I went to the movies the other day and noticed that instead of just the usual courtesy request for people to turn off their cell phones during the movie, additional wording has been added to prohibit texting during a movie. I immediately thought that somewhere in the movie theatre some teen's face was reflected in green or blue radiance from their personal communication device as they texted: "OMG, at movies n they sd no txting during show! WTF! LOL!" or something shorter and more code-like. But this affliction isn't just for teens anymore.
Even sitting over coffee with a friend or a coaching client we're constantly interrupted by phone calls and the quick 'check' to see if it's a call they'll take or one they'll ignore. Then there's the buzz, beep or vibration that alerts the cell owner to an incoming e-mail. I thought mail was to be opened and answered at the viewer's discretion, not treated like a missed phone call! Add to this blitz the instant messages and texts that are kind of like talking but instead of speech, we type, and we misspell and abbreviate to the point we need to learn a new language which looks etymologically like it came from early license plate code much the same way that English has roots in Greek, Latin and a few other languages.
Just this past Sunday I came home from a charity event and found out that another person in attendance was taking photos with their camera and pasting them up on Facebook in real time, like a reality show or some sort of cultural anthropologist reporting on the mysterious meetings of suburban families to walk for any cause that's affected them or their families. This same person is known to make comments on Facebook at 3 or 4 AM when they can't sleep or to report that someone isn't returning their phone calls with the additional symbol of a 'sad face' using parentheses and a colon for emphasis. I'm sympathetic as the next person, but is a headache or your child's upset stomach a newsworthy event that the other 8 zillion subscribers to your social network are waiting for are update on?
So does this preoccupation qualify as an 'addiction'? Addiction is defined on Thefreedictionary.com as: "Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance." That would include those who get emotionally distraught when texts and emails aren't returned almost immediately or who check emails while at social events. The level of compulsion for this activity rests in the same pleasure centers of the brain as do other addictions like gambling, narcotics and alcohol so my vote is 'yes', the preoccupation is an addiction or at least the early warning signs of one.
"The very nature of the Internet also lends itself to overuse and abuse, encouraging us to exhibit behaviors that are counterproductive, isolating and disruptive to our closet relationships...to ourselves, our families, our employers and the community at large" says Dr. Dave Greenfield of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction.
Now do I picture people holed up in a padded room, chained to a bed while some sympathetic therapist wipes their fevered brow with a damp cloth as they 'kick' their Twitter dependency? Not really. But a little research shows that extremes are being met and that the threat is real: in China one-third of high school aged children studied showed signs of addiction, including paranoia, when they were without their phones, and two-thirds were "constantly worried" that they would miss a text message when their phones were off. It could get worse, yes, but must it?
As a coach I am offering these tips to you, if you even suspect you are becoming dependent on your cell phone and social networking outlets. Share them with those you are concerned about and please realize, we might laugh about it, but it's not a joke by any means.
Tips to achieve balance from a coaching perspective:
I realize that this message is going out via the Internet and will be Tweeted, Buzzed up, Digg'd, posted on Facebook, etc. and there's a certain irony in that. What we're talking is not abstinence or burying your head in the sand to avoid the 'demon technology' or any other doomsday message. What I'm talking about is balance. As the Roman dramatist Terence remarked, "Moderation in all things."
I have to go now; I've used up my Internet allotment!
Follow James M. Lynch on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JamesLynchCoach