Technology Addiction

April 20, 2018 – Volume 28, Issue 15
Is obsessive computer use a mental health disorder? By Susan Ladika


A street sign in New York City (Cover: Getty Images/Barcroft Media/Laurentiu Garofeanu)
A street sign in New York City warns pedestrians to stay off their smartphones when crossing the street. Some experts say the obsessive use of handheld devices constitutes a mental health disorder, but others argue it typically stems from anxiety or some other underlying condition. (Cover: Getty Images/Barcroft Media/Laurentiu Garofeanu)

Some addiction specialists contend that the overuse of video games, social media or other online technology can affect the brain in the same way drug or alcohol dependency does. But other experts question whether an obsessive use of technology meets the clinical definition of addiction. They argue that overuse of technology typically stems from an underlying condition, such as anxiety, depression or attention deficit disorder. Some industry insiders say technology companies such as Facebook design their products to be addictive, which company executives deny. Child advocates and some politicians want the government to do more to address the potential harm of technology overuse, and countries such as South Korea and China have established government-sponsored treatment centers for teens and young adults considered tech-addicted. The American Psychiatric Association has not linked technology overuse with standard medical definitions of addiction but says internet gaming needs further study. The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, is funding a study on whether online gaming is addictive.

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After spending much of his childhood playing video games, Charlie Bracke realized that his constant gaming as an adult was out of control: He says he had flunked out of three colleges, lost a girlfriend and washed out as a real estate agent.

Twice, recalls the 29-year-old from Redmond, Wash., he tried to quit gaming. Then, one day as he contemplated suicide, he says, his parents showed up unannounced and found him and his apartment a wreck.

They began calling treatment centers and help lines and found reSTART, a rehab center for internet, gaming and virtual reality addiction based in Fall City, Wash. After more than a year in treatment, Bracke now has a full-time job as a Costco merchandiser and is studying accounting. He attends 12-step support groups, meets with a therapist and shares his story about battling technology addiction with others at reSTART.

Before he went to rehab, Bracke says, “I didn't know how to deal with my feelings of failure. I was intentionally medicating my emotions with gaming.”

Some addiction specialists say people like Bracke are addicted to technology, which they say can affect the brain in the same way an over-dependence on alcohol or drugs does. Others say tech overuse is not an addiction in the medical sense but rather is a manifestation of underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression.

The debate is occurring as several former technology industry insiders have accused software companies of intentionally creating addictive products, although defenders of the companies say they should not be blamed for making products that keep users engaged. Several parent groups and child development experts want the government to address the potential negative effects of technology overuse, especially on young children.

Charlie Bracke, a gamer from Redmond, Wash. (Courtesy Charles Bracke)
Charlie Bracke, a gamer from Redmond, Wash., entered a rehab center after he realized his addiction to online video games was out of control and ruining his life. Now, after more than a year in treatment, he has a full-time job and is studying accounting. As part of his treatment, Bracke attends 12-step support groups, meets with a therapist and shares his story about battling technology addiction. (Courtesy Charles Bracke)

There is “a fairly even split in the scientific community about whether tech addiction is a real thing,” said Michael Bishop, a psychologist and director of Summerland Camps, which runs summer camps in North Carolina and California for children with what Bishop calls “screen overuse” habits. Bishop says he prefers the term “habit” over an “addiction,” because, “When teens think about their behavior as a habit, they are more empowered to change.”1 Addiction occurs when something becomes all-consuming and has a negative impact on one's life, such as interfering with relationships, sleep patterns, work, hobbies or eating habits.

“Technology, like all other ‘rewards,’ can over-release dopamine [a neurotransmitter], overexcite and kill neurons, leading to addiction,” said Robert Lustig, a University of California, San Francisco, emeritus professor of pediatric endocrinology and author of The Hacking of the American Mind, a book about what he says is a corporate scheme to sell pleasure that is creating an international epidemic of addiction, depression and chronic disease. Technology is “not a drug, but it might as well be,” Lustig said. “It works the same way…. It has the same results.”2

But Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard University, says, “we don't think the word ‘addict’ is the correct word to use. There's not a measurable physiological change when you're using or withdrawing, unlike alcohol, heroin or tobacco.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), a professional organization representing psychiatrists, academics and researchers, did not define technology addiction as a diagnosable disorder in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published in 2013. However, the manual, used by health professionals to make diagnoses and by insurance companies to determine medical coverage, did say that internet gaming disorder needs further study.3

But Dan Hewitt, a vice president of the Entertainment Software Association, a trade group of gaming software companies, in Washington, says in an email interview that “legitimate science, objective research and common sense all prove video games are not addictive. By misusing the word addiction, which is a medical term, society demeans real compulsive behaviors, like alcoholism and drug abuse, which deserve treatment, compassion, and care.”

The World Health Organization (WHO), which held its fourth annual meeting on tech addiction in 2017, wrote that the increased use of technology is associated “with documented cases of excessive use, which often has negative health consequences.” In a growing number of countries and jurisdictions, said the WHO, “the problem has reached the magnitude of a significant public health concern.”4

Several former employees of companies such as Google and Facebook say tech companies intentionally created technology designed to hook users in order to make money by selling their data. “We talk about addiction and we tend to think, ‘Oh, this is just happening by accident,’” said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google who has accused the companies of creating addictive software. “This is happening by design. There's a whole bunch of techniques that are deliberately used to keep the auto play [going] on YouTube to keep you watching the next video.”5

Some scientists and child advocates worry that children and young adults may be particularly susceptible to tech addiction. Adolescents, says Lustig, are particularly vulnerable to almost every psychiatric disease — schizophrenia, anxiety, addiction, depression — in part because their prefrontal cortex, which controls executive function and decision-making, is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Thus, “teens exposed to addictive substances or behaviors are more likely to become addicted” than adults, Lustig says.

The bar graphs show by percentage how young adults and their parents view their tech use.

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One in two youths ages 12 to 18 say they feel addicted to their smartphones or other mobile devices, and an even higher percentage of parents believe their children are hooked. More than one-fourth of parents feel that they themselves are addicted.

Source: “Dealing With Devices: The Parent-Teen Dynamic,” Common Sense Media, May 3, 2016,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Viewpoint Percentage
Parents believe their teens are addicted to their mobile devices 59%
Parents feel addicted to their own mobile devices 27%
Teens feel addicted to their mobile devices 50%
Teens believe their parents are addicted to their mobile devices 28%

According to an open letter to Apple by a group of concerned investors, the average American child receives his or her first smartphone at age 10, and teens spend more than 4.5 hours per day on their smartphones, not counting time spent texting and talking. Nearly 80 percent of teens said they check their phones at least every hour.6

But Stanford University communications professor Byron Reeves said his research has found that some college students turn their phones on and off 300 times in a 24-hour period. “And that's just the average,” he said. “There are a lot of people that are turning it on and off 500, 600, 700, 800 times a day. So it's going on, going off for an average of ten seconds.” Reeves said he worries that such habits could lead to shortened attention spans.7

Regardless of what experts say about whether tech addiction exists, a January poll found that nearly half of parents with children under 18 feared their kids were addicted to their mobile devices. About 20 percent of the parents said they were extremely or very concerned that the devices were affecting their children's mental health, and more than a quarter said they considered themselves addicted to their devices.8

The poll was sponsored by Common Sense Media, which advocates for safe technology and media use by children. “We are not anti-tech,” said James P. Steyer, founder of the group. “We are into the appropriate and balanced use of technology. We are calling out the industry for their excesses and their intentional effects to manipulate and addict.”9

Another survey, of 400 parents published in March by Fast Company magazine, found that they were more concerned about their children being harmed by tech addiction than about online bullying, data privacy or sexual predators.10

A smartphone “takes over a child's daily consciousness,” a father of three from Chicago said in response to the survey. Children who are naturally “voracious, inquisitive curiosity seekers slowly, invariably and inevitably become …indifferent to discovery in favor of scrolling. Smartphones numb creativity, intellectual critical thought and social growth.”11

The mother of a 1-year-old from New York City wrote: “I see myself reaching for my phone out of habit anytime I'm the least bit bored or have a moment to spare. I hate this and yet can't seem to stop myself. I figure at least my brain patterns were formed without this influence and am terrified of what growing up with smartphones and tech will do to my daughter.”12

Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital, says the center has dealt with a few hundred cases of children and young adults whose families were worried about their internet use. “Every case so far has underlying psychological issues driving behavior,” such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or anxiety, he says. The center, which educates families on healthy media use, recently opened the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders to treat children with internet use issues.

Boys, according to Rich, who teaches social and behavioral sciences in addition to pediatrics, are more likely to overindulge in gaming; girls to overuse social media. Gamers tend to have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, while those who overuse social media tend to have anxiety, he says. The genders are evenly split, though, when it comes to binging on information and viewing pornography, he says. Some politicians and religious leaders have raised concerns about the excessive use of online pornography in recent years, especially violent porn.

Some tech insiders and politicians say the government should help to combat the potential for tech addiction. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding its first study on technology addiction — an examination of online gaming.13

Several other countries recognize tech addiction as a disorder, and some have declared it a public health crisis. In France, for instance, proposed legislation would require children under 16 to obtain parental approval to open accounts on social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. And the government plans to ban mobile phone use at primary and junior high schools, starting this fall.14

As researchers, technology company executives and parents examine tech addiction, here are some of the questions they are asking:

Can technology use be addictive?

Addiction occurs when the brain recognizes substances or behaviors that create pleasure by releasing dopamine, a chemical that passes information from one neuron to the next — signals that the brain associates with anticipation of a reward. Being repeatedly exposed to the substance or behavior can make a person want more. Eventually, the person builds up tolerance, needing more of the substance or activity to feel the pleasurable effect.15

Some experts say the still-developing brains of children and young adults, in particular, can respond to technology similarly to how they would respond to other addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol. “From a central nervous standpoint, there's no difference,” says Lustig, at the University of Southern California. MRIs and PET scans have found changes in the brains of those with internet addictions similar to those with other addictions, he says, adding, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.”

Larry Rosen, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, also believes technology can affect the brain. With addiction, the brain releases, besides dopamine, the mood-affecting neurotransmitter serotonin. With anxiety, the brain releases hormones that react to stress by producing a surge of energy and heightened mental focus. People can feel compelled to do an activity, such as check Facebook, to reduce their anxiety, Rosen says. “We act like Pavlov's dog when we get a notification on our phones,” he says. “Technology can impact” anxiety or addiction, or both.

With technology, as with other types of addictions, he said, problems arise if a person requires more of the addictive substance to feel the same level of satisfaction. And being away from the substance or activity can prompt depression, stress or anxiety, typical symptoms of withdrawal.16

The chart shows statistics related to technology addiction.

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Profile of a tech-addicted nation.

Source: Felix Richter, “America's Smartphone Addiction,” Statista, March 12, 2018,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

The average smartphone owner checks their phone 47 times a day
More than 80 percent check their phones within an hour of waking or going to bed — more than a third within 5 minutes
Forty-seven percent have tried to limit their phone use, but only 30 percent have succeeded

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which operates drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers, defines teen technology addiction as “frequent and obsessive technology-related behavior increasingly practiced despite negative consequences to the user of the technology.” In addition, the foundation says, teen dependence on technology can lead to consequences ranging from “mild annoyance when away from technology to feelings of isolation, extreme anxiety and depression.”17

Researchers in South Korea, one of several countries that recognize tech addiction as a disorder, have found that teens obsessed with their smartphones or the internet experience changes in their brain chemistry similar to those found in other types of addiction. Using a type of MRI that measures the brain's chemical composition, researchers examined 19 young men diagnosed as addicted to technology and compared them with 19 young men who were not.

The teens diagnosed with tech addiction had more neurotransmitter activity in the region of the brain tied to rewards, mood regulation and control of inhibition and rated higher for depression, anxiety and impulsivity. The researchers also found that the psychotherapy treatment known as cognitive behavioral therapy could help normalize the chemical imbalance.18

Christopher Whitlow, chief of neuroradiology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the area of the brain where the imbalance was found — the anterior cingulate — has been found to play a role in addictive behavior. “In that way, smartphone and internet addiction appears to have some similarities with addiction to other things,” he said.19

Max Wintermark, chief of neuroradiology at Stanford, said of the South Korean findings: “It's a very small study, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.” However, he added, “It's the first study that I read about internet addiction, but there are many studies that link alcohol, drug and other types of addiction to imbalances in various neurotransmitters in the brain.”20

However, professor of psychology Christopher Ferguson at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., said, “Sometimes with new technology you see these heightened claims of harm…. In my opinion, they're not comparable to, say, methamphetamine addiction or heroin addiction.” Technology “is a tool,” he adds. “It's really about how you use it. It's not heroin. That's not to say you can't overdo it.”21

Harvard's Rich agrees that tech overuse is not a classic type of addiction. But, he says, computer applications “are designed to continually grab and re-grab information and give us just enough frustration, followed by satisfaction, to give us the little shots of dopamine we so crave. We need to learn how to develop self-regulation and encourage tech companies to design more human-friendly apps.”

Michael Robb, director of research for Common Sense Media, acknowledges that it is impossible to gauge whether tech addiction actually exists. “There is no way to measure it right now,” he says. “There's no agreement on a definition. There needs to be less ambiguity.” But for some kids, he says, their tech use “is so disruptive it causes significant harm in other parts of their lives” such as sleep, school and social relationships.

Dean Eckles, a communications and technology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that because nearly everyone uses technology and each person uses it in different ways, “it's really hard to do purely observational research into the effects of something like screen time or social media use.” Rather than dividing participants into those with smartphones and those without, for example, researchers must compare differences in use, while considering differences in race, income and parental education.22

Even expert organizations are not sure technology addiction is real. While the APA has not said internet or social media overuse is an addictive disorder, it has said internet gaming disorder needs to be studied further. The organization cited studies indicating that when some individuals are engrossed in internet games, certain brain pathways are triggered “in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict's brain is affected by a particular substance.”23

The WHO plans to list “gaming disorder” as a mental health disorder in its next edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), scheduled for release this year. The ICD sets international standards for reporting health conditions and diseases.24

Hewitt, of the Entertainment Software Association, said his organization rejects the WHO's conclusion but supports the APA's call for more research into computer and video games. “Video game ‘addiction’ is a colloquial, loaded term with no real scientific or medical definition or broad support,” he said. “And it is important to remember that video game enthusiasm is often misinterpreted as ‘addiction.’”25

Nancy Petry, a University of Connecticut professor of medicine, is leading the two-year, $416,000 NIH study that may ultimately help determine whether online gaming is a disorder. “Tech addiction is a hot topic,” she said, “but we need to clearly define and differentiate what constitutes a mental disorder that is causing major adverse consequences and distinguish it from just a bad habit that people just wish they weren't doing.”26

Are companies intentionally making technology addictive?

Some ex-employees of big tech companies have accused their former employers of purposely getting consumers hooked on technology, and profiting in the process.

Former Google employee Harris, whose job was to advise the company on how its technology should “ethically” steer the thoughts and actions of customers using their products, has been one of the most outspoken on the subject. He has likened a smartphone to a slot machine, since people repeatedly check their phones each day to see how many “likes” they have received on Facebook or how many new followers they have on Twitter. “This is one way to hijack people's minds and create a habit,” he said. “When someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward.”27

Technology companies want consumers constantly to be drawn back to their phones, he said. “They want you to use it particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that's how they make their money.”28

Tech companies have teams of experts whose goal is to keep users habitually engaged, wrote Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University and author of the 2017 book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Software developers use a variety of techniques to addict users, he said, including “compelling goals that are just beyond reach; irresistible and unpredictable positive feedback; a sense of incremental progress and improvement; [and] tasks that become slowly more difficult over time.”29

Ramsay Brown, the co-founder of Dopamine Labs in Venice, Calif., which produces apps for financial firms and fitness companies, said programmers write computer code intended to trigger a neurological response by selectively doling out rewards to make consumers return for more. Someone may suddenly get 30 likes on an Instagram post, but the program holds “some of them back [in order] to let [them] know later in a big burst,” Brown said.30

Teenagers play the popular video game (Getty Images/LightRocket/Zhang Peng)
Teenagers play the popular video game “Arena of Valor” at a shopping mall in China. In 2008 China became the first country to recognize internet addiction disorder. South Korea and China have established government-sponsored treatment centers for teens and young adults considered tech-addicted. (Getty Images/LightRocket/Zhang Peng)

“There's some algorithm somewhere that predicted for this user right now, … we can see an improvement in his behavior if you give it to him in this burst instead of that burst,” Brown said. “You're part of a controlled set of experiments that are happening in real time across you and millions of other people.”31

Similarly, Harris said, Snapchat's Snapstreak feature lets users see how many days they have exchanged messages with someone else. Some teens get so stressed over keeping those streaks going, he said, that when they go on vacation they give their password to friends so they can keep their streaks going for them. “You could ask, when these features are being designed, are they designed to most help people live their life?” Harris asked. “Or are they being designed because they're best at hooking people into using this product?”32

In fact, say industry insiders, keeping people as engaged as possible is the corporate model for tech companies, particularly social media companies such as Facebook, which provide services for free in exchange for users’ personal data, which the companies then sell. Sandy Parakilas, a former Facebook manager who now is an adviser to the Center for Humane Technology, said Facebook has “an incentive to try to attract as many users, get those people to view as much content as possible, collect as much data as possible and then sell that.”33

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said the intent behind social media was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever…. It's a social-validation feedback loop …, exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”34

But Antigone Davis, head of global safety for Facebook, said, “There's a lot of misinformation and miscommunication about the concept of addiction and how people are engaging online. We really care at Facebook about making sure people are engaging in a positive, safe way.”35

“We do not build products based on research about creating addictions,” Facebook said in a statement. “We are doing research on issues like excessive use of social media to make sure we're giving people the tools they need to better manage the time they spend on Facebook.”

The bar graph shows activities employees spend the most time on, using their smartphones, while at work.

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Workers say they spend nearly an hour each workday using their mobile phones for nonwork activities. Thirty percent say they spend the most time on personal email, and 28 percent on social media. The total number of minutes spent per day was 56.

Source: “Working Hard or Hardly Working? Employees Waste More than One Day a Week on Non-Work Activities,” OfficeTeam, Robert Half, July 19, 2017,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Activity Percent of time spent on personal mobile device
Personal email 30%
Social media 28%
Sports sites 9%
Mobile games 6%
Online shopping 5%
Entertainment sites 3%

Tech writer Steve Kovach wrote that rather than addiction, “the problem most tech users face is their devices and services are annoying and disruptive. It's easy to feel stressed out or overloaded because of them. In other words, the tech industry doesn't need to worry about making its products less addictive. It needs to focus on making them better.”36

Those who disagree with the claim that software writers intentionally made addictive products say coders merely made products that encourage the user to stay engaged, but that some people become obsessed with the products. That is not the same as clinically addicting people, they say.

Gabe Zichermann, an expert on gamification, says software companies use “various addicting algorithms and approaches” to take advantage of the users’ own psychological state in order to “make something obsession-oriented more powerful.”

Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, told the 2017 Habit Summit conference, “We're not freebasing Facebook and injecting Instagram here.” Showing a slide of sweet baked goods, he said. “Just as we shouldn't blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can't blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them.37

“Of course that's what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?” he asked. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless. We are in control.”38

Should the government help curb the potential for tech addiction?

Even as tech insiders and some investors are pushing technology companies to address internet addiction, some advocacy groups — and a handful of politicians — are beginning to call for government action.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in February that he planned to introduce a bill calling for a federal study to examine the impact of electronic media on children's health and behavior.39 He was speaking at a conference organized by Truth About Tech, a campaign to educate consumers about the potential pitfalls of technology, cosponsored by the nonprofit Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology. The center was cofounded by former Google ethicist Harris to advocate for technology that aims to improve the well-being of humanity.

Tweeting about the proposed study, which would be conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Markey said: “Children are immersed in a digital world that can ennoble and enrich or degrade and debase.”40

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., says he believes there is evidence that technology can be addictive, although he's unsure about government regulation. “I'd much rather do this in a collaborative effort with the companies, but with the notion that if they don't acknowledge this, I think public unease is going to dramatically undermine consumer's trust.”41

Tech companies have come under increased scrutiny following revelations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, largely using social media. Facebook, Google and Twitter executives came to Capitol Hill in October and acknowledged their role in the meddling.42

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images/Alex Brandon)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for his company's missteps regarding its privacy policies during hearings on Capitol Hill in April. “We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake,” he said. In addition, several former employees of companies such as Google and Facebook say tech companies intentionally created technology designed to hook users in order to make money by selling their data. (Getty Images/Alex Brandon)

Facebook also faced political and consumer backlash this year regarding its privacy policies, after the British data collection company Cambridge Analytica, which was working on President Donald Trump's election campaign, accessed the personal data of more than 50 million Facebook users, including Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.43 During hearings on Capitol Hill in April, Zuckerberg apologized for his company's missteps.

“We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry,” Zuckerberg said. But Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, said, “you have a long history of growth and success, but you also have a long list of apologies. This is proof to me that self-regulation simply does not work.”44

Common Sense spokeswoman Corbie Kiernan says, “Clearly, tech is not going to regulate themselves, as they've shown with their ‘move fast and break things’ approach, so it is up to policymakers, advocates and citizens to hold them accountable. Hopefully, they will see the light and work with Common Sense and others like us to move fast and fix things instead.”

Jeff Kagan, an independent mobile industry analyst, agreed that “companies are not going to self-regulate” but that the threat of legislation could pressure them to take action.45

But Larry Downes, a senior industry and innovation fellow at Georgetown University, doubts Congress will take action. “When something goes wrong, there's a call for legislation,” he says. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 it just dies away. What crisis is going to be big enough that it just won't go away?”

Some industry critics have called for social media to be regulated similar to traditional media. But broadcasters and other media are only lightly regulated, Downes points out, largely because of the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. “The First Amendment looms very large over any effort to regulate anything having to do with speech,” he says.

“Government is profoundly ineffective in creating fair regulations and enforcing restrictions,” says Harvard's Rich. Instead, he says he would like to see the government play a bigger role in educating and empowering consumers to “help build our literacy and mastery of the digital environment.”

Common Sense said it plans to conduct research on the magnitude of digital addiction among young people and evaluate its impact, and will work with other groups and tech insiders to develop ethical design standards “to prevent, avoid and discourage digital addiction.” In addition, groups said they plan to pursue an aggressive agenda for regulation of tech companies that use manipulative practices on consumers.46

Internet and TV providers Comcast and DirecTV are donating $50 million worth of air time for public service announcements focusing on such things as a potential link between depression and heavy social media use. The ads are patterned after anti-smoking campaigns.47

Marc Benioff, CEO of the customer relationship management platform, suggested social media overuse be treated as a public health issue like smoking.

“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry: ‘Here's a product: Cigarettes. They're addictive, they're not good for you,’” Benioff said. “Technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back.” Meanwhile, he said, the government should provide clarity on whether social media use is harmful for people.48

Downes is skeptical about using tobacco-style public service announcements because the health effects of tobacco have been thoroughly studied, while very limited research has been conducted on the impact of technology overuse. “Research takes years,” Downes says. “Even when you have all the facts, it still takes years for people to accept the facts.”

Sponsoring studies such as the one NIH is funding on gaming addiction, he says, “is a completely appropriate role for the government.”

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Early Qualms

Concerns about the impact of technology are nothing new. When radio emerged on the scene in the 1920s, some feared it would distract kids from reading and hurt their school performance. The magazine Gramophone claimed in 1936 that radio was “disturbing the balance of their (kids') excitable minds.”49

Then when television became popular after World War II, some feared it would hurt reading, conversation, family life and “result in the further vulgarization of the American culture.”50 Even famed American television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in 1957 that television was becoming the “opiate of the people.”51

A family watches TV in the 1950s. When radio, and later TV (Getty Images/Keystone/Douglas Miller)
A family watches TV in the 1950s. When radio, and later TV, emerged on the scene, many people worried — much as they worry today about high-technology use — that the new devices would distract children from schoolwork. In 1957, influential TV journalist Edward R. Murrow warned that television was becoming the “opiate of the people.” (Getty Images/Keystone/Douglas Miller)

The debate over whether television was addictive continued in ensuing decades. As late as 1990, Richard Ducey, senior vice president of research and planning with the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, told The New York Times: “I've never seen anything conclusive that shows television to be psychologically addictive. It's a proposition with no support, except in some metaphorical sense, the same way you might be addicted to dessert.”52

The first computers were massive, requiring a team of specialists to keep them functioning. One of the earliest and best known was the Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer (ENIAC), built to make ballistics calculations for the U.S. military during World War II. It weighed 30 tons and covered almost 2,000 square feet.

The invention of microprocessors, developed by Intel in 1971, paved the way for smaller and smaller computers. The chip, which was just one-sixteenth of an inch by one-eighth of an inch, had computing power equal to the huge ENIAC. This led to the development of personal computers, an industry that began to gain traction in 1977, with the mass-produced Apple II, Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 and Commodore Business Machines Personal Electronic Transactor.53

By 1990, some laptop computers were on the market, and computer ownership boomed in the next decade. In 1993, less than 25 percent of U.S. households owned a computer. By 2000, more than half of all households had a computer, and 41.5 percent had internet access.54 By 2016, 80 percent of U.S. households had a laptop or desktop computer.55

But long before then, The Journal of Organizational Behavior Management in 1985 ran an article on computer fear and addiction, noting: “The advent of the computer has given rise to several types of reactions, ranging from fear, avoidance and sabotage, on the one hand, to patterns of headlong involvement and overuse comparable to addiction, on the other.”56

In 1998, Congress approved the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requiring the Federal Trade Commission to issue regulations related to children's online privacy.57 The law, which took effect in 2000, was designed to give parents control over what information is collected about their children online. It also required that children be at least 13 years old before opening a social media account.58

Video games began gaining in popularity in the late 1970s, with the introduction of Atari; Nintendo advanced the demand for gaming in the 1980s. In 2000, Sega began offering consoles that could connect to the internet, opening the door to the next generation of devices, Microsoft's Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation. Nintendo's Wii entered the scene in the mid-2000s, allowing people to do things such as bowl, golf or play tennis, virtually. Sales eventually topped 100 million units worldwide.59

Games moved to handheld devices with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010. The “Angry Birds” game was introduced in 2009 and skyrocketed in popularity: By 2011 it had been downloaded 50 million times. In 2010, consumers spent $17.5 billion on video game content, a figure that rose to $24.5 billion by 2016. About two-thirds of U.S. households include someone who plays at least three hours of video games per week. By 2017, some of the top-selling video games of all time were “Grand Theft Auto” (80 million copies), “Minecraft” (122 million) and “Tetris” (170 million).60

Although the term “smartphone” was not used until 1995, the first internet-connected phone came out in 1992. Called the Simon Personal Communicator, the $899 device was developed by IBM, and had the features of a cellphone and a personal digital assistant. While it had no web browser, it did have email access.61

By 2011, 35 percent of adults had smartphones, but only a quarter used them (rather than computers) to access the internet, while 23 percent of teens, most of them age 14 and older, had a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center.62 Within five years, according to Pew, 84 percent of households had smartphones — more than had landlines — and a third of households had three or more smartphones.63

Pew's last survey of teens, in 2015, found that 88 percent had access to a cell phone or smartphone, and nearly one-quarter said they are online “almost constantly.”64 By 2016, according to the marketing consulting firm Influence Central, the average age for kids to get their first cell phone was 10.3 years.65

The first social media site, Six Degrees (based on the notion that there are “six degrees of separation” between all people), was created in 1997. Users could create a profile and “friend” other people.66 Social media has had a major impact on society since the 2000s. MySpace, created in 2003 and the most visited website in 2006, was valued at $12 billion in 2007. After the rise of Facebook, however, MySpace dwindled in popularity; it now focuses on music and culture.67

Mark Zuckerberg launched Thefacebook from his Harvard dorm room in February 2004. The site quickly spread to other universities, and in 2004 Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to run the company, which became known as Facebook and was headquartered in a Palo Alto, Calif., office. PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Elon Musk invested $500,000 in Facebook, which had its initial public offering in 2012.68

Meanwhile, Twitter was founded in 2006, followed by Instagram in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011.69 As of 2015, more than 70 percent of teens said they used Facebook, while more than half used Instagram. Girls were more likely to use social media sites, while boys were more likely to play online games.70

Even though under COPPA children must be at least 13 years old before opening a social media account, 11 percent opened their first account by age 10, and 39 percent got their first account between the ages of 10 and 12, according to a 2016 survey.71

Concerns Emerge

In the 1980s and '90s, people were said to have computerphobia if they experienced “resistances, fears, anxieties and hostilities” about computers, including fears of touching or damaging one, of being replaced by computers and of becoming a slave to them, according to the 1996 book Women and Computers. 72 Similar concerns about the internet began to crop up in the 2000s, with headlines such as “Email ‘Hurts IQ More than Pot,’” and “How Using Facebook Could Raise Your Risk of Cancer.”73

Kimberly Young, currently the program director of the master's in strategic leadership program at St. Bonaventure University in New York State, was the first U.S. expert to begin focusing on internet addiction. In 1994, her friend's husband was spending 40 to 50 hours a week in AOL chat rooms. Besides running up hefty bills — chat room use cost $2.95 an hour — the man's life was out of balance and his relationship with his wife was in trouble.74

Young began the first study on internet addiction in 1995. In 1998 she wrote the book Caught in the Net, identifying internet addiction and its impact on families and society. She also founded the first U.S. inpatient clinic for internet addiction at Pennsylvania's Bradford Regional Medical Center, and the Center for Internet Addiction, using cognitive behavioral therapy to treat patients.75

During an American Psychiatric Association meeting in 1996, Young presented “Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder,” in which she discussed the results of her interviews with people viewed as “dependent” and “non-dependent” on the internet.76

Only 17 percent of those rated as “dependent” had been online for a year or more, compared to 71 percent of those considered “non-dependent,” Young said. That suggests that for some people internet addiction can develop “rather quickly from one's first introduction,” she said. Those labeled as dependent spent nearly eight times as many hours per week on the internet for pleasure as those considered non-dependent, she said.77

“Dependents gradually developed a daily Internet habit of up to ten times their initial use as their familiarity with the Internet increased,” Young said, adding, “This may be likened to tolerance levels which develop among alcoholics who gradually increase their consumption of alcohol in order to achieve the desired effect.”78

By the late 2000s and early 2010s, online gaming, which had moved to social media platforms and mobile devices as well as in-home consoles, was raising concerns about overuse.79 A Pew Research Center study from 2015 found almost 60 percent of teen-age girls and 84 percent of teen-age boys played video games online.80

Another Pew study from that same year found that half of U.S. adults played video games, and 10 percent considered themselves “gamers.” But gaming was much higher among younger adults. More than three-quarters of men between the ages of 18 and 29, played video games, and one-third consider themselves “gamers.” In comparison, 57 percent of women in that age range played video games, and just 9 percent considered themselves to be gamers.81

Similar concerns have been raised about people who obsessively view online pornography. Some social scientists, feminists and anti-porn groups say pornography's evolution from a subscription-based or pay-per-view system to a ubiquitous, largely free online commodity has created a public health crisis, undermining male-female relations and “normalizing” sexual violence against women. They also worry that because porn is now easily accessible to users of any age, children as young as 11 are learning about sex by viewing explicit, often violent, sex scenes.82

In recent years, experts have voiced concerns about the age at which children are being exposed to screens. In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of 18 months not have screen time, except for video chats. Tots between 18 and 24 months can be introduced to high-quality programming on digital media, the academy said, and for those between the ages of 2 and 5, screen time should be limited to one hour per day.83

Even after the age of 24 months, screen time should not “take the place of face-to-face interaction,” says Yolanda S. (Linda) Reid-Chassiakos, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the Student Health Center at California State University Northridge. “There's some research that kids learn more effectively in 3D than 2D and retain information longer,” she says. “But if you're going to use media, use good media.”

Power of Addiction

For decades after research on addictive behavior began in the 1930s, researchers thought addicts lacked willpower or were morally flawed. Many believed that those not strong enough to break their habit should be punished.84

Alcoholism was recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 1956. The American Psychiatric Association's early versions of the DSM required a person to exhibit increased tolerance for alcohol or a drug and withdrawal symptoms before being diagnosed with dependence. The DSM-IV, published in 1994, included a loss of control and the failure to abstain even when the substance abuse was causing problems in a user's life.85

Researchers now define addiction as a chronic disease that changes the brain structure and function. Researchers also believe activities such as gambling and shopping, considered behavioral addictions, can impact the brain. The brain recognizes all pleasures by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, made up of nerve cells under the cerebral cortex. Substances ranging from nicotine to methamphetamines release extremely powerful surges of dopamine.

But after a while, as tolerance to addictive drugs and behaviors develop, the brain produces less dopamine, and people need more of a substance to get the same “high.” The memory of the pleasurable results can lead to intense cravings.

Genetics also come into play: Research has shown that about 40 percent to 60 percent of those who are susceptible to addiction inherited the tendency.86

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Current Situation

Gaming Addiction

While experts have yet to define technology overuse as an addiction, internet gaming disorder could be included in future versions of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The APA's decision on whether gaming is a disorder will depend, at least in part, on the results of the NIH study, expected to be completed in 2019.

In discussing internet gaming, the APA has said: “The ‘gamers’ play compulsively, to the exclusion of other interests, and their persistent and recurrent online activity results in clinically significant impairment or distress.” Behaviors that would be considered in making such a diagnosis include: preoccupation with internet games; withdrawal symptoms when not playing; buildup of tolerance so more time is spent playing games; loss of interest in other activities; and putting relationships or opportunities at risk because of gaming.87

Some addiction specialists say the obsessive use of technology (Getty Images/LightRocket/Roberto Machado)
Some addiction specialists say the obsessive use of technology, including virtual reality headsets, above, can affect the brain in the same way an overdependence on alcohol or drugs does. Others say tech overuse is not an addiction in the medical sense but rather a manifestation of underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression. (Getty Images/LightRocket/Roberto Machado)

The World Health Organization's definition of a gaming disorder includes impaired control over gaming, increasing priority for gaming over other activities and continued gaming despite negative consequences.88

So far, most of the studies on online gaming have focused on males in Asian countries. “The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict's brain is affected by a particular substance,” the APA said in 2013. Gaming prompts a neurological response “that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”89

A 2017 study in The American Journal of Psychiatry examined data on almost 19,000 online gamers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany and found just 0.3 percent to 1 percent might qualify for a diagnosis of internet gaming disorder.90 That “suggests that video game addiction might be a real thing, but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be,” wrote Stetson University's Ferguson and Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, in a joint commentary on the study.91

“It's less clear — did games do this, or is there something about the person that makes it hard for them to regulate these things,” Ferguson says. “In most cases, tech addicts had an underlying mental health problem. Tech is a way to self-medicate. Games didn't really do it.”

Reducing Tech Overuse

The potential link between technology overuse and children's mental health has been the subject of particular scrutiny.

According to Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, teens who spend the most time looking at screens are more likely to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who use social media heavily increase their risk of depression by 27 percent. Teens who spent three hours or more on an electronic device are more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.92

Social media “exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out,” said Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us. “Today's teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly — on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.”93

However, research is needed on the link between technology and mental health. “What causes what? Is it that screen time leads to unhappiness or unhappiness leads to screen time?” Twenge asked.94

Harvard's Rich says parents should “introduce a smartphone to a child in much the same way they would introduce a power saw to a child — when it's needed and they can use it responsibly.”

Concerns about tech overuse have spread outside the tech and research communities. In January, the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the investment firm JANA Partners LLC, both Apple shareholders, wrote to Apple urging it to develop tools to help parents control children's iPhone use. The letter, which Rich helped craft, states that the average American teenager spends 4.5 hours a day on his phone, excluding texting and talking, and half of teens say they feel “addicted” to their phone.

“It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally,” the letter said. “It is also no secret that social media sites and applications, for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway, are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged.”

The letter called on Apple to offer new tools for parents to limit screen time to age-appropriate levels for their children. “Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do,” the letter said.95

Apple spokesman Ted Miller cited a company statement that said Apple devices give parents “the ability to control and restrict content including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features. Effectively, anything a child could download or access online can be easily blocked or restricted by a parent.”

The company also recently launched a new Families page, which pulls all of the company's parental controls together in one place. It enables parents to approve or reject app purchases, limit content on their children's devices and restrict their browsing to pre-approved websites.96

A group of concerned parents organized a movement last year — called Wait Until 8th — which asks parents to sign a pledge not to give their child a smartphone until he or she is in the eighth grade.97

Child development experts, health advocacy groups, educators and others also have written to Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, urging him to shut down the controversial Messenger Kids app, which is designed for children between the ages of 6 and 12. “Younger kids are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” according to the letter. “At a time when there is mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents' well-being, it is particularly irresponsible to encourage children as young as preschoolers to start using a Facebook product.”98

Facebook's spokesperson Davis responded that the company had worked with child health experts to make the app as safe as possible.

Some companies are taking a different tack. The Brooklyn-based company Light is introducing a sleek new “dumb phone,” which allows people only to call, message and get directions. The phones cost $250.99

Other companies are rolling out apps designed to help consumers limit or monitor their phone use. Gaming expert Zichermann, for example, developed the app Onward, which lets individuals set limits on phone features that might be addictive, such as those for gaming, pornography and shopping. In a study of about 2,500 pornography users, he says, Onward helped almost 90 percent reduce their use, and nearly 50 percent said it stopped their addiction.

Zichermann calls it a “bottom up” approach, rather than having others impose limits. “It's not possible to build something to give everyone what they need to help them,” he says. “We can only really help people that want help.”

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A Growing Problem

Given the dearth of research on tech addiction, and the lack of a clear definition of the problem, experts are hoping for more clarity and consensus in the coming years. The APA and WHO “don't even agree on how to conceptualize this thing,” says Stetson's Ferguson.

Randomized, controlled trials are needed to determine the links between technology and its effects. “That's where longitudinal studies come in,” said Twenge, of San Diego State University.100

Harvard's Rich has helped to establish the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID) in Boston, which he hopes will present a clearer path forward in treating kids who he says display “problematic interactive internet usage.” Because CIMAID is located at an academic research center (Boston Children's Hospital), Rich says the focus will be on collecting data on treatment outcomes, which he says is lacking at many other treatment centers. Such information can be used to determine the best course of treatment for the disorder.

While treatment facilities are springing up around the country, cost can be an obstacle for treatment because it is not covered by insurance. Health insurers rely on the DSM when determining which conditions to cover, University of Southern California pediatrician Lustig says. Historically, the DSM is seldom updated, a process that typically takes more than a dozen years, although the APA said it can make incremental updates as new medical breakthroughs occur.101

Lustig says he is concerned that it will take years before the APA recognizes internet addiction as an official disorder. “It's a big deal when the DSM comes out,” he says. “It determines if insurers will pay.”

Gaming specialist Zichermann says the government should require health insurers to cover treatment for tech addiction. But he does not think the government can rein in the proliferation of such addictions. With artificial intelligence and algorithms designed to keep people coming back to their smartphones and computers, he says, “even the engineers who craft these things don't understand how it's working.”

Rosen, of California State University, says rather than the government, it's up to tech companies to address the concerns. “They're responsible for figuring out ways to not get you sucked in. I don't see a government role in this,” he says. “I see this as a very large social responsibility issue” for the companies.

Columbia University Law School professor of communications law Tim Wu said the tech world needs “to designate the deliberate engineering of addiction as an unethical practice. More broadly, we need to get back to rewarding firms that build technologies that augment humanity and help us do what we want, as opposed to taking our time for themselves.”102

Lustig expects the problem to get worse as today's youngsters grow up. “This is an existential crisis because tech is not going away.”

Bracke, the 29-year-old gamer who is in recovery, agrees the problem will get worse. In his volunteer work in 12-step groups and at the reSTART rehab program, most of the gamers are much younger than he is and grew up with the internet.

When he was very young, Bracke remembers, there was no internet in his home. For those growing up now, he says, “they don't have any concept of life without it and what a normal life is.”

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Is ‘technology addiction’ a valid diagnosis?


Robert H. Lustig M.D., M.S.L.
Emeritus Professor, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of California, San Francisco. Written for CQ Researcher, April 2018

An apocryphal story: It's 1955, and the Yankees' Yogi Berra is at the plate. The pitch arrives; Berra takes. The umpire doesn't react. The catcher yells, “Well, is it a ball or a strike?” The ump says, “Ain't nothin' till I call it.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has been the umpire of U.S. addiction. In 1993, its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)-IV listed “substance use disorder” as requiring two criteria for addiction: tolerance (decreased sensitivity to a substance in the “reward center” of the brain); and withdrawal (measurable physiological symptoms and signs of abstinence due to the systemic effects of these drugs). Most if not all recreational drugs, including cocaine, opioids, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, exhibited both. Under this rubric, behaviors that lacked withdrawal because they did not exert systemic physiologic effects could not be labeled as addictive.

However, as public health difficulties stemming from behavioral addictions grew, the APA expanded the definition of addiction to include “behavioral addictions,” characterized by nine criteria: craving or a strong desire to use; recurrent use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations; recurrent use in physically hazardous situations (e.g. driving); use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by use; taking the substance or engaging in the behavior in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended; attempts to quit or cut down; time spent seeking or recovering from use; interference with life activities; and use despite negative consequences.

Under this new rubric, gambling is now labeled an addiction in order to provide clinical services. But despite an extensive literature and similar criteria, the APA relegated “Internet Gaming Disorder” to the DSM appendix as “requiring further study.” And because the APA couldn't come up with universally accepted diagnostic criteria, it refused to label social media or pornography as addictions.

Nonetheless, we have empirical brain-scan data for all of these. Perhaps not surprisingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added the following behavioral addictions to the next International Classification of Diseases, due out this year: gambling disorder, gaming disorder and other specified or unspecified disorders “due to addictive behaviors.”

So, which umpire do you want for your game: one who calls balls and strikes as he sees them, or one who sits on the call and can't make up his mind?


Christopher Ferguson
Professor of Psychology, Stetson University. Written for CQ Researcher, April 2018

There is little question that a small percentage of individuals, likely 1 percent or less, overuse technology. But it is less clear that this is due to an addiction in the same sense as over-dependence on alcohol, nicotine or illicit drugs.

Technology use doesn't have the same biochemical processes as substance use, and there are no clear parallels to the tolerance (needing more to get the same high) and withdrawal (physiological symptoms that result from stopping use) typical of substance abuse. Some scholars have tried to find ways to make tolerance and withdrawal fit into conceptualizations of technology misuse, but these don't seem to work well.

One misunderstanding arises from the observation that technology use activates some of the same dopaminergic centers of the brain involved with pleasure as does substance abuse. However, these centers are involved in anything fun, so finding that a fun activity (whether technology use, exercising, eating a candy bar, getting an “A” on a test, etc.) activates these areas, just as cocaine and methamphetamine do, is hardly surprising. These are, in fact, natural processes.

However, illicit substances such as methamphetamine activate these centers to a much greater degree than do normal activities such as technology or exercise. That is what makes these substances dangerous, a detail often left out of these discussions.

Although groups such as the American Psychiatric Association and World Health Organization have proposed technology addiction diagnoses, these have been controversial, with many scholars opposed to such classifications. This is because current evidence suggests these are not unique disorders but rather arise as symptoms of underlying mental health problems, such as depression or attention problems.

Nor is there evidence that technology is uniquely addictive, as other research has focused on everything from exercise to dance addictions. Finally, evidence is clear that on most behavioral indices, youths today are actually pretty healthy. No evidence has emerged to suggest an epidemic of tech-addicted youths.

Every generation of older adults tends to freak out about new technology and exaggerate its potential harms. This is something we understand as “moral panic theory.” In the 1950s the fear was centered on comic books; in the 1980s, rock music and the game “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Current concerns about technology addiction, given the evidence, are better understood as a new moral panic rather than a legitimate concern supported by data.

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1920s–1950sAs new technologies are introduced, concerns emerge about overuse and addiction.
1920First U.S. commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, goes on the air. After radio becomes a common household object, some fear it will distract children and hurt their school performance.
1927Television is invented.
1928First U.S. television station, W3XK, begins broadcasting from suburban Washington, D.C.
1944Two University of Pennsylvania professors build the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator, considered the grandfather of computers.
1957TV journalist Edward R. Murrow warns that television is becoming the “opiate of the people.”
1970s–1980sPersonal computers and mobile phones are invented.
1971An Intel engineer creates the first microprocessor.
1973The first mobile phone call is made — between a Motorola employee and Bell Labs headquarters.
1976Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak build the Apple I desktop computer.
1981First laptop computer, the Epson HX-20, is introduced.
1990s–2000sComputer ownership soars and social media companies form.
1993Fewer than one in four U.S. households owns a computer.
1995Psychologist Kimberly Young begins first study on internet addiction in the United States.
1997First social media site, Six Degrees, is founded.
1998Congress passes Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
2000Half of U.S. households have a computer.
2003MySpace social media site is created.
2004Mark Zuckerberg launches The facebook — the predecessor of Facebook — from his Harvard dorm room.
2006Twitter is founded.
2008China becomes the first to recognize internet addiction disorder.
2010–PresentSocial media use soars; some consumer groups and tech insiders begin to push back against tech companies.
2010Instagram founded.
2011Snapchat launches.
2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists “Internet gaming disorder” as a condition worthy of further study.
2014World Health Organization (WHO) holds the first international meeting on internet addiction.
2016More U.S. households have cellphones than landlines.
2017South Korean researchers find that technology overuse affects the brain in ways similar to other addictions…. National Institutes of Health funds first U.S. study on gaming addiction…. WHO announces it will include gaming disorder in its next International Classification of Diseases.
2018Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology start the Truth About Tech campaign…. Apple shareholders JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System urge the company to develop tools to help parents control children's iPhone use…. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., says he will propose that Congress fund a study on the impact of electronic media on children's health and behavior.

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Short Features

Clients must “learn how to delay gratification.”

As treatment centers crop up around the country to address technology overuse, the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders in Boston is trying not only to help adolescents regulate their technology use but also to collect data to learn more about the problem and how best to treat it.

“What we want to do actually is to identify these problems much earlier — much farther upstream — before they become disabling,” said Michael Rich, the clinic's founder, who is also director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital, which investigates the positive and negative health effects of media on children. Both the center and the clinic are located at Children's Hospital, but the clinic is the only such facility for adolescents located at an academic research center.1

The center has treated a few hundred kids, but Rich and his staff cannot handle the volume of requests for help, he says. So they are working to train primary care physicians, pediatricians and therapists on how to treat internet overuse, says Rich, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics and of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University.

Rich is only one soldier in what he and some other therapists see as a battle against technology overuse.

One of the first adult residential treatment centers in the country began operations outside Seattle in 2009. Hilarie Cash, a psychologist and licensed mental health counselor, moved to the Seattle area in 1993. Shortly after opening her practice she had a 25-year-old patient about to lose both his marriage and his job at Microsoft because he constantly played the online game “Dungeons and Dragons.”

“He opened my eyes to this problem,” Cash says. “I was very ignorant and naïve.”

Over time, Cash dealt with others hooked on tech — some on online video games, some on internet pornography and some who had had affairs with people they met in chat rooms.

“There was no place to send young people who needed a higher level of care” beyond traditional treatment for depression, anxiety or other psychological problems that might drive an over-reliance on technology, she says.

In 2009, Cash and psychotherapist Cosette Rae launched reSTART, an inpatient facility in Fall City, Wash., a rural community east of Seattle. Initially treating only adults, the center expanded to include teens in 2016.

The first phase of treatment begins at a house in the woods, where clients are kept away from any kinds of screens in a process called “detoxing.” Clients need to “learn how to delay gratification,” Cash says. “Their brains are wired for immediate gratification.”

They also have to learn life skills, time management and emotional regulation, and counseling helps them to find the root cause of their problems. Typically, young adults who finish rehab move to an apartment with others who attended reSTART. They work part time and take a college class.

At this stage, technology is largely off limits. Clients receive a phone without an internet connection and may only work on computers in a monitored computer lab. Eventually they move to another apartment, where they can work full time and take additional college classes as they learn to reintegrate technology into their lives.

They also are required to attend 12-step meetings — similar to the system used by Alcoholics Anonymous — that are designed to help them recover from their addictive behavior. The reSTART program costs tens of thousands of dollars for the three phases of treatment.

Cash says many clients come from homes in which technology is heavily used, and many started playing video games at age 4 or 5. “Parents are handing kids this digital drug,” Cash says.

A 2015 survey by reStart found mixed results for its program. The survey of almost 50 family members of reSTART clients found that 93 percent said their loved one was unable to control digital media use before entering the treatment program. After treatment, up to one-third were unable to control their behavior.2 In comparison, 40 percent to 60 percent of those who go through drug addiction treatment relapse, according to the federal government.3

Other tech-addiction treatment centers have sprung up around the country. Some offer conventional addiction therapy. Others are summer camps that treat youngsters with individual counseling sessions and information on how technology affects physical and mental health.

At Summerland Camps, with locations in North Carolina and California, tweens and teens take part in activities such as rock climbing, zip lining, arts and music, as they learn to communicate and socialize without their cellphones. There are group discussions on tech overuse and coaching sessions to learn new habits, as well as individual sessions with licensed therapists.4

Camp co-founder Michael Bishop, a psychologist, said, “Kids are spending less time doing neighborhood games of basketball, hide and seek — the games we used to play as kids. They're just spending more time on cellphones. So as the environment changes, as parents, we have to change as well. And we have to prepare our kids for the environment we're going off to. So ultimately the goal for our camp is to create habits with your child so when they leave you no longer have to be the screen police.”5

— Susan Ladika

[1] Steve Tellier, “7News Investigates Gets Exclusive Look Inside New Child Internet Addiction Center,” 7News Boston, Feb. 26, 2018,

[2] “2015 Treatment Outcome Results,” reSTART, 2015,

[3] “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, January 2018,

[4] “Summer Camp for Gaming Overuse, Technology Overuse, and Co-occurring Issues,” Summerland Camps, undated,

[5] Marcus Leshock and Mike Ewing, “Are We Addicted to Our Smartphones? Experts Weigh in,” WGN, Feb. 19, 2018,

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Online games are called “the new opium to poison the growth of teenagers.”

Concerns about tech addiction are a global phenomenon — and so are efforts to deal with it. At least seven countries — Australia, China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — consider addiction to technology a disorder.6

In South Korea, about 10 percent of teens are considered addicted to the internet, according to surveys. To address the problem, the government has established roughly 200 treatment programs at counseling centers and hospitals. The government helped fuel internet addiction by promoting advances in mobile and other technology, said Shim Yong-chool, a director at the National Center for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment camp in Muju. “Now,” he said, “the government is trying to help solve it.”7

Yoon Yong-won, 18, had to turn in his smartphone when he was sent to the camp, where activities include hiking and stress-reduction classes. “I'm so frustrated. I feel like I'm being held captive,” he said during his first day there. But Kim Sung-min, 14, said the camp was better than he thought it would be. “At home, I just used to play games,” he said. “But here, we talk to each other.”8

South Korea also passed the so-called Cinderella law, which prevents video gamers from logging onto the internet after midnight.9

Shinsei Noguchi, a gamer known as Mayo, plays (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)
Shinsei Noguchi, a gamer known as Mayo, plays “Splatoon” at a gaming competition in Chiba, Japan, on Feb. 10, 2018. Japan is among at least seven countries that consider addiction to technology a mental health disorder. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Shiho Fukada)

In Japan, officials in 2013 began to establish internet “fasting camps,” where internet addicts receive counseling and are barred from accessing technology. China, which in 2008 became the first country to recognize internet addiction as a disorder, has more than 300 treatment centers.10

Li Yan, who with her husband runs an internet addiction treatment camp in Huai'an, about 250 miles north of Shanghai, said solitude drives the problem. “They feel emptiness in their hearts,” she said of technology addicts. “They can't live up to their parents' expectations. So they go to the internet cafe.” Li's camp offers classes in ballet, music, stand-up comedy and other cultural skills.11

But as China tries to tackle tech addiction, some treatment centers have come under scrutiny.

Trent Bax, an assistant professor of sociology at Ewha Womans University in South Korea who has researched Chinese internet addiction centers, said they advertise “a quick-fix solution.” Parents send their children “in response to a very real fear that [their] only child's successful future may never be realized because they refuse to stop gaming and start studying,” he said. From the 1970s until 2015, the Chinese government allowed families to have only one child.12

Some centers have been accused of beating patients or conducting electroshock therapy on them. Last year, an 18-year-old man died while receiving treatment at an internet addiction “boot camp” in China. Authorities are investigating the incident, which left the man with multiple injuries and, according to his mother, covered with scars.13

Yu Xinwen, a vice president of Guangzhou University and delegate to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a government advisory council, wants China to develop a system to classify online games by appropriate age. “Some online games have become the new opium to poison the growth of teenagers,” she said.14

Tencent, a Chinese internet service and video game company, plans to issue digital contracts so parents and their children can agree on an appropriate amount of game-playing time. Under the contracts, children could earn more playing time as a reward for doing chores or getting good grades.15

Inpatient treatment centers are less common in Europe than in Asia, but concerns about tech addition are no less prevalent. In December, French education officials announced they planned to ban the use of mobile phones during breaks in elementary and middle schools this fall, fulfilling a 2017 campaign pledge of President Emmanuel Macron. Since 2010 French students have been prohibited from using phones in elementary and middle school classrooms.16

“These days the children don't play at break time anymore; they are just all in front of their smartphones, and from an educational point of view, that's a problem,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said. He cited studies warning against screen time for children under age 7.17

“Together with school principals, teachers and parents, we need to find ways to protect our children from spending hours on their cellphones,” Blanquer said.18

But the proposed ban has skeptics. “Can you imagine school supervisors having to check the pockets of about 400 students every morning?” said Valérie Sipahimalani, a spokeswoman for the National Union of Secondary School Teachers. The measure will be impossible to enforce, she said.19

Some French parents oppose the proposed ban as excessive and instead advise teaching students how to moderate their phone use. “Cellphones are tools, and it's their excessive use that poses problems,” said Gerard Pommier, head of the Federation of Parents in State Schools.20

France also has proposed requiring parental permission for children under 16 to open an account on social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. The three companies require subscribers to be at least 13 years old to open an account.21

In Italy, which hosted the First International Congress on Internet Addiction Disorders in 2014, officials rescinded a ban on cellphones in schools in 2016. Education Minister Valeria Fedeli said the phones “are an extraordinary tool to facilitate learning.”22

— Susan Ladika

[6] Barbara Booth, “Apple Urged to Take Action on Smartphone Addiction Some Call ‘Digital Heroin,’” CNBC, Jan. 8, 2018,

[7] Ibid.; Anna Fifield, “In South Korea, a Rehab Camp for Internet-Addicted Teenagers,” The Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2018,

[8] Booth, op. cit.; Fifield, ibid.

[9] Fifield, ibid.

[10] Booth, op. cit.

[11] Tom Phillips, “‘Electronic Heroin’: China's Boot Camps Get Tough on Internet Addicts,” The Guardian, Aug. 28, 2017,

[12] “Teen's Death at Chinese Internet Addiction Camp Sparks Anger,” BBC News, Aug. 14, 2017,; Chris Buckley, “China Ends One-Child Policy, Allowing Families Two Children,” The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2015,

[13] “Teen's Death at Chinese Internet Addiction Camp Sparks Anger,” op. cit.

[14] Alyssa Abkowitz, “Tencent to Introduce Video Game Contracts for Parents and Children,” Morningstar, March 3, 2018,

[15] Brian Crecente, “Massive Game Publisher Rolling Out Digital Contracts to Help Limit Kids' Gameplay,” Rolling Stone, March 5, 2018,

[16] Jenny Anderson, “France is banning mobile phones in schools,” Quartz, Dec. 11, 2017,; Paul Pradier, “France to Ban Mobile Phones in Primary, Middle Schools Starting in September 2018,” ABC News, Dec. 13, 2017,

[17] Laurel Wamsley, France Moves to Ban Students from Using Cellphones in School,” NPR, Dec. 12, 2017,

[18] Ibid.

[19] Pradier, op. cit.

[20] Alice Tidey, “France Grapples with whether to Ban Cellphones in Schools,” NBC News, Jan. 14, 2018,

[21] Harriet Agnew, “France Takes Phones Away From Tech-Addicted Teenagers,” The Financial Times, Dec. 15, 2017,

[22] Tidey, op. cit.; Christie Barakat, “Internet Addiction Around the World,” Adweek, June 16, 2014,

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Alter, Adam , Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked , Penguin Books, 2017. A psychology and marketing professor at New York University examines the rise of behavioral addictions.

Gazzaley, Adam, and Larry Rosen , The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World , MIT Press, 2016. Human brains have a limited ability to pay attention, making people vulnerable to technology-related interruptions, according to a professor in the neurology, physiology and psychiatry departments at the University of California, San Francisco (Gazzaley) and a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills (Rosen).

Lustig, Robert , The Hacking of the American Mind , Avery, 2017. A professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, examines how technology and other addictive pleasures affect brains and physical and psychological health.

Twenge, Jean M. , iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What that Means for the Rest of Us , Simon & Schuster, 2017. A psychology professor at San Diego State University argues that those born in the mid-1990s or later, the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones, are different from their predecessors.


“How Addiction Hijacks the Brain,” Harvard Health Publishing, July 2011, A Harvard Medical School article explains the impact of addiction on the brain.

“Smartphone Addiction Creates Imbalance in the Brain, Study Suggests,” Science Daily, Nov. 30, 2017, South Korean researchers present evidence that technology can affect the brain in ways similar to other addictions.

Anderson, Jenny , “‘It's not a drug, but it may as well be’: Expert opinions on whether kids are addicted to tech,” Quartz, Feb. 9, 2018, Experts discuss tech addiction at a conference sponsored by Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology.

Cooper, Anderson , “What is ‘Brain Hacking?’ Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care,” “60 Minutes,” CBS News, June 11, 2017, Tech company insiders explain how companies get consumers hooked on technology and the impact that has on individuals.

Davis, Kathleen , “Sorry, Silicon Valley Won't Save Your Kids from Tech Addiction,” Fast Company, March 26, 2018, Parents describe their concerns about their children's use of technology.

Fifield, Anna , “In South Korea, a Rehab Camp for Internet-Addicted Teenagers,” The Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2018, A reporter looks inside a camp in South Korea designed to rehabilitate teens addicted to technology.

Gonzalez, Robbie , “It's Time for a Serious Talk about the Science of Tech ‘Addiction,’” Wired, Feb. 1, 2018, Experts discuss tech addiction and the limitations of scientific research on the issue.

Kamenetz, Anya , “Screen Addiction Among Teens: Is There Such a Thing?” NPR, Feb. 5, 2018, A journalist discusses the views of the American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization and other researchers on whether to classify tech addiction as a disorder.

Reports and Studies

Argyriou, Evangelia, Christopher B. Davison and Tayla T.C. Lee , “Response Inhibition and Internet Gaming Disorder: A Meta-analysis,” Addictive Behaviors, August 2017, Researchers find a link between internet gaming disorder and impaired inhibition among participants.

Olmstead, Kenneth , “A Third of Americans Live in a Household with Three or More Smartphones,” Pew Research Center, May 25, 2017, Nearly 85 percent of Americans live in a home with at least one cellphone, and cellphone ownership outpaces landline ownership.

Twenge, Jean M., Thomas E. Joiner and Megan L. Rogers , “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents after 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time,” Clinical Psychological Science, Nov. 14, 2017, Adolescents who spend the most time on social media and electronic devices are more likely to report mental health issues.

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The Next Step


“We're not addicted to smartphones, we're addicted to social interaction,” Frontiers in Psychology, Science Daily, March 7, 2018, A new study finds that people might be addicted not to smartphones but to the human interactions that smartphones facilitate.

Gonzalez, Robbie , “It's Time For a Serious Talk About the Science of Tech ‘Addiction,’” Wired, Feb. 1, 2018, There isn't enough data to confirm that tech addiction is a serious issue, a journalist writes.

Smith, Noah , “Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses,” Bloomberg, April 4, 2018, Recent studies have found evidence to suggest similarities between social media use and addictive behavior, but more research is needed to form firm conclusions, says a columnist.

Gaming Disorder

Ali, Shainna , “World Health Organization Considers Gaming Disorder,” Psychology Today, March 5, 2018, Experts are divided over gaming disorder's legitimacy as a medical diagnosis, but the World Health Organization (WHO) is considering including it as a mental health condition in its International Classification of Diseases.

Lee, Bruce Y. , “Do You Have ‘Gaming Disorder,’ A Newly Recognized Mental Health Condition?” Forbes, Dec. 24, 2017, Individuals who might suffer from gaming disorder could ask themselves a modified version of the CAGE Questions, which are frequently used to detect alcohol addiction, advises an associate professor of international health.

Vega, Priscella , “UC Irvine objects to WHO's plan to classify ‘gaming disorder’ as a mental health condition,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 7, 2018, The University of California, Irvine, a mecca for students interested in playing video games, has criticized a WHO plan to include gaming disorder in its list of mental health conditions.

Mental Health

Garcia-Navarro, Lulu , “The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide Is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says,” NPR, Dec. 17, 2017, New research has found a link between increased technology use and rising depression rates in teenagers.

Nedelman, Michael , “Screen time: Mental health menace or scapegoat?” CNN, Feb. 28, 2018, The most prominent research on technology and mental health implies a correlation between screen time and mental health issues, but not necessarily causation.

Singh-Kurtz, Sangeeta , “Instagram is Building a Team to Stop People From Feeling Bad on Instagram,” Quartz, April 3, 2018, After a survey ranked it as the worst social media site for mental health, Instagram has created a task force that aims to improve its sense of community.

Treatment Programs

“Teen's death at Chinese internet addiction camp sparks anger,” BBC News, Aug. 14, 2017, The rising number of internet addiction treatment programs in China has led to criticism of some of the centers' practices.

Booth, Barbara , “Apple urged to take action on smartphone addiction some call ‘digital heroin,’” CNBC, Jan. 8, 2018, The United States is far behind other countries that recognize tech addiction as a mental health disorder and offer treatment programs.

Walters, Joanna , “Inside the rehab saving young men from their internet addiction,” The Guardian, June 16, 2017, A Washington state-based internet addiction treatment center uses psychotherapy, a 12-step program and other methods to help addicts detox.

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American Academy of Pediatrics
345 Park Blvd., Itasca, IL 60143
Professional organization representing pediatricians.

American Psychiatric Association
800 Maine Ave., S.W., Suite 900, Washington, DC 20024
Professional organization representing psychiatrists, academics and researchers; publishes Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Center for Humane Technology
Organization of technology experts concerned about technology's impact on individuals and society.

Center on Media and Child Health
300 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115
Academic research center at Boston Children's Hospital that promotes healthy media use by children.

Common Sense Media
650 Townsend, Suite 435, San Francisco, CA 94103
Research and advocacy organization focused on media use, digital literacy and other aspects of technology's role in children's and families' lives.

Internet Association
1333 H. St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005
Trade group that represents the internet industry on public policy issues.

National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency that is backing the first government-funded study related to internet addiction.

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[1] Anya Kamenetz, “Screen Addiction Among Teens: Is There Such a Thing?” NPR, Feb. 5, 2018,

[2] Jenny Anderson, “‘It's Not a Drug, but It May as Well Be,’: Expert Opinions on Whether Kids Are Addicted to Tech,” Quartz, Feb. 9, 2018,

[3] Stephanie A. Sarkis, “Internet Gaming Disorder in DSM-5,” Psychology Today, July 18, 2014,

[4] “Public Health Implications of Excessive Use of the Internet and other Communication and Gaming Platforms,” World Health Organization, March 2018,

[5] Center for Humane Technology, undated,

[6] “Open Letter from JANA Partners and CALSTRS to Apple Inc.,” JANA Partners LLC, Jan. 6, 2018,

[7] “Overload: How Technology Is Bringing Us Too Much Information,” CBS News, April 1, 2018,

[8] “Common Sense Media/Survey Monkey YouTube Poll Topline,” Common Sense Media, undated,

[9] Sara Ashley O'Brien, “Silicon Valley Employees Launch Campaign to Combat Tech Addiction,”, Feb. 6, 2018,

[10] Kathleen Davis, “Sorry, Silicon Valley Won't Save Your Kids from Tech Addiction,” Fast Company, March 26, 2018,; “Survey: Parents Are More Worried about Tech Addiction than Online Predators,” Fast Company, March 26, 2018,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Barbara Booth, “Internet Addiction is Sweeping America, Affecting Millions,” CNBC, Aug. 29, 2017,

[14] Harriet Agnew, “France Takes Phones away from Tech-Addicted Teenagers,” Financial Times, Dec. 15, 2017,

[15] “How Addiction Hijacks the Brain,” Harvard Health Publishing, July 2011,

[16] Angie Marcos, “Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?” California State University, April 26, 2017,

[17] “Teen Technology Addiction,” Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, undated,

[18] Dennis Thompson, “Does ‘Smartphone Addiction’ Show up in Teens' Brains,” CBS News, Dec. 4, 2017,; Booth, op. cit.; “Smartphone Addiction Creates Imbalance in the Brain, Study Suggests,” Science Daily, Nov. 30, 2017,

[19] A. Pawlowski, “Kids Who Are Addicted to Smartphones May Have an Imbalance of the Brain,” Today, Nov. 30, 2017,

[20] Sandee LaMotte, “Smartphone addiction could be changing your brain,” CNN, Dec. 1, 2017,

[21] Lesley McClurg, “Is ‘Internet Addiction’ Real?” NPR, May 18, 2017,

[22] Robbie Gonzalez, “It's Time for a Serious Talk about the Science of Tech ‘Addiction,’” Wired, Feb. 1, 2018,

[23] “Internet Gaming Disorder,” American Psychiatric Association, 2013,

[24] “Gaming Disorder,” World Health Organization, January 2018,

[25] Blake Hester, “Academics Rebuke World Health Organization's Video Game Addiction Classification,” Rolling Stone, March 1, 2018,

[26] Booth, op. cit.

[27] Anderson Cooper, “What is ‘Brain Hacking?’ Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care,” 60 Minutes, June 11, 2017,

[28] Ibid.

[29] Adam Alter, “Tech bigwigs know how addictive their products are. Why don't the rest of us?” Wired, March 24, 2017,

[30] Cooper, op. cit.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Noah Kulwin, “Facebook is a Fundamentally Addictive Product,” New York, April 10, 2018,

[34] Mike Allen, “Sean Parker Unloads on Facebook: ‘God Only Knows What It's Doing to Our Children's Brains,” Axios, Nov. 9, 2017,

[35] “What is Facebook Doing to Address Tech Addiction,” CBS News, Feb. 6, 2018,

[36] Steve Kovach, “We Don't Need Tech to Become Less Addictive — We Just Need it to be Better,” Business Insider, Jan. 21, 2018,

[37] Paul Lewis, “Our Minds Can Be Hijacked: The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia,” The Guardian, Oct. 6, 2017,

[38] Ibid.

[39] Jack Corrigan, “Lawmakers Want to Curb Big Tech's Influence on Kids,” Nextgov, Feb. 8, 2018,; David Morgan, “‘Truth about Tech’ Campaign Takes on Tech Addiction,” CBS News, Feb. 5, 2018,

[40] Ed Markey, Twitter, Feb. 7, 2018,

[41] David McCabe, “Top Democrat Sees Evidence that Tech Can Become Addictive,” Axios, Feb. 7, 2018,

[42] Cecilia Kang, Nicholas Fandos and Mike Isaac, “Tech Executives Are Contrite, about Election Meddling, but Make Few Promises on Capitol Hill,” The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2017,

[43] Tiffany Hsu and Cecilia Kang, “Demands Grow for Facebook to Explain its Privacy Policies,” The New York Times, March 26, 2018,

[44] Jena McGregor, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Has Apologized — Again,” The Washington Post, April 11, 2018,

[45] Todd Spangler, “Hooked on Hardware? Tech Giants Face Tough Questions over Device Addiction,” Variety, 2018,

[46] “Common Sense Partners with the Center for Humane Technology; Announces ‘Truth About Tech’ Campaign in Response to Escalating Concerns about Digital Addiction,” Common Sense Media, Feb. 5, 2018,

[47] Nellie Bowles, “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built,” The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2018,; “Public Service Campaigns,” Common Sense Media, undated,

[48] Anita Balakrishnan, “Facebook Should Be Regulated Like a Cigarette Company,” Says Salesforce CEO,, Jan. 23, 2018,

[49] Vaughan Bell, “Don't Touch that Dial,” Slate, Feb. 15, 2010,

[50] Ibid.

[51] Spangler, op. cit.

[52] Daniel Goleman, “How Viewers Grow Addicted to Television,” The New York Times, Oct. 16, 1990,

[53] “Invention of the PC,” History, undated,

[54] Ibid. “Home Computers and Internet Use in the United States: August 2000,” U.S. Census Bureau, September 2001,

[55] Kenneth Olmstead, “A Third of Americans Live in a Household with Three or More Smartphones,” Pew Research Center, May 25, 2017,

[56] Robert S. Davidson and Page B. Walley, “Computer Fear and Addiction,” Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 1985,

[57] “Complying with COPPA: Frequently Asked Questions,” Federal Trade Commission, March 20, 2015,

[58] “What Age Should My Kids Be Before I Let Them Use Instagram, Facebook and Other Social Media Services,” Common Sense Media, undated,

[59] For background, see Alicia Ault, “Video Games and Learning,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 12, 2016, pp. 145–168.

[60] “2017 Sales, Demographic and Data Usage. Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association, April 2017, Also see “Top Ten Best-Selling Games of All Time,” MoGi Group Entertainment, undated,

[61] Steven Tweedie, “The World's First Smartphone, Simon, Was Created 15 Years Before the iPhone,” Business Insider, June 14, 2015,

[62] Aaron Smith, “Smartphone Adoption and Usage,” Pew Research Center, July 11, 2011,; Amanda Lenhart, “Cell phone ownership,” Pew Research Center, March 19, 2012,

[63] Olmstead, op. cit.

[64] Amanda Lenhart, “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015,” Pew Research Center, April 9, 2015,

[65] “Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives,” Influence Central, undated,

[66] “The History of Social Media: Social Networking Evolution,” History Cooperative, undated, accessed April 2, 2018,

[67] “Then and Now: A History of Social Networking Sites,” CBS News, undated,

[68] Matt Weinberger, “33 Photos of Facebook's Rise from a Harvard Dorm Room to World Domination,” Business Insider, Sept. 7, 2017,

[69] Amanda MacArthur, “The Real History of Twitter, in Brief,” Lifewire, Nov. 7, 2017,; Raisa Bruner, “A Brief History of Instagram's Fateful First Day,” Time, July 16, 2016,; Mark Molloy, “Who Owns Snapchat and When Was it Created?” The Telegraph, July 25, 2017,

[70] Lenhart, “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015,” op. cit.

[71] “Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives,” op. cit.

[72] Adrienne LaFrance, “When People Feared Computers,” The Atlantic, March 30, 2015,

[73] Bell, op. cit.

[74] Harvey Schachter, “Click Till You're Sick: The Growing Problem of Internet Addiction,” The Globe and Mail, March 26, 2017,

[75] “About Us,” Net Addiction, undated,

[76] Kimberly S. Young, “Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder,” paper presented at the American Psychological Association meeting, Aug. 15, 1996,

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] “Video Game History,” History, undated,

[80] Lenhart, “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015,” op. cit.

[81] Maeve Duggan, “Gaming and Gamers,” Pew Research Center, Dec. 15, 2015,

[82] For background, see Sarah Glazer, “Pornography,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 21, 2016, pp. 865–888.

[83] “American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children's Media Use,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct. 21, 2016,

[84] “How Addiction Hijacks the Brain,” op. cit.

[85] David J. Mersy, “Recognition of Alcohol and Substance Abuse,” American Family Physician, April 1, 2003,

[86] “How Addiction Hijacks the Brain,” op. cit.

[87] Sarkis, op. cit.

[88] “Gaming Disorder,” World Health Organization, op. cit.

[89] “Internet Gaming Disorder,” op. cit.

[90] Andrew K. Przybylski, Netta Weinstein and Kou Murayama, “Internet Gaming Disorder: Investigating the Clinical Relevance of a New Phenomenon,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1, 2017,

[91] Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson, “Internet Gaming Addiction: Disorder or Moral Panic,” The American Journal of Psychiatry, March 1, 2017,

[92] Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, September 2017,

[93] Ibid.

[94] Gonzalez, op. cit.

[95] “Open Letter from JANA Partners and CALSTRS to Apple Inc.,” op. cit.

[96] “You Want to Do What's Best for Your Family. So Do We,” Apple, undated,

[97] “We Empower Parents to Say Yes to Waiting for a Smartphone,” Wait Until 8th,

[98] Natt Garun, “Facebook Should Shut Dow Messenger Kids, Child Advocates Say,” The Verge, Jan. 30, 2018,

[99] Avery Hartmans, “This Beautifully Designed ‘Dumb Phone’ Can Only Make Calls and Send Texts — and It Might be the Key to Curing Our Addiction to Apps,” Business Insider, March 1, 2018,

[100] Gonzalez, op. cit.

[101] “DSM History,” American Psychiatric Association, undated,; “DSM-5: Frequently Asked Questions,” American Psychiatric Association, undated,

[102] Tim Wu, “Subtle and insidious, technology is designed to addict us,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2017,

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About the Author

Susan Ladika, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher

Susan Ladika is a freelance writer in Tampa, Fla., whose work has appeared in HR Magazine, Workforce,,, Science, The Wall Street Journal-Europe and International Educator. She previously worked as a writer and editor for newspapers in the Southeast, including The Tampa Tribune, and also reported from Europe for The Associated Press.

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Document APA Citation
Ladika, S. (2018, April 20). Technology addiction. CQ researcher, 28, 341-364. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2018042000
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 20, 2018  Technology Addiction
Oct. 06, 2017  Cyberwarfare Threat
Feb. 26, 2016  Virtual Reality
Feb. 12, 2016  Video Games and Learning
Jan. 15, 2016  The Dark Web
Feb. 15, 2013  Improving Cybersecurity
Apr. 13, 2012  Internet Regulation
Sep. 16, 2011  Computer Hacking
Sep. 24, 2010  Impact of the Internet on Thinking
Feb. 26, 2010  Cybersecurity
Aug. 01, 2008  Internet Accuracy
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Sep. 17, 2004  Cyberpolitics
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Apr. 12, 2002  Cyber-Crime
Oct. 27, 2000  Computers and Medicine
May 26, 2000  Future of Computers
Jan. 28, 2000  The Digital Divide
Feb. 05, 1999  Digital Commerce
Jun. 30, 1995  Regulating the Internet
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