Think about the worst driver you know. They have no idea how dangerous they are on the road, which is terrifying but illuminating. You can't address a problem like addiction if your brain won't recognise it.
I don't think I'm a digital addict, but that's exactly what an addict would say.
So, I test myself. How do I feel when I can't find my iPhone?
Do I say: "What a relief from that electronic ball and chain?"
Full disclosure: I worked at a Genius Bar in an Apple store, so I frequently used my iPhone to answer customer questions or demonstrate functionality. I was essentially trained to have the product on me at all times. I was praised for my expertise by customers, co-workers and managers. That's a lot of positive re-enforcement for a habit.
Before that job and that first smartphone, I was that one friend who was impossible to reach when group plans changed at the last minute. My mobile phone was cheap, terrible and usually dead, buried in my backpack under a digital camera, a journal, an iPod, my checquebook, gym shorts, cleats and a daily planner.
Nowadays, to be honest, I can’t leave the house without my iPhone. I use it to communicate with potential clients, to sign and exchange contracts and to answer work inquiries on-the-go. I text with my friends, scope new restaurants and email my parents. This device is my daily planner, voice recorder, newspaper stand, music player (both streaming and collected), camera, weatherman, map and compass.
In it, I carry around debate reference, i.e. the full text of the American Constitution and a copy of the King James Bible. I also keep on hand the Thriller video, The Immaculate Collection, a guitar-tuning app, an audiobook on economics, several mobile games and an emergency first aid guidebook.
In short, my iPhone is my Batman utility belt. Having it with me makes me feel organised, prepared and connected. In a word: secure.
Between the iPhone and my MacBook Pro laptop, on which I write, research, game, edit video and watch TV, I probably spend between 10 and 12 hours a day. I even pay my bills online using the very devices with which I’ve made the money to pay those bills.
But does that make me an addict? Is a cab driver addicted to his taxi?
I want to say no, because depending on devices for income, food and entertainment seems essential and ordinary, not compulsive, which is what distinguishes addiction.
Compulsive would, however, describe my relationship with social media.
Finding a good post or picking up a bit of affirmation feels as much a habit as my morning coffee, if I had my morning coffee every five to 25 minutes all day long. I'm no better than those lab rats who tap a lever over and over hoping for a food pellet or a grain of narcotics.
Pretty much the only thing that stops me from relentless smartphone checking in public is when I notice other people doing the same and become self-conscious. Heaven forbid that we should let one moment of loneliness or boredom intrude.
I'm old enough that I worry about how digital addiction effects youth, even though I recognise that anything I'm just realising is probably old news to them. Maybe they don't see their use as addiction at all.
Teens seem as though they were born with filters my generation had to develop in the face of an increasingly constant media barrage. Our parents thought MTV was a vomit stream, but that's rather quaint and innocuous compared to the ever-present, soon-to-be wearable screens which cram cyber-bullying, SnapChat and GamerGate down every kid's eye sockets today. Ooh, I sound old.
It's weird, but I feel that multiple channels of communicating (FaceTime, Skype, text, emails, calls, using emoticons, Yo's, Pokes and Likes) have made my closest friendships feel more distant, but all my fake friendships seem tighter.
I rarely use my smartphone to call anyone besides my immediate family. Conversation used to be a tent pole of my closest friendships, but somehow mid-length emails, consistent Likes and witty Twitter banter have taken over. We love seeing each other when we can, and we chat and game and tease each other online, but phone calls have died off. They feel too serious, too pressured somehow, as though their place in the hierarchy of communication required some demotion.
At the same time, I consume a flood of useless information about a halo of casual acquaintances. I see pictures of their babies, their fancy meals, exercise routines and political complaints, even though we may rarely, if ever, actually speak to each other.
I can only hope the effect of all this technology is positive. I believe it has been. You can fake friendship better than ever with hundreds, if not thousands, of social network connections. The first taste is free.
John Appleseed is a blogger and former employee of Apple.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Source: Al Jazeera