Effects of Internet Addiction in Later Adulthood
The media are greatly interested in the effects of internet addiction on the young. Yet, what about its impact on your life in later adulthood?
We can find any number of commentators to tell us that social media and other internet activities such as interactive games and porn are having enormous negative and addictive impacts on young and incompletely developed minds in our society. What is often not so clearly discerned is the way that the internet has changed all of us, and threatens to change us even more. This most definitely includes the effects of internet addiction, in its various forms, on those in full adulthood. To understand this fully, we need to view our internet usage from the perspective of our journey towards wholeness — our individuation journey.
The Nature of the Effects of Internet Addiction
The Globe and Mail recently published a dialogue between Jim Balsillie, of Blackberry fame, and prominent psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and author Dr. Norman Doidge entitled “Can We Ever Kick Our Smartphone Addiction?” Dr. Doidge asserts,
[U]nlike other addictions that are opposed by mainstream institutions, screen time is being pushed by educators, governments and businesses….
[T]he chemistry and the wiring of the brain can be manipulated. There are all sorts of behavioural addictions … that take hold because they trigger the same areas of the brain as drugs. People are unsuspecting of digital addiction. That’s because each addiction… has a slightly different form and effect, so it takes a while to recognize any new addiction as such….
Digital tech is especially good at changing our brains without our awareness. The brain is neuroplastic, meaning it has a property that allows it to change its structure and function in response to mental experience….
[W]e should believe [a former Google strategist, who stated] … “The dynamics of the attention economy are structurally set up to undermine human will.” [italics mine] …. The study of behaviour and the brain has increasingly turned its attention to technology’s power to transform the way we think…. Data gathered from our keystrokes can be used to further addict us, in a tailor-made way, and sold to advertisers and even to politicians… to get us to buy what they are selling.
Important for the Young, Just as Important for Those Older
The level of manipulation and programming of humans that Doidge describes is shocking. It’s a powerful indictment of internet and social media technologies, and their power to undermine human freedom. The article focuses on impacts on young people, but adults also need to consider the effects of internet addiction on their lives. I would stress that this is particularly true for those in mid-life and later, who seek to find their own true core values, and to live out the fullness of who they are in later life.
Life is the Same as It Ever Was
As individuals move through the major life transitions of adulthood into the second half of life, the individuation journey is as important as it ever was. Life asks us to seek understanding of who we most fundamentally are, to discover as much as we can of the undiscovered self, and to live in accord with our deepest and most unique values. We need to do this things, if we’re to feel that our unique lives have any real significance or meaning.
Given the life journey that we’re on, it’s essential for us to give deep and careful consideration to the impact of social media and the internet on our lives. Canadians spend more and more time online, and the age group where usage is increasing most rapidly is seniors. We each need to ask ourselves: Am I moving in my own authentic direction, or am I being subtly molded to meet someone else’s expectations and goals for my life through online manipulation? This can be an area of genuine and deep importance for us, and it may be strongly related to issues of anxiety and depression.
Beyond the Siren Call of Online Life
The fundamental task of /a-midlife-transition is to assist the individual in the process of individuation, of finding grounding in her or his own unique identity. We live in an age where the individual is subjected to relentless but subtle distraction, compulsion and pressure to comply to the demands of others. This is often especially true in our online life. Good /a-midlife-transition can assist the individual in getting beyond the effects of internet addiction — to which we are all to some degree subject — and to finding the true voice of the unique Self.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst