Sunday April 23, 2017

'The smartphone has really thrown gasoline on the addiction fire of our society'

It isn't always easy to achieve tech-life balance.

It isn't always easy to achieve tech-life balance. (Michelle Parise)

Listen 17:53

You hear it all time:  

She's totally addicted to taking selfies.  

I'm addicted to tracking my steps.

I'm so addicted to Westworld, I lost an entire weekend binge-watching it!


Addiction is a clinical term, but it's used pretty liberally these days.

Technically, as used in psychology, addiction usually means chemical dependence on a substance, says Chris Ferguson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Stetson University in Florida.

There is only one "behavioural" addiction listed in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders, he adds, and that's gambling.

Chris is also the co-author of Moral Combat: Why the war on video games is wrong

He says that as the colloquial definition of addiction -- "I'm so addicted to The Walking Dead" -- has grown, it's expanded to even include the gaming activities of kids whose parents don't understand the technology.

There is little evidence to support the idea that video games can be addictive, any more than, say exercise or reading is, he says.

Still, there's no doubt that our devices hold sway over us in ways we couldn't have predicted even a decade ago.

And this has caused the line between our real and online selves to become rather blurry - if it's even there at all.

353 Gabe Zichermann

Gabe Zichermann

Gabe Zichermann is an expert in gamification, user engagement and behavioural design.  

Which means he's spent his career designing things to hook people.

Now, he's designed an app to help people deal with overuse of social networks, porn, and screen time.

"The irony is not lost on me. It's definitely meta to use a phone app to reduce your phone app overuse."


Onward is still in beta, and only for iOS for the time being.

Currently, it's designed to help deal with overuse of social networks, porn, and screen time.

"Overuse" is Gabe's preferred term.

"Addiction is a very value-laden term, so we really focus on this concept of overuse," he explains.

"If you've ever felt that you're doing something more than you would like, Onward and other tools are designed to help you reduce your usage. So you don't have to say 'I'm an addict and my life is ruined' before we get to the point where we offer you some kind of help."


The same tech that enables our compulsions, can help combat them

"What's different now is, technology has become a kind of end unto itself in the addiction world," says Gabe.

"So it's no longer that we use technology to make drugs more potent or we use technology to make alcohol more distilled. Now, it's literally the technology itself that people are obsessed with."