“Distracted from distraction by distraction.” – T.S. Eliot
By: Shelby Kim | English Columnist
Slumped in his chair and focused on the little black device he tightly gripped in his hand, he didn’t seem any different from the teenage boys similarly zoned in on their smartphones. His brief, shy responses to my initial diagnostic questions showed no oddities in his behavior. To me he was an ordinary fifteen-year-old, except for the fact that he was sitting there subjected to my clipboard, pen, and scrutiny to establish the baseline for his clinical trials. This ordinary-looking boy was one of the primary test subjects for the research project of the psychiatry laboratory I worked at, and he was definitely addicted.
Min*, whether he knew it or not, was a critical component in a foraying watershed investigation into the unprecedented diagnosis of technology addiction, which has been on the rise in South Korea. Aware of the significant shift in the 90’s-born generation towards technology and computers, especially evident in South Korea given the wide, Starbucks-beating omnipresence of PC rooms where students can play computer games at an hourly rate, I understood the complexities of a research project dedicated to technology addiction. From social media to media socials and media streaming to streaming media, the pervasiveness of technology is not something I, nor practically anyone else for that matter, can deny. But to create a brand-new field of psychological pathology…herein lays the question.
The more I got to participate in the research, the more I began to see how the structures of our knowledge are more or less a trial-and-error conclusion, as new concepts and integrating technologies continue to create a dynamic platform of effects and understandings that forever keep our pens and curiosities flowing. Was it an overzealous parent who was denying a simple pleasurable hobby as a deadly disease of addiction? Is there truly a physiological effect that can be identified in this new technology addiction diagnosis? If so, what would be the next steps to creating a brand-new disease to diagnose for humanity? What would be the implications—to policy, to education, to even tax dollars and healthcare?
When I visit my homeland every summer, I immediately notice the impact of the developments in technology. Instead of newspaper stands, I now see “Wi-Fi Zones” in every subway station. Instead of maps at major streets, I see giant monitors displaying the current news. Local markets are replaced by online shopping malls that offer free delivery service. In Korea, I observed both positive and negative consequences of rapid growth of technology—of how we look down to our devices instead of forward to what lays ahead, of how our hands feel empty without a device to fill the palms, of how we may plan our trips around the accessibility of the Internet.
This is what led me into research—because what I see in front of me is not only scientifically and sociologically fascinating, but also undeniably a part of me, both of which propel me forward to figure out how addiction affects us all. The tests performed on the teenagers reported that addiction showed definite changes in both the mental and the physical state of their minds. Although the research requires more time for completion, seeing the change in MRIs of afflicted teenagers opened my eyes to the gravity of the problem—that indeed we are more susceptible to our own devices than previously thought. Addiction not only affects us psychologically, but was also shapes our physical well-being. The technology that makes our lives more convenient could also cause serious side effects in our daily lives, and the exciting yet simultaneously scary aspect about it is that we cannot yet grasp the future behind these immense technological advancements.
“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan
I am genuinely excited to be born in my generation, standing in the gray areas of science and society, in which there are many unknowns. To me, the beauty of the science lies in that fact that there will always be the unknown. As a result, when I’m participating in the initial research of trial-and-error to identify a condition that may very well identify the 21st century of humanity, I know that I am a participant of the universe’s greatest gift—our intellectual drive to learn more of ourselves, and in doing so, of the universe itself. And this curiosity feeds into a deeper state of awareness: cognizance.
Diagnosing something as far-reaching as technology addiction begins with simple steps, starting ironically with a simple clipboard papered with questions and a boy named Min. But as I sat there jotting down notes and preparing him for his next phase, I couldn’t help but wonder how I may soon be a participant in creating a notion that could very well apply to myself. In that sense, I am a pioneer of this constantly changing world that we live in. As I continue with my pursuit of knowledge, I recognize that the constant adaptation of knowledge in science changes the way we interact with each other and with devices. The devices that we use every day serve as the bridge for connecting information and application, and thus give me the ability to ask questions, and look for consequent answers. My world is always going to need questions and answers because the world is no longer arbitrated to a map—it has become much more complicated than a geographical domain. Rather, the visceral and existential world that we live in is always changing, learning from history and looking toward the future. We will always face challenges that force us to define what we accept as truth and accept realities that we have never imagined. Technology is something that shapes our everyday lives, and personally, I can’t imagine a world without it. Imagine no computers, no tablets, and no iphones to keep us occupied when we’re bored, waiting, killing time. The distinction between the grey areas of necessary absorption and overdose on information is something we have to ask ourselves constantly, because ultimately, you are the sole determinant of your addiction.
*Min’s name has been changed in this article to protect his privacy
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