Evolutionarily humans are hard wired to seek social stimulation since it assures us of protection and availability of resources. Yet the craving to reach out has never been so strong, salient and detrimental as in today’s times. A relatively new affliction that has become rampant in the present millennia is ‘Nomophobia’. It is the fear of being unable to connect to the social world due to the loss of a smartphone or tablet. Smartphones themselves are harmless devices yet they have the potential to provide short lived answers to our deep rooted needs thus becoming indispensable to the user in a subtle manner.
Psychologists equate excessive time spent online to binge eating. During binge eating episodes we feed our body with fake calories whilst excessive online time is seen as force feeding the brain with empty neural calories. Though pleasurable this leads to overstimulation of the brain and simultaneously retards self regulation and creative thinking processes which are paramount in ensuring wellness in a person.
Scientific research has revealed that binge eating and positive social connections activate the pleasure producing reward circuits in the brain leading to excessive release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Heightened levels of Dopamine push us to check every possible source of reward we anticipate such as a text message or a ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on social media since it enables an individual not only to see rewards but to take affirmative action to move towards them. This becomes a vicious cycle and gradually destroys the neurochemical balance of our brain.
Impulse control and frustration tolerance have greatly reduced since we can now choose to avoid the unpleasant conditions in life by continually seeking sources of pleasure and self acceptance online. Heavy reliance on technology leads to a gross suppression of our intuitive capacities too. We have unmindfully transferred controls of our happiness and contentment to an external device that will suit every whim and fancy we hold but will never reach out to dispel our fears and sadness. Happiness and despair are two sides of the same coin called life. With smart phones becoming an extension of our ‘self’, we have to be very observant about our reasons of staying online for long. Friends, relationships garnered online have a make believe existence for they will not lend themselves to the rigours of real life strains and stresses. Investing in genuine and trusting real life relationships on the other hand will nourish positivity and well being in our lives.
It’s time we admit that online addiction is for real and each person is his/her own first line of defence against a disease that will ravage the rationality we are bestowed with. Switching off notifications, identifying psychological triggers for online craving, developing a hobby, reaching out for social support are some of the few steps each one of us can take to steer away from becoming slaves of technology.
About the author
Tarika Sandhu is a Patiala-based psychologist and teaches at Punjabi University. She is currently working on a UGC project and writes on contemporary issues such as personality assessment, creativity and women’s issues, to list a few.