When we talk about the increasing number of people who are addicted to technology, we immediately picture smartphone zombies who can barely hold a conversation because they’re constantly busy scanning their phone’s push notifications, or that time your most selfie-centered friend nearly got hit by a car while trying to take the perfect curbside Instagram. But a brief scan of the facts reveals a shocking truth: we are all tech junkies, to a certain degree. Most of us spend almost three hours a day on our smartphones and tablets, not counting all the time we’re on the computer.
Has technology hijacked our quality of life? The amount of time that we are spending relating to and through our devices has grown exponentially in recent years, and the cost of that growth has come largely at the expense of the things that are seen as the essential factors in promoting good health, quality relationships, and a high level of personal well being.
What many of us consider to be “new technology” is no longer so new, and the past two decades—during which a great part of our society’s day-to-day life has been spent in front of a screen—have not passed without leaving their mark. Our routines and work processes have been transformed, often with very positive effects. However, excesses of any kind are detrimental to people’s health, and the use of technology is no exception. Consequently, technological diseases are becoming more and more common. The following are some of the most common diseases resulting from the excessive use of digital devices:
- Eye strain (in addition to other eye problems) can be caused by spending too much time looking at a screen. Symptoms include red eyes, blurry vision, and in more extreme cases, even nausea.
- Tendonitis is caused by habitually working with our arms and wrists in unnatural positions while using a keyboard, mouse, cell phone, or game console controller. Depending on the specific cause and area affected, sometimes it is referred to as “textinitis” or “Nintendonitis.”
- PlayStation palmar hidradenitis is a gaming disease characterized by inflammation and red blotches on the palms of your hands after prolonged use of game console controllers, principally caused by holding the controller tightly for long periods of time and repeated button-pressing movements.
- Noise-induced hearing loss may be suffered by people who habitually listen to music at high volume levels on headphones or earbuds. Such prolonged exposure to high-decibel sound can cause gradual and irreversible damage to inner ear structures.
- FOMO syndrome (Fear of Missing Out) is a psychological disorder characterized by anxiety and stress as the result of fearing that you are missing out on some important or exciting experience. The rapid rate of technological development and the availability of information on social media means that we are more aware than ever of what other people are buying or doing. Consequently, we are more susceptible than before to “gadget envy” and/or to the worry that, by not staying up to date on our Facebook or Twitter feeds, for example, we are going to miss out on some viral video, the latest tech fad, or the latest news about our friends or favorite celebrities.
- Phantom vibration syndrome is a sign of cell phone dependency. It happens when we have the sensation that our cell phone is vibrating in our pocket, even though it actually isn’t.
- Nomophobia (short for “no-mobile-phone phobia”) is the fear some of us experience of not having our cell phone with us, or of not being able to use it because of running out of battery life or not having a good signal. In extreme cases, it can even cause an anxiety attack.
- Insomnia can be caused by using cell phones and tablets late at night, which is quite common; many people sleep with their cell phones at their side. In fact, spending the night hours on social media has its own name now: “vamping,” in reference to the most famous creatures of the night (not to be confused with other unrelated uses of the word).
- Cyberchondria is the digital version of hypochondria. It’s the habit of searching the web obsessively for health care information, with the fear that you might have some rare disease you read about on some health-oriented website, regardless of the reliability of the information.
- Addiction to technology, particularly to internet use, is drawing increased attention around the world. Earlier this year, National Institutes of Health decided for the first time to fund a study of internet addiction in the United States. Although there is not yet a consensus in the scientific community as to the exact definition and criteria for technological addiction, it is generally recognized that a significant number of people are suffering from excesses of online activities including gaming, gambling, sexting, porn, and even just obsessively surfing social media or websites in general.
While our scientific understanding of these diseases is still, in some cases, preliminary, the real dangers they present make it a good idea to start taking measures to prevent them.