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Business, Society - Written by on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:14 - 3 Comments

Technology as a Behavior Magnifier

I’m appearing on a panel next month to discuss the positive and negative effects of technology on young people. Overall, we at the Wikinomics team think the overall effect is positive. See the Grown Up Digital Blog for lots more material including this recent post. The Internet gives young people an opportunity to become socially active and genuinely influence the world. However, it can also magnify bad behaviour.

Going around the twitter feeds this week is news about the first American rehab center for Internet addiction. My friend Anastasia at YPulse wrote an excellent article about the tragic death at the center. From her post:

But is teenagers’ desire to text their friends 24/7, check their Facebook messages or even play a new game for several hours an addiction? I remember speaking on a panel where someone made the analogy of kids who were so excited about the new Harry Potter book, they literally holed themselves up in their room for hours reading. Were these kids reading “addicts”? Teenagers’ heavy use of technology certainly might be irritating, especially to parents who would prefer to see their kids engaged in more physical, offline activities. But we also have to remember that the desire to stay connected to friends at all times is a natural part of adolescence and tapers off as we grow older, get jobs, start our own families, etc.

The problem is that once we begin using this label, even casually, it carries the social stigma of being labeled an “addict” as well as potential treatment models that may be highly inappropriate (China’s being the most extreme). Can you imagine teen texters sitting in a 12-step group being forced to talk about being powerless over their desire to respond to their BFF’s messages? I’m not denying that too much tech may be an issue for some teens (hurting grades, impacting their physical and mental health) that parents and mental health professionals should be addressing. But can we do it without using the label of addiction?

There are, of course, conflicting opinions about whether Internet Addiction Disorder is an actual true affliction or simply a manifestation of existing conditions. For example, if a youth was predisposed to addictive behavior, video games can offer an outlet. Similarly, I doubt there were any gambling addicts in my peer group when I was a teenager. Whereas today, the immediate and constant availability of online poker offers an opportunity that simply wasn’t there before (any tech-savvy teenager can get around age controls). See this article for a deeply personal story about poker addiction. The availability of online pornography has had lasting effects on the sexual landscape of today’s youth (See Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs for a deep analysis on the issue). Thoughtful parenting strategies can help here of course, but technology just makes the job more complicated.


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Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Technology as a Behavior Magnifier | syaitan technology blog updates & review
Aug 28, 2009 22:40

[...] [...]

Bernd Nurnberger
Aug 30, 2009 23:53

Some professions have a long history of labeling people with “addiction” or “disorder”, many of them invented or decreed by conference, as close scrutiny may reveal. It is not all that obvious whether such professional healers are out to genuinely help or just peddle their treatment.

Nov 4, 2009 20:12

I heard last week that Miley Cyrus stopped texting and tweeting cold turkey and isn’t planning on going back because she was losing sleep and getting headaches. I wonder how that’s going for her and if she has fallen off the wagon yet.
I find it troubling when people check their messages with some absent 3rd party rather than engage with the people who are sitting in front of them face to face. I worry that kids today will grow up without fully formed social skills.

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