The Chains of Habit

This is the first of a three-part series I am writing on technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. Part 2 focuses on technology addiction in children; and Part 3 will focus on how to break technology addiction.

Are you addicted to technology? Do you find it difficult to leave your iPod or smart phone at home when you walk your dog, take a hike, or go to dinner with family or friends? If so, what effect is your addiction having on your relationships? What effect will it have on your children and society as a whole?

These questions have been bothering me for some time now. I often see people in the backcountry listening to their iPods while hiking. They are out there, but they are not really there. They are not having a full experience.

I have a friend who works as a waitress and has told me about families who sit down in the restaurant, each with their own devices. They barely acknowledge her when she asks for their orders. Mothers have to physically touch their children to get their attention because repeating the question, “What would you like to eat?” three times louder does not work.

“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Samuel Johnson

For the past week, I have been participating in a free, online Coursera course called Drugs and the Brain. I have also read a couple of books about addiction. Though I am far from being an expert, and my own addictions are limited to sugar and caffeine, I have learned a lot about how addictive drugs function.

Scientifically, it has not yet been determined whether constant technology use creates a chemical dependency in the brain that convinces the person they must have it to survive like highly addictive drugs. However, if you Google ‘technology addiction’ you will find lots of anecdotal stories about people who act as if they are addicted to their iPhones—they can’t put them down. In fact, several people have been so disconnected from their immediate surroundings that they have been hit by cars or trains while focused on their devices.

“It amazes me sometimes that humans still exist. We’re just animals, after all. And how can an animal get so removed from nature that it loses the instinct to keep itself alive?” Clean, Amy Reed

In a recent Outside Magazine article, “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning,” Florence Williams describes the effects of too much technology this way:

“According to Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, the average American spends at least eight hours a day looking at some sort of electronic screen. Then we try to relax by watching TV. Bad idea. Research shows that this only makes us crabbier. Logan asserts that, since the age of the Internet, North Americans have become more aggressive, more narcissistic, more distracted, more depressed, and less cognitively nimble. Oh yeah, and fatter.”

Williams’ article describes scientific research underway in Japan to determine the effects of nature on the human brain and body. Preliminary results suggest that spending time in natural environments reduces blood pressure and increases natural killer immune cells that attack tumors. Williams goes as far as to suggest that spending time in nature might reduce your chances of developing cancer. While the research is not yet definitive, there is a growing body of evidence that practices such as the ‘forest bathing’ described in the article have beneficial effects.

If you think you are addicted to technology (or getting there), you might want to read the article “Get Your Mind Dirty,” by Richard Louv. Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, and he is known for coining the term nature-deficit disorder. This is not a clinical term but a descriptive one, suggesting that too little time in nature causes us to become irritable, frustrated, and less able to cope with stress.

The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.” Richard Louv

Though the terms ‘ecopsychology’ and ‘ecotherapy’ are relatively new, the concepts are ancient. From the Tao Te Ching to the Holy Bible, and in thousands of books since then, the power of nature to heal has been a recurring theme. The only reason it has yet to be scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is that until recently we have been unable to measure its effects on the brain, the nervous system, and other body functions. But will scientific proof change our behavior?

Intuitively, we all know that putting down our cell phones periodically and getting out in nature will help us relax and think more clearly. We know that playing a game with our kids or having a real, face-to-face conversation with someone we love will improve our relationships. So why don’t we do it?

The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Precious things lead one astray.

Therefore the sage is guided by what
he feels and not by what he sees.
He lets go of that and chooses this.”
  Chapter 12, Tao Te Ching

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7 Responses to The Chains of Habit

  1. Oh, I wish I could add this graphic from TextingGod to this post, but I can’t figure out how to do it. So I will just link to the page:

    Check out the pin that starts with “Dear God, I am addicted to Pinterest.” So funny, and also very sad that it is true for more and more people every day.

    • Funny (and sad, but true for many!). Coming from someone who telecommutes full-time, Louv’s quote rings so true! Technology is wonderful for the doors and opportunities it offers us, but it does not feed your soul like those walks in nature do! Interesting post, I look forward to the rest of the series. ~ Kat

  2. We were talking about his issue just the other day. I see people walking and running at the lake talking on their phones all the time. A month ago I saw a mother and her little girl at the grocery store. The mom was so engrossed in her phone that she completely tuned out her child, who kept begging her to “look, Mommy,” over and over. It was sad.

    • Yes, I see that sort of thing a lot too. It is sad, and it makes me wonder what relationships are going to be like in the future. I think it is going to be even harder for our children to establish strong relationships and stick with them.

  3. Pingback: Raising Cyborgs | Backpacking Kids

  4. Pingback: Technology in Balance | Backpacking Kids

  5. On the positive side, we’re able to share your thoughtful message and writing with others using the same technology that simultaneously encroaches on us. An interesting Catch-22, and definitely a matter of balance.

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