of technology.
It’s a problem that is already attracting medical attention. In the UK, Capio Nightingale Hospital in London was among the first to establish a clinic for tech addicted kids in 2010, with South Korea later establishing the Jump Up Internet Rescue School as the first camp of its kind in the country dedicated to dealing with technology addiction.
The first Internet addiction rehabilitation centre to open in the US was at Bradford Regional Medical Center in 2013.
These centres focus on handling kids with short attention spans, inability to multi task, and in extreme cases, anxiety and depression caused by an obsession with smartphones and video games, with consultants Common Sense Media reporting that 59 per cent of teenagers and 27 per cent of adults are now addicted to their phones.
“Digital devices have transformed people’s lives. Everything has been changed including ordinary human interaction, parent-child relationships, and even our ability to focus on things we should do,” said James Steyer, founder and chief executive of Common Sense. “And particularly for young people who are growing up as digital natives. It has public health concerns.”
According to a study from Korea University, teens who are addicted to their phones actually show chemical imbalance in the brain. The study surveyed 19 adolescents aged 15 years old, made up of nine boys and 10 girls who had been diagnosed with smartphone or internet addiction.
“The participants' brains were examined using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which is a technique that allows researchers to evaluate levels of various chemicals in the brain. 12 out of 19 had a form of chemical imbalance,” read the report.
In Kenya, a report by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) in 2017 found that 99 per cent of all online activity is on mobile and 90 per cent of Kenyan now own phones and are showing a growing appetite for technology, with internet users and gaming on the rise.
The biggest drive behind the growth in gaming has been the deployment of high-speed internet infrastructure, which allows gamers to watch and compete with each other across the country and over continental borders, with the social gaming market expected to rise by 22 per cent by 2021, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).
The rapid growth in video games has spawned widespread global debate, with the World Health Organization last month classifying gaming addiction as a mental health condition.
The newly published WHO guide gives an explanation of the gaming disorder disease, and its signs and symptoms, and is already being used by doctors to track and diagnose the condition.
The WHO said abnormal gaming behavior can be observed over a period of 12 months with symptoms including lack of control over gaming, with intense, long and frequent durations, increased priority to gaming, and continuous playing while disregarding any negative consequences.
Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma has been running counseling sessions for internet and gaming addicts in Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in India since 2014, seeing close to 25 patients weekly.
“I find that people between the ages of 14 and 35 are most prone to internet and gaming addiction. The harmful effects of too much Internet shows up in teens with falling grades and deteriorating relationships with parents. Surprisingly, parents I have dealt with have a hard time recognizing addiction therefore fail to seek help,” she said.
I have seen extreme cases of addiction of teens who spend 12 hours on weekends and seven weeks on schooldays playing online games, and others who have engaged in high risk sexual behavior online.”
In treating technology addiction, there is no detoxification, however rehabilitation process focuses on dealing with emotional bonds patients have with gaming, internet and other technologies. Also, other disorders the patient might suffer from can be treated at this stage with medication, as patients take the time to learn about the disorder, addiction management, and ways to maintain a normal use of technology.
With people consuming an average of nine hours per day of technology, according to a research by Common Sense, addiction could see a rise in more rehabilitation centres. Psychologist Jean Twenge says heavy users of digital media are 56 per cent unhappy and 27 per cent depressed, from a study he conducted.