Technology addiction is a real problem for many in India.All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. — Victor Hugo

Indians love technology. According to a recent survey on the spread of personal technology:

  • 86 percent of Indians own/use a smartphone.
  • India has the highest number of smartwatch owners globally, with 18 percent of them owning/using the device.
  • India has the second highest number of Google Glass owners (6 per cent) after South Korea (8 percent).
  • 85 percent of Indians currently have and use a laptop (Fourth highest in the world after Denmark (89 percent), Austria (86 percent) and Norway (86 percent).
  • At 88 percent, India ranked fifth in number of people saying they always bring their smartphone with them on leisure trips.
  • Indians rank second highest in carrying laptops with them on leisure trips (47 percent) after UAE (48 percent).

As information technology professionals we know that IT is here to stay. The ever increasing number of available certifications makes it clear that IT has penetrated every aspect of the human existence, and perhaps non-humans too. What began as geeky mumbo-jumbo for bespectacled college students and chubby teens is now the sole pivot of growth and development in our connected world.

IT first started to gain in importance when it showed us a glimpse into a time where all one would have to do is push a few buttons and things would happen on their own. And IT has done that. Banking, Healthcare, travel, imaging, art, intelligence, public administration, trade and commerce, and every other conceivable part of the services industry is found to have leveraged their business models around IT.

Manufacturing industries, though mainly known for being technology and conventionally capital intensive have also invested in making their product and marketing management more intelligent and seamless in terms of communication via IT.

Social media or the idea of communicating, expressing and sharing thoughts and feelings online has spread like wildfire — only here it’s an urban, electronic or binary form of fire.

Social media-driven technological developments have enabled us to share ideas and expressions via people and processes that technology provides without getting lost in the complications and complexes that we otherwise face. And people like and reward you for doing it the IT way.

Now, where does this take us? Suddenly we see people more present online than in real life. Or is online the new real? The other day, like any normal weekend with family, both I and my sister were busy checking our Facebook feeds over dinner. I couldn’t help but notice that she would like almost every post.

Out of curiosity, and at the risk of being called an SOS (someone-over-shoulder), I asked her why was she doing it, and she said, “Why not? It’s so easy to please people online. Just like a post or picture or even a comment and they think that you actually like the person, and who doesn’t want to be liked! Doing that in person is not in my hands, but if I can make her feel I liked her by just liking her posts, then why not?”

My sister spoke without excitement, as if it were a mere matter of fact. Maybe it is, and the flip side is also true: It’s easy to get on the bad side of anyone online, and there is very little thought or remorse for being rude.

If that is how technology has affected our emotional intelligence on one side, it has held us hostage by compelling us to be online. How often do we find ourselves telling one another “put that phone down?” As the significance we associate to our electronic selves surpasses our own real life persona, it’s quite obvious that our online-self is openly taking over our lives and the ways in which we transact and socialize.

People prefer to chat over social media rather than in person. At any outing, public event, concert, tourist spot or even a family function, there are more people taking photos than actually just having a good time. Selfies are the new hello and, “What’s your Wi-Fi password” is the new, “Can I have some wate?”

No one really knows when this awesome social media that opened up avenues for free, unhindered and easy communication, became shackles. This compulsion to be online is what is now known as Technology Addiction.

First conceived and coined by American psychiatrist Dr. Ivan Goldberg in 1995, “technology addiction” is seen as a condition where an individual finds himself or herself compelled to use and stay connected to an electronic device. The theory was eventually rubbished and Dr. Goldberg was called a nutter himself. Two decades later, his work doesn’t seem so rubbishy after all.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, technology addiction was associated with children and young adults who found themselves overly involved in online gaming. Until the end of 2010, doctors in India and the rest of Asia didn’t see this as a serious problem. Once the ongoing buildup of a real problem demanded their attention, they attributed technology addiction to economic growth and public policy.

The period between the mid-2000s and 2010 saw the emergence, followed by a boom in smart phone ownership in India. As IT flourished, the Indian government saw fit to reduce the import excise on electronics and circuitry in order to allow growth in telecommunication OEMs and marketing companies.

Phones and internet access became affordable and available to all—qualifying everyone to be a technology addict in their own right. India has one of the lowest tariff rates for mobile phones and the largest number of young people in the 20-35 age group. Our infrastructure is completely in favor of making everyone IT enabled, but this also means it puts everyone in the technology addiction radar.

Today, it is estimated that every urban Indian household of four has an average of 2.2 mobile phones per household. Current sales reports say, five or every six phones sold in urban India are smart phones. This proliferation of phones has had some negative consequences as well: cyber-crime, stalking and voyeurism are some extreme and morbid fringes of social media.

India has one of the lowest tariff rates for mobile phones and the largest number of young people in the 20-35 age group. Our infrastructure is completely in favor of making everyone IT-enabled, but this also means it puts everyone on the technology addiction radar.

Luckily, not all are oblivious to the concept of technology addiction. It is no longer dismissed as just a child’s gaming habit. People realize that excessive use of social media and being connected and constantly online are real symptoms tech addiction. In some instances, the urge to be connected can lead to tragic results. In 2013 a 17 year-old-girl in Maharashtra took her own life because her mother deactivated her Facebook account in 2013.

Fortunately, we aren’t helpless to deal with tech addiction. India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), the nation’s premiere mental health institution, has recently promoted a technology de-addiction clinic and support group called SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) in Bangalore.

This step comes after a wellness and IT dependence survey was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research in Bangalore involving 2,750 individuals in the age group of 18-65. The study revealed some rather shocking statistics: an addictive use for 1.3 percent for the internet; 4.1 percent for mobile phones; 3.5 percent for social networking sites; 4 percent for shopping; and about 2 percent for online pornography and 1.2 percent were addicted to gambling.

Additionally, 6.8 percent of mobile addicts were susceptible to irritability, restlessness and other psychological distress. Similar symptoms exists in about 4.2 percent internet users and 3 percent in social networking site users.

Tech addiction seems to strike the young especially hard with teenagers showing lags in academics, social life and losing out on real-world recreational activities. Dr. Manoj Sharma, one of the doctors running the SHUT clinic reports that boys, age 14-19 make up the bulk of their clients.

Patients are usually brought in by parents complaining of their children’s addiction to their smart phones. Sadly, NIMHANS’ study shows that these findings are only the tip of the iceberg. A nationwide study of technology addiction is currently underway with results expected by the end of 2016.

Technology addiction is a real problem for many in India.SHUT defines Tech addiction via four Cs as markers: Craving (a continuous desire to engage in it), Control (not able to reduce it), Compulsion (where one feels one just has to use information technology) and Consequences (experiencing effects physical or psychological).

“I agree that today we do most of our work online,” said Sharma. “But are you able to involve in other activities too? That’s how we define it. Can you sit around and chat with your family without checking your phone for messages? Can you eat dinner and have a face-to-face conversation without checking Facebook?

“Once your immediate family or caregiver start complaining that you’re online too often, then you need some screening.”

According to Sharma, technology de addiction, like any substance abuse issue, is also subject to withdrawal symptoms and may cause anxiety or loneliness if the abstinence is rushed. He also thinks stopping or abstaining from technology in today’s world is impossible.

As IT professionals we realize that IT’s time has come and no force can stop its progress and penetration into our lives. But how far we let it in is solely up to each of us. Because although we are individuals, we will continue to use technology and, more importantly, continue to interact with others.