When we talk about addiction to new technologies, it is frequent that, automatically, we bring to our mind the image of a boy or girl with any electronic device.

It is not uncommon nowadays to take a look around a restaurant and see parents slow down their children's activity through a device, be it tablet, mobile or other. The effectiveness of this technique is unquestionable.

As a sedative for children and parents, keeping children absorbed in digital activity reduces their activity, as we have been saying, but also our involvement in managing their behaviors. However, the victims - yes, victims - of this strategy are not only children, but also adults, the subject on which this article will focus.

In summary, we could describe addiction to new technologies as the excessive use of electronic devices, added to the need to use them when we have been a long time (or not so long, in some cases) away from them, and with a powerful calming function and / or pleasant sensation that is, sometimes, difficult to recognize.

In the era of hyperconnectivity, it is expected that many of our activities will be done through new technologies like meeting our friends, getting informed about something quickly or buying a product in a matter of seconds. The utility is more than evident.

However, the dark side of this utility lies in the immediacy of the reward, reinforcement or satisfaction. We feel calmer when we get a response from our partner in the moment instead of waiting to see each other. We feel especially recognized when the “likes” grow like foam and we can observe this very satisfactory phenomenon in real time. We feel more in control being able to go immediately to information that solves a question of the moment. Ultimately, the promptness of the response takes on a strong tint of reward. This of course is far from being harmless..

It is necessary to make a brief explanation of our brain mechanisms to understand how the matter in question works, and, for this, we will refer to the reward mechanism of our brain. This system is part of our "primitive brain".This implies that it bears a strong relationship with animal survival, as it “informs” about pleasant sensations.

Briefly, the reward circuit locates pleasant stimuli (eg, a good plate of food, a hug, or a drug). The consequence of "accessing" this stimulus is the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, which produce in us an intense feeling of well-being. Other clear examples are when I get a hug from someone I love, when I buy something through my mobile that I have been craving for a long time, when I get an answer playing a board game -and I persist in the game after that hit-, or when I see a notification from the person I like.

Well, taking into account what has been mentioned above, it is expected that adults obtain that well-being through their mobile devices, in the same way as young people and children.

It also seems interesting to refer to the calm that parents have when they have located their son or daughter thanks to their phone. Immediacy once again plays a fundamental role.

This means that the reinforcement, namely the feeling of calm that we get from knowing where our son or daughter is, makes us go to our phone more frequently to appease unpleasant feelings. It is what we would call a negative reinforcement, whose nuance consists of the reduction of discomfort.Positive reinforcers are distinguished from the previous ones since they provide well-being. An example can be when I order something to eat through my mobile, when I listen to music that I like or I am in contact with the person I crave.

Definitely, no one easily escapes the electronic device trap. In addition, as we said previously, in the era of hyperconnectivity it is paradoxical that we find ourselves increasingly distant and isolated. We are present physically but not mentally. We meet up with our friends but we dedicate a good part of those moments to being aware of things that are not related to the specific moment. I may be having a beer with my best friend but I withdraw from the situation by talking to someone who can be found in Honolulu.

Adults also experience these situations, and it seems pertinent to make special mention of parents: the use of devices and their applications give parents an illusory sense of connection with their children. When they perceive their distancing, parents try to find other ways of communicating with them, and this is where new technologies play an essential role. It is not uncommon to see parents trying to get closer to their children by showing them what they have downloaded to their mobile or the latest joke they have been sent.

The seeking for a more genuine, more intimate and less electronically mediated contact pushes parents to find other ways of access to their sons and daughters, and they may also be caught in the excessive use of these technologies. 

Sinews MTI
Multilingual Therapy Institute
Psychology, Psychiatry and Speech Therapy
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