Eyes on our devices: are our tech habits out of control?
Save Intimacy is your guide to exploring barriers to intimacy. With devices an everyday presence in our lives, we set out to question our habits and examine the relationships between technology, personal connection and intimacy.

Habits we know are bad for us, like drinking too much, are usually the ones that command the most attention. But we don’t tend to consider that our everyday habits – scrolling through social feeds, gaming, watching TV – can affect us in similar, potentially addictive ways. We set out to find out whether our tech habits are no big deal or whether we’re in danger of becoming addicted to our devices.

What is addiction?

Dependency on alcohol or illicit drugs is generally the first thing that springs to mind when we think about addiction. This kind of addiction manifests as a cluster of symptoms and behaviours that include a powerful desire to use the substance; an inability to control its use; continuing to use it despite negative consequences; and prioritising it at the expense of other pursuits, interests or obligations. Add to that an increased tolerance for your chosen poison and, in some instances, physical withdrawal when you stop.

But technology isn’t a drug, so can you really become addicted to it?

Patterns of behaviour can also be addictive like gambling, for example. Our understanding of addiction has broadened to include any kind of repetitious behaviour that has a detrimental impact on other areas of your life. And while the physical effects of compulsive social media use may not be as severe as those experienced by people with substance abuse problems, behaviours become addictive when we put them above other activities to the point where they affect our physical and psychological wellbeing and day-to-day functioning.

When do our daily habits become a problem?

Behaviours become a problem when we start sacrificing other areas of our lives – health, work, relationships, social interactions or day-to-day tasks in favour of the habit. Many of us are noticing that screen time is affecting one or more of these areas: Ofcom (the UK’s communications regulator) research shows that 80% of adults in the UK admit to binge-watching TV series on a regular basis – 35% do it weekly, and 55% monthly. What’s more, 30% of self-reported binge-watchers confess to sacrificing sleep for another episode, which leaves them feeling tired the next day, and 27% have found themselves neglecting tasks around the house. And two out of five of us say we watch TV by ourselves every day.

Including around three hours’ TV time and two hours using a smartphone, the average UK adult spends less time sleeping each day than they do on media and communications, averaging nine hours daily across all forms. While we can’t assume that all this time is spent separately – many people report using their smartphone to go online while watching TV – it’s no surprise that around a third of us express a desire to reduce our screen time. But the real kicker? Over half of us admit to watching TV in the bedroom – an activity we know disturbs our sleep quality and is bound to affect our sex lives.

Does this mean we’re all addicted?

It depends who you ask. There’s conjecture among medical professionals as to whether compulsive tech habits like gaming disorder or smartphone addiction are disorders in their own right or symptomatic of other underlying mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Which isn’t to say these issues don’t exist – just that there’s still a lot we don’t yet understand about these behaviours. And unlike narcotic use, regular device use doesn’t lead to addiction for most people. Still, even though everyone has their individual limits, it seems we could all be a little more conscious of our daily tech habits and their influence on our lives.

Save Intimacy

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