ROCHESTER — If a person hears the term "tech addiction," one most likely conjures up images of teenagers who appear to be glued to their smartphones.
But Internet addiction is a recognized disorder by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and is "characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviours regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress," according to information at http://1.usa.gov/20VlOdF.
The condition most commonly affects males who are in their late 20s or early 30s, according to a random phone survey of the general U.S. population that the center recently conducted.
"Internet addiction has been associated with dimensionally measured depression and indicators of social isolation," the center’s research found.
Holland Haiis, a New York City-based business consultant who also is a trained psychologist, said researchers and those involved in media began noticing changing behaviors in technology use about 15 years ago.
"Suddenly, with these devices (smartphones/tablets), we didn’t have to go home to check e-mails," she said during a May 31 phone interview. "We could go to the library. Or, we can be sitting in a garden, or on a beach on vacation, and it’s (technology) right there. It’s immediate gratification, which we all love. … (However) that becomes a very slippery slope."
And such overuse of these devices as well as social media sites, whether an addiction or not, can affect productivity in school or at work, she said.
Every time an employee switches from a task to check a Facebook page or personal e-mails, it can take up to 27 minutes for the employee to get back on task, Haiis said.
"We are losing the sharpness of our focus," she said.
"Every time you’re doing that when somebody is paying you to carry out their wishes for their goals for their company, you’re now doing other tasks and you’re becoming less productive at work," she added.
And as the center’s research proves, the need for that nonstop technology fix is affecting adults as much as teenagers, Haiis noted. She often observes adults looking at their phones when she is presenting talks on the topic or when they are sitting at meals across from others.
"If you’re saying at the dinner table (with your children), ‘Engage in conversation,’ and you as mom or dad are on your device, the children are not going to engage because there’s no one to engage with," she said. "You’re not engaging with them."
It has become increasingly difficult to disconnect from technology, Haiis said, because the constant flow and unpredictability of information accessible on social media using our devices stimulates dopamine in our brains. This chemical makes a person feel good, explained Haiis, who calls herself "The Connectivity Expert" on her website, hollandhaiis.com.
"But it’s like a hot-air balloon ride, it only lasts for so long and eventually has to come down and land. And it’s just ourselves in the living room, and then what? We’re looking for that rush," she said. "When we try to put down our devices and we’ve got that going on in our brain … it’s like your caffeine or nicotine, you’ve got to have it."
Disconnecting from technology is about changing behaviors, she said. Parents can lead the way by setting parameters for technology use, she said. Meal times, for example, should be about conversation with no devices allowed, Haiis said.
"We need to live in the moment of being-ness instead of doing-ness," she stated.
Setting parameters is especially important for the younger generation, because technology use is having a unique effect on the developing brains of children and teenagers, Haiis noted. Those effects could lead to negative economic and social impacts in terms of decreased literacy rates and a lack of social skills needed in business and interpersonal relationships, according to research presented on Columbia University’s website, http://bit.ly/1TY8S4N. A University of California at Los Angeles neuroscientist has even identified a "brain gap" developing between adults and children whose brains function, socialize and interact in different ways due to the use of technology, according to information on the website.
Haiis said she knows of a private school in New York City that is trying to minimize that gap by not allowing students to use technology in the classroom until fourth grade.
"Before, we’d say, ‘Isn’t that cute, the 9-month-old can work an iPad,’ and now we are looking at that and saying no, no," she added. "We are changing the brain too much. We are changing the way children think, changing the way they create."
Helping families find other outlets for their children is necessary so they can develop the creativity they will need in the future, she said, since not all careers are digitally based. She advises families to read books online half the time as well as taking a "digital detox" day where no one uses any devices, Haiis added. Research has shown that when a child holds a physical book and reads it and turn its pages, the brain delves deeper into that creative place of the brain to imagine what settings or characters look like, she said.
"I’m not anti-technology," she said. "Technology, like everything, has its place. But when you’re taking your phone and sitting on the toilet, or you have it under your pillow so if it vibrates you can be awakened to see what the next picture on somebody’s mind is, you’ve crossed over to the other side and you need to reign it in. … It’s changing the way we think, eat, sleep."