Copyright Andrew Catellier (Creative Commons)
There has been a lot said of our reliance and fascination with electronic gadgets. And while there is much to be said for the concept of a “digital addiction” this isn’t any different from other forms of addiction. I think that what is missing, however, is an understanding of the content of the digital addiction.
For instance, it could be said that I have a digital addiction, as I am on my computer a lot. While I would concur that I do spend a lot of time on the computer, I would contend that my use of the computer is quite different than that of other individuals. For instance, I use the computer for writing. I could use a notepad and pen for writing but I find that I can type faster than I can write. Am I addicted to the computer, to the digital data stream, if I am using it to create things?
A true digital addiction, in my opinion, is when the user is continually consuming digital information with the corresponding creation of content. And for content I’m not talking about the silly exchanges that occur between people:
- Person One: Hi
- Person Two: Hi
- Person One: What’s up?
- Person Two: Nothing. You?
- Person One: Same
- Person Two: L8TR?
- Person One: K
That is not “content”. By content I am talking about blog posts (WordPress, Tumblr, etc.), digital media creation (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, etc.) and other forms of content that require thought. For lack of a better word: art. A simple stream of consciousness does not, in my opinion, qualify as content.
So, are people addicted to the Internet, to digital media? Oh, yeah. I was having dinner with the family and friends a while back and there was a table near us that had six people at it. Five of those people were on their smartphones looking up something, checking email, doing something other than interacting with those around them. I’m sure that you’ve seen it too, maybe even been that group of people.
There is the idea that people need to go through a digital “detox” program, that they need to disconnect themselves from the digital world and reconnect with the people around them. And while there seems to be a preponderance of emphasis on this digital connection, I’m not sure that the digital connection is actually the problem. I think the underlying problem is a deeper desire to be part of something.
When I was younger I had few friends. My dad moved every 12 to 18 months as part of his job with the railway and I was always uprooted and moved to different houses, cities or even provinces. I never established relationships with people as I never knew how long I would be around. As a result I took up writing stories. Stories that I was in complete control over. Stories in which I was involved in it’s creation and completion. I was part of something.
Many people do not have this outlet and as a result in order to be part of something they attach themselves to what they can find. Fifty years ago they would have joined things like the Rotary club or various church groups. The digital age has given them an alternative: digital clubs and groups. These digital connections provide people with the feeling that they are part of a group. Heck, I think that is why Facebook is so popular, people feel like they are part of different social groups and that satisfies their inner requirement for belonging.
A digital detox isn’t what is required. What is required is an understanding of why we are so obsessed with being connected and what is missing. Finding and connecting with what is missing will eliminate the requirement to be digitally connected.