Insights: Dr Michael Robb on Technology Addiction

A gleaning of some of the insights shared during the conference on Children and Youth in an Interconnected World, full of presentations from a broad range of distinguished speakers, all talking about the role of children and youth in this fast-changing world.

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Technology Addiction: Cause For Concern of Media Hype?

Dr. Michael Robb discusses how the concept of ‘technology addiction’ comes with a lot of prejudices. Families, educators and policy makers rely on ratings that reflect research on appropriate use of technology and media based on age, but there are many controversial ideas floating around on our complicated relationship with technology. Is it the mere hours spent with technology? Or is this addiction-panic a moral phenomenon? If you look closer, technology is mostly used to access more traditional media like music and television.

Some of his research focuses on creating a common sense report. Do we actually feel addicted? Self-reports say yes, we feel addicted. We feel the pressure to immediately respond to messages on our mobile devices, and we feel it is leading to family conflict. On the other hand, families feel that the parent-teen relationship is not compromised by it.

So, internet addiction is potentially serious, but most of all needs clarification and additional study to understand the impact on children’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. There is substantial disagreement on what type of disorder internet addiction is, and how to study it, and what kind of addiction is it, can it be compared to substance abuse? Internet gaming disorder is so far the only type of behavior looked at and researched for possible inclusion in the DSM by psychologists, as this can lead to extreme consequences to the individual’s life.


Another concern of consequences of our digital lifestyles, is our ability to remain focused on a singular tasks. Is multitasking really doing multiple things at once, or do these deep switches require more than our brains can actually accommodate? Research shows that multi-taskers have a harder time filtering out important information. Problematic media use may also be related to lower empathy and social well-being, but there are not yet many recent studies about this, so we cannot account yet for our present ability to share more and more due to the rise of social media. Is there less empathy because we miss out on the may cues we would get during face-to-face interactions? Does anonymity make us less caring about others? The severity is still unclear. But women using social media report lower levels of stress.

Many things are still unknown, but what can be seen is that face-to-face communication is not seen as less important even though digital communication is on the rise. Technology may facilitate even new ways of expressing common adolescent developmental needs, such as the need for connection and validation of peer groups. Many of this research is however correlational, so we need to be cautious in deciding if media technology is problematic or actually beneficial, as these adolescent needs have existed long before the rise of internet. Are we addicted to technology, or to each other?

Whatever perspective we take, a balanced approach to media and technology is important, requiring a engaging method of parenting discussing ethical dilemmas and setting up good habits together. Media mentoring and parents being aware of them being role-models is seen to be the best way to finding a balance in quality of life, online and offline.

Read more about the conference here, organised by the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace taking place at the University of Maryland, 28-29 September 2016.

Photo Credit: red line highway Flickr via Compfight cc.

About the author

Nicole des Bouvrie_n_ is a continental philosopher and a visiting scholar during autumn 2016 at the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace. She works as a freelance philosopher all around the world, applying structures of thought to practical problems. She is interested in radical change and feminine thinking.
For more information about Nicole: personal website, Twitter.

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