Are You Addicted to Technology

Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything,
except over technology. – John Tudor

As a professional blogger and writer, I spend much of my day online. I also have a BlackBerry that keeps me connected to e-mail and my blog when I’m not at my computer. I love the world of e-mail, blogs, social media and other forms of online communication and the opportunities it presents. I especially love how it has changed how we meet people and form friendships in ways we never could have imagined even ten years ago.

Technology has allowed me to make contact with people I never could have met in real life.  Whether it’s the author I’ve admired for decades, or the veterinarian whose articles I’ve only read in journals before, or the many fellow cat people who share my love for these incredibly fascinating and wonderful creatures – I treasure all of these relationships.  Some of them have turned into real-life friendships.

But there is a downside to all this 24/7 connectedness. As with all good things, there can be too much of it. Researchers from the University of Glasgow found that half of the participants in a study reported checking their email once an hour, while some individuals check up to 30 to 40 times an hour. An AOL study revealed that 59 percent of PDA users check every single time an email arrives and 83 percent check email every day on vacation. (Source:

Does this sound like the behavior of an addict to you? That’s because it is. All this technology creates compulsive behavior by tapping into the brain’s reward circuit and operant conditioning: the association of stimulus and reward. Every time you hit “check mail” on your e-mail or smartphone, you get a little dopamine hit. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that makes you feel good. Receiving that e-mail, text, or Facebook comment sends a message to your brain that says “Yay! Somebody loves me!” Your brain comes to associate this feeling with the “you’ve got mail” or text message sound on your device, and releases a squirt of dopamine each time it hears the signal.

As if this weren’t bad enough, after you check that e-mail or that Facebook comment, your dopamine levels dip below normal, so you need another hit just to get your levels back to normal. If you’ve ever sat at your computer and hit  the “get new mail” button over and over and wondered why on earth you’re doing that, now you know.

The constant connection to technology can take a toll on our bodies and our mental state, and it  probably behooves us to occasionally unplug, even if it’s only for a few hours. Here are some ways to break the technology addiction, at least temporarily:

  • Unplug for for short periods of time if disconnecting for an entire day seems impossible. You life won’t implode. As with any addiction, there can be a period of anxiety when you first try it.
  • Leave your cell phone at home one day a week. Weekends are good for this. For some people, this will have the same effect as a two-week vacation; the psychological benefits can be that dramatic. If you feel must have your cell phone with you because of safety concerns, keep it turned off.
  • Set boundaries. Don’t check e-mail as soon as you get out of bed. Stop checking e-mail after a certain time in the evening. Set yourself  a time limit when you go on social media sites.
  • Don’t let technology interfere with real, face-to-face contact. There’s nothing more irritating to me than having lunch with someone who keeps a constant eye on her smartphone.

I’ll admit, I find it very difficult to unplug, and I know I need to work at doing it more frequently. Thankfully, Allegra and Ruby are good at reminding me to step away from the computer. Usually, their reminders involve a walk across the keyboard, or a chase around the monitor. I’m going to heed their advice today and try and unplug for a few hours.

How about you? Are you addicted to technology? Do your cats remind you to unplug?

You may also enjoy reading:

Sunday Purrs: Creating balance

Sunday Purrs: Make time for contemplation


15 Comments on Sunday Purrs: Are You Addicted to Technology?

  1. Wow, two other people without a cell phone! I’ve never had one–and for someone like me, self-employed, with a mother in personal care, a disabled brother–you’d think I’d be the first to get a cell phone, but in the ten years I cared for my mother, and still for my brother, I never needed one for their care, and never needed one for my business.

    I don’t have a television, either, but I read stories on the internet and listen to public radio.

    Since my business as a commercial artist is performed primarily on a computer, especially the part about sending the job to the customer and to the printer, I am on my computer all day, but take regular breaks, usually enforced by my felines. But I love corresponding with all the people I meet through the internet, and I could never reach the audience for my artwork without the internet.

    I recently set up a separate art studio upstairs in my spare bedroom, and do not have a computer in that room. It’s fully manual, paper, brushes, pastels, all that, and no checking e-mail every 3 minutes to get that dopamine rush.

    I listen to recorded books all the time because 30 years on a computer has truly damaged my eyesight. Still, it’s a joy to have someone tell me a story while I’m working on a painting, or even just washing the dishes.

    But when I leave the house, the only electronic thing that goes with me is my camera. A person I met on the trail was horrified that I went off into the woods without a cell phone. “What do you do when you have an accident?” he asked. “I am careful, and I don’t,” I answered.

  2. BTW I love what Layla said about “real reading” I am with her ALL THE WAY…we can blame the e-readers for the demise (and soon-to-be-demise) of many bookstores. I find that to be beyond sad

  3. this is fabulous advice and still when I “unplug” as I did almost this entire weekend due to a wedding Friday night and helping my step daughter move yesterday I still feel full of anxiety. I wasn’t able to read most of the 300+ blogs that I follow either this weekend and I have to admit it has left me with an “out of control” feeling…I keep wondering what I ever did before computers. One thing I don’t do, ever, is check email from my phone (and I have an Android) to me, that is just too much

  4. It’s a double-edged sword indeed. My coping strategy is to spend as much time possible re-charging in nature without an e- device, meditating and old-fashioned reading (not on an e-reader).

  5. Thanks for the reminder, Sally – I don’t have, need, or want a cell phone. I’m not even thrilled with the portables we have in the house (but not in my office!).

  6. So. true. I’m probably the only person on the planet without a cell phone, but as a writer, I live at my computers, at work and at home. Yes, there is that little reward rush that comes when you check your email first thing in the morning or even click on an interesting article. As an information junkie, I love the fact that so many resources are at my fingertips. And I love the people I’ve met from around the the world. However, I could definitely unplug more.

    • I held out against a cell phone for a long time, Sallly, and once I got one, I held out against a Smartphone for an even longer time. Now I can’t imagine not having my BlackBerry. Okay, okay, that probably means I lean toward the addict side of the equation…

  7. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth… good post indeed!

    I’m an addict at a certain extent… I use tech, enjoy using it and I’m curious about it. So far I’m still able to disconnect… but is difficult to stop once I got into chats, trends and searchs.
    The cats in my life sometimes remind me they are here and need my attention; sometimes they just get a particular spot next to the pc and get to sleep… as the big boy is doing now.

  8. I shudder to think what my life would be like without the Internet. I’ve been able to make “cyber-friends” across the US and in half a dozen countries. Email is a constant for me. I’ve been publishing Catnip Chronicles more than 7 years, which would have been impossible on paper – it produces no income, but has expenses. I’ve also become pretty active on Facebook – annoying though it can be – and am grateful for my friends there.
    Being seriously limited by health issues – I’m almost always home – without technology, my life would be much poorer indeed.

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