“May you live in interesting times”: a blessing or a curse? The age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us, and never has a phrase crossed my mind so often as this one does today. In today’s technologically driven world, I often find stepping back and observing my place difficult. Never before have I been so connected to my friends, family, and colleagues. I can access all the information the world has ever known within seconds. I have access to educational resources and content to aid me in any interest I can think of. Despite this, the online world has created a perfect storm: a world highly reliant on technology has meant that online platforms are not going anywhere anytime soon. These platforms have consistently been shown to be chronically addicting, sources of bullying and generating feelings of low self-esteem. However, it seems impossible to eradicate these problems because our world is so hyperconnected. I often ask myself, is there a space for the online world to coexist with our offline presence? 


Why is device usage addictive?

It’s no secret that devices and social media usage are wrong for us. You have all heard at some point the same mantras: social media sets up unfair standards; social media is not real; social media is a place for cyberbullying to take place. However, I would like to discuss why device usage is so addicting. If we know chronic online device usage is so bad for us, why do we continue to use it? 


AndrewHubberman, a world-renowned professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology, describes how smartphones are addictive due to their ability to cause a constant release of dopamine. “Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.” Hubberman writes, “When we engage with our phones, we receive a hit of dopamine, which makes us feel good. However, over time, our brains become desensitised to this dopamine release, and we need more and more of it to feel the same level of pleasure. This can lead to a cycle of addiction, where we feel compelled to check our phones constantly, even when we know we shouldn’t”. 


What do the experts say?

So now what? If the online world is so addicting, how can we combat this if our current reality is hyperconnected? It is almost impossible to go through life without some device. 


“It is not useful to swim against the tide. It is about how we adapt,” says Dianne McCormick, a registered clinical psychologist, “social media is here to stay. Social media applications are designed to trigger our reward systems. The developers of computer applications consider social psychology and how to make people feel connected, such as Facebook and its “friend” network…We need to be aware of the level of manipulation [online platforms use] and raise awareness of what will draw us in”.


Dianne describes how it is essential to consider why one is drawn to social media. Could this highlight something more profound if we feel some sense of reward and gratification? 

“Addiction can be too easily dismissed as a choice -but there is always there something deeper to be explored. What has been neglected, and what is the compensation for?… How [do] we tolerate frustration? How do we resolve conflict?” says Dianne. 


If social media and the digital world are not going anywhere, we must step back and look inwards. What is the online world possibly compensating for? It is important to ask ourselves these questions to live a more present offline life. 


What next?

The next time you pick up your device, consider what it is you seek. What emotions are you feeling? Are you genuinely wanting to check up on something, or are you feeling stressed and need an external source to combat this? Think about the intention behind your device usage. 


Engage critically with every interaction with your device, asking yourself: What am I seeking? How does this make me feel? What am I trying to avoid? Recognising the link between your mental state and device usage is vital for fostering a healthy relationship with technology rather than simply cutting it out.


 “I found that my device usage significantly decreased when I realised that I did not have any other source of happiness,” says Buhle (20), “when I stopped using my device for entertainment and instead found other hobbies, I not only stopped going online all the time but I found that I had better mental clarity and overall inner peace”. 


Like Buhle, grounding ourselves in the physical world rather than the digital one is essential. Our online engagement should complement, not consume, our sense of self and well-being.


How can we navigate the demands of a hyperconnected world without sacrificing our mental well-being, and what strategies or practices have you found effective in maintaining this balance while embracing the benefits of technology?