Digital Addiction

Summary of meetings with 10th graders, Hof Hasharon High School. First meeting: 20.1.2019. Second meeting: 3.2.2019. 22 students participated: 7 girls and 15 boys. Each session lasted an hour and a half.

First meeting:

Most participants think that this is the most problematic issue related to online activities of young people. 

Implications: damage to social relations (lack of personal contacts, face to face), physical damage (mention was made, for example, to damage to eyes and joints). Participants also mentioned the waste of time involved in the phenomenon, time that would have been better to invest in other activities.

One of the students said that he was addicted to the Fortnite game. He was used to play for hours each day, and now he plays only on weekends (due to parents’ ban…), while others noted that such imposed restrictions were not a good solution.

Some of the students said that enforced restrictions and prohibitions are not effective. On the contrary, they achieve the opposite result, as young people will continue to do the prohibited things. He noted the importance of developing awareness of the problem.

Second meeting:

It was clarified that the intention was not necessarily addiction in the clinical sense, but rather excessive preoccupation and difficulty in disconnecting. (However, one student noted that his parents thought he was a “clinical addict”).

All students said they are “living in their smartphones” a lot of time every day. Most of them would like to occupy themselves less with their screens.

There was a discussion about “screen time”: there was a disagreement about the typical time devoted to screens, but most agree that it is hours per day. Some students are busy with their screens four hours a day, maybe even more.

One of the students noted that the criterion is not necessarily the time spent of “living in the screen”, but rather the manner in which “addiction” is expressed. This is how the user copes when he or she needs to log out. The crux of the problem is the difficulty of disconnecting, even though you know it would have been better to do something else. There are those who find it difficult to break away after 5 minutes, and there are those that have a difficulty to disconnect after an hour or more. The issue is how you cope with this. Is it easy or difficult for you to move to another activity?

Some of the participants noted that they are aware that their “screen time” is exaggerated and comes at the expense of something else they would like to do, but the problem is that it is very hard to disconnect. Students often cancel things in order to “be on screen” – for example, they sacrifice sleeping or watching TV.

One of the students said he saw youngsters in a restaurant with friends or family and instead of chatting they were stuck on the screen. He noted that he found it strange. As if the entertainment was being with a tablet and headphones. It seemed to him to be “over-addiction.” “With the iPad you have to be at home, not in a restaurant!”

It was mentioned that parents often give a screen to children too early, when they are too young. Several participants said that the problem is not just health risk (eyes, etc.). The problem is that we give up on social activity and that’s not good.

The question arises: How do you deal with the problem? What can be done?

Here are some comments made by the participants:

• Revolution! Decide with friends to boycott the phones, and so with time more people will join.

• You cannot make everyone boycott. You can ban half the people, maybe some of the time. Who will decide which people to boycott? I will!

• I have no problem with addiction.

• Being occupied with the screens is good for me. If wanted to stop I would stop.

• You have to turn off when entering social events or entertainment. For example, school trips should be without telephones.

• I know people who when they come to the restaurant leave the phones in a heap. Those who connect pay for everyone! But I am against this solution…

In response to the question, “do you accept that in certain circumstances it will be necessary to disconnect?” –  Most of the participants oppose coercion. Here are some comments:

• It is not good to force. And it is not good to preach. It should be voluntary. If you took the phone from someone he would want it even more.

• Voluntary disengagement can be based, for example, on applications that automatically warn the user and recommend stopping after a certain time. You define a certain time limit and the mobile alerts. The proposer was asked: As for yourself, do you follow the alert and stop, or  you give yourself an extension? Answer: Extension.  Question: So what’s the use of such an application? Answer: “It’s better than nothing….”

The participants were asked whether there is a role for education to address the issue. Answers:

• Education at school? No Comment.

• The problem is not only of children, but adults that are also addicted! My mother keeps telling me to hang up, but she herself does not hang up. She claims that this is for work… On the other hand, when you see that adults have a problem with disconnecting, it actually raises your awareness of the problem.

A number of participants related to the development of appropriate applications/technologies:

• Anyone who develops applications actually intends to arouse excitement. That’s the goal. The apps give us something we need, excitement. As long as we do eliminate this, it will never change. It’s a problem of the present time. Everything is fast and accessible, all is excitement, you cannot prevent it, it’s part of the progress!

• In response to a question about why this is different from quitting smoking cigarettes: it is impossible to compare. Cigarette is a product, connectivity is a general phenomenon. If everything becomes linked, it is impossible to prevent it. You can restrict certain things (like games), but not using a smartphone or the Internet in general.

• You need to focus on what you need and can limit, such as excessive gaming hours of small children, who can be harmed by this.

Possible addiction scenarios:

Participants were asked to express their opinion on the likely situation in 10 years from now. To this end, the following alternative scenarios were proposed (by the facilitator) for the year 2029:

1. The situation is grave. Most people are digitally-addicted. Many are hospitalized or suffer greatly because there is no proper treatment.

2. The problem has disappeared. Thanks to education and public campaigns, people have learned to find the right balance in their digital activity.

3. There is no problem at all, because the digital activity is perceive as the new normal, a “natural” condition, and is no longer considered an addiction.

Participants’ responses:

Some students think the situation will get worse. Maybe not everyone will be addicted, but much more than today.

Maybe technology will solve the problem of physical damage, such as eye damage.

It may be that in the future people will decide that this is not a problem. The children who do not see this as a problem will get older and will not treat it as a problem. More technology, more tampering with gadgets – would be considered normal.

Only one or two of the participants expect scenario 1 to be realized. It seemed too extreme to them. Some think there will be more “addicts”, but not the majority and it will not be that serious.

Most did not agree with Scenario 2. Most students tend to agree more with scenario 3. When asked whether other scenarios could materialize, there were no ideas.

We went back to discussing possible solutions.

• One of the students recommended automatic locking of some specific “addicting” applications, but not of tools such as Whatsapp used for communication. Again, this should be done willingly: “Compel voluntarily!”

• Technology should interact with people to improve social communication. It was mentioned that Facebook was originally meant for this, but it turned out that it actually increases loneliness. Facebook is not really human connection. One needs a technology that takes into account human needs, emotional needs. This should embedded in the technology itself.

• How can this be achieved? Any examples? Perhaps by using Virtual/Augmented Reality. This technology may enable more personal communication. Maybe using a hologram that feels like a real conversation. With the ability to meet together in a group. This seems like a difficult challenge for developers, not simple!

Several participants expressed the opinion that so far technology developers had missed this, and failed to cope with this challenge. Ostensibly, the existing technologies enable us to connect and play, but they do not meet a real human need. You can communicate with someone who is tens of kilometers away, but you end up being alone. Maybe developers think they know better what users want, but that is not necessarily true.

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