Answer these questions honestly. Only you need know.
- Do you ever find yourself taking quizes presented on the internet just to pass the time?
- Do you ever use the internet just to pass the time?
- Have you ever searched for a sensible purchase such as a hot water bottle but found yourself three hours later having ordered something expensive you never wanted in the first place that will end up in the back of a cupboard?
- Do you find hours of scrolling through social media, news reports, online magazines….. actually very soothing?
- Sometimes, do you find that being hooked to your digital device takes you to a zone where all your worries and responsibilities disappear for a while?
- Roughly, how much of your waking time is given to just wandering through the digital universe and seeing what turns up? (For example, a tenth, a quarter, a half).
- If you are feeling low, upset, unhappy do you ever each for your digital device to reduce the negative feelings?
- Do you love collecting apps? What sort? Diet, fitness, bird identification, cruise sales, sales, humour, lifestyle, weather…?
- Would you feel comfortable if you had no access to the digital universe for an hour, a day, a week, for ever?
- Would you be interested in talking to one of our experts at Sunny Valley Digital Detox Centre set in the beautiful Malvern Hills?
You get the point hopefully! Advertisers are very good at reaching us through our digital devices. Most of us can’t resist a freebie such as a free quiz. One of the ways many adverts work is to highlight any insecurities we may have and then offer a brilliant solution (at a price of course). Since all of us may have at least a worrying niggle that we spend too much time on line, we’re all potential customers. Who isn’t sucked in by promises of easy and quick solutions to anything we worry about?
The vast majority of us need not worry too much about our digital habits. Yes, we may sometimes feel we spend too much time with devices but then again how much telly do we watch, how much music listen to, how much time having fun? Relax! We’re supposed to have fun. It’s true, though, that some people – maybe around 3% – may need a bit of help with their digital behaviours. Sometimes, for instance, spending lots of time online may be masking things like depression. But so can other activities.
There are specific issues arising with digital connectivity. Compulsive shopping, for instance, is much easier from your sofa. Then there are all the ‘on line harms’ such as bullying, and we really do need to be aware of children’s and young people’s digital lives. Luckily, all the research suggest that we, along with kids, benefit in many ways from digital media.
There is one area though that should concern us. Online gambling. Again, for most people, it’s not going to cause too much harm, if any. But for some the progression from playing online games to having some extra fun with promised free bets and free spins may prove to be the beginning of the road to serious harms, eventually compulsive attachment to gambling against all rational control, what we know as ‘addiction’. So it’s important to be aware of the risks, no matter how slight you think they are. (We’re all experts at knowing ‘it will only happen to somebody else’!)
Some people are more at risk than others. People with certain mental health conditions, for instance: depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, bipolar. (Bear in mind that not everybody with such conditions is diagnosed and treated. Depression, for instance, may take many years before diagnosis, and even then maybe half suffering from it never get diagnosed). There’s also a strong link between heavy drinking or using other drugs, and heavy gambling. Even prescribed medications can increase risk such as dopamine antagonists in the treatment of Parkinsons. There is also now good evidence of genetic factors influencing the dopamine circuits in our brains, the dopamine circuitry being strongly important to addiction. The point is that some are more at risk than others – of gambling or of excessive digital engagement.
Another risk factor is the age at which a person begins gambling. These days children can play on a range of products which involve making purchases. Loot boxes and Fifa football cards are well know examples. While not gambling products themselves they share many features of gambling including compulsion, and for some they may act as a gateway into gambling in young adulthood.
When we visit a website or click on something we are unwittingly making money for somebody because with their use of algorithms they can follow us around and target us with adverts based on what we’ve shown interest in. All of us see advertisements relating to stuff we’ve earlier been looking at. The data collected about us is valuable and can be sold. Each time we tap our keys or click on something we are adding to the data and thus its monetary value. Most people know this and accept it as a fact of life. But it’s worth asking a final question: have we ever found ourselves buying or paying for something which we had no intention of doing when we got out of bed in the morning?