Are you Addicted to your Device?

by: EJ on 06/08/2016

Dr. Mari Swingle's newly released book, i-Minds: How Cells Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behavior, and the Evolution of our Species

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takes a much closer look at this sometimes frivolous question.  With cell phones, computers and other devices embedded in global culture, we are all taking part in a massive social experiment that very few people are measuring.  Dr. Swingle is one of those few.  She is a psychoneurophysiologist and learning and behavioral specialist who has won awards for her post-doctoral work on the effects of i-technology on brain function.

In i-Minds she weaves together history, popular literature, media and industry hype, sociology and psychology, and observations from over 18 years of clinical practice and research. Engaging and entertaining yet scientifically rigorous, i-Minds demonstrates how our constant connectivity is rapidly changing our brains, what the dangers are, and what positive steps we can all take to embrace new technology while protecting our well-being and steering our future in a much more human direction.

Foreword Magazine calls i-Minds "... (an) eye-opening, and at times unsettling, book... both a palatable, compelling exploration of the impact of digital media on the human brain as well as an impressive piece of research."

Today's blog post is an excerpt from the excellent review by Howard Wetzel in Second Nature Journal.  It was originally published April 11, 2016 and is reprinted here with permission.  You can read the entire review here.

I once got into testy e-mail exchange with a media ecologist over my use of the word addiction in regard to media behavior. He adamantly preferred the word habit for behavior, whether acceptable or problematic, leaving addiction to recovery problems of physiological substance abuse, alcohol, heroin, etc. I had deliberately left out the defining limit for addiction of negative consequences, calling even reading a form of media addiction (do we readers sit down at breakfast and numbly read cereal boxes merely out of habit?). I intended this muddied use of addiction as a playful rhetorical exaggeration to shock the reader into a new awareness about how any medium changes the ground of user behavior. He was moving in the opposite direction, narrowing the definition to eliminate all ambiguity between psychological distress and physiological withdrawal, so as not to make the match of correct treatment to its condition more ambiguous.

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The exchange was strange because his view of human behavior seemed so compartmentalized, psychology strictly isolated from physiology. He seemed to ignore the integral nature of suffering in any context as both physical and psychological, and not to recognize the impact of some behaviors, addictive or habitual, on personal and social identity. These are not discrete concepts either. In the arena of what he would call addiction, we intervene more frequently for the social damage the addiction causes than its physiological risks because, in addition to true life-threatening withdrawal from such as alcohol, heroin, or even smoking, there are also real social consequences for physiologic addiction. The same social consequences can be seen in exclusively “habitual” behavioral arenas like gambling, pornography, and yes, i-tech: broken or stunted relationships, lost jobs, lowered self-esteem, etc.

 My tongue-in-cheek argument above aside, a valuable new book,i-Minds: How Cells Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behaviour, and the Evolution of Species by Mari K. Swingle, PhD vindicates my broad use of addiction in regard to media behavior, and describes the acts and conditions by which we can identify real media addiction. She sounds an effective alarm for parents, educators, and everyday i-media users. But  is not only about clinical addiction, and certainly not all use of i-tech is pathological. Addiction is the presenting symptom, the visible tip of the iceberg, the canary in the coal mine, the smoke in the air -- and where there’s smoke. . .   Swingle uses her idea of addiction as a gateway to a much larger discussion about how the effects and habits of digital interactive tech are changing the commons of our brains, our families, and our communities. In short, the book offers a concrete example of media ecology at work.

Swingle’s style is mostly chatty and accessible to non-scientists and non-clinicians. She avoids the characteristic detached, objective, and deadly tone of scientific literature even as explains the science.  Her explanations of neurologic science are clear, understandable, and relevant to her argument, offering much more than matching function to anatomy. Her use of the science is just, occasionally pointing out the limits of a particular study. She avoids panic, striving for a neutral tone, sparing indignation to allow the concrete examples of her argument to persuade the reader.

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Her solutions for both addiction and the management of digital media are common sense. She emphasizes limiting access in the most plastic years of childhood: none before two years of age; better, four; best, most conservative, and her own view, six (i-Minds, p. 86), and disciplined limitation even into adulthood. She emphasizes the importance of integrated bodily activity in human experience, in contrast to the experience of discarnate electric media: unstructured play, child-invented games outdoors, and actual bodily exercise in all forms.

        . . .the evolutionary and true purpose of play itself is learning: cognitive and emotional learning. The whole concept of replacing play with learning in early childhood is entirely oxymoronic. (i-Minds, p. 128)
i-Minds is a detailed, rational discussion of i-tech addiction and the social effects of digital media on its users by a scientific expert in the field. It is also a concrete and specific introduction to the general public to the idea of media ecology. Swingle's focused discussion on i-tech addiction and the debilitating social effects of too much uncritical use may help the man and woman on the street take a view of digital i-media that is less simply enthusiastic and a lot more critical.  The tenor of all our social interactions, the very nature of civility in the moment, is being shaped by i-media while most of us fiddle indecisively. We should perhaps admit than we can smell smoke, and it is not only second-hand -- it is not only our children who are being seduced.  i-Minds sounds an alarm that should not be ignored, and offers insightful guidance how to control the blaze.

You can order i-Minds today from our website and from all major book and ebook retailers.

 

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