Who hasn't gone deep into the night engrossed in social media, playing online games or watching videos? Digital overuse is so common that it's no longer amusing; a recent analysis considers it a international addiction that needs to be addressed and offers a number of suggestions on how to do it.
Problems with media use basically fall into two categories: people frittering away their time and money, often under false pretenses; and public safety issues, mainly distracted driving and walking.
Several countries have taken the lead in addressing distracted walking by non-coercive means. China has experimented with mobile phone lanes set aside to help protect the “heads-down tribe” from oncoming car traffic, though one might question how people looking at their cell phones can possibly be expected to stay in the lane. And Germany has looked at embedding traffic lights in the pavement, where they're likelier to catch the eye of someone glued to their phone than traditional traffic lights are.
But it is leisure digital usage that concerns the authors most. It is a black hole that sucks up much of our free time — shopping, gaming, reading about others' lives.
Apps and platforms could disclose an addictiveness rating, similar to the cleanliness ratings of restaurants.
Addictiveness is built into digital design. Social media has its endless scrolling, where content is loaded into a continuous stream instead of pages. Games have their endless mode and YouTube has autoplay. All bypass natural stopping points like a book's chapters and are reasons why people end up taking a trip down the Reddit hole — planning to go online for a few minutes but staying for hours.
Getting away from home and out into the world doesn't always help, with free Wi-Fi in restaurants, bars, planes and trains, all places that might otherwise be filled with person-to-person interactions. Perhaps more concerning is the way children are increasingly targeted. Even school buses aren't immune.
It all adds up to a problem greatly in need of solutions. Yet unlike alcohol, drug or gambling addictions, digital addiction has so far slipped under policy makers' radar.
The authors offer three suggestions for reducing digital addiction. Some would inform consumers of the addictiveness of various apps and sites. Others would make it necessary to choose to use a site and continue using it after a certain period of time, while still others would forbid certain features and practices. Here's a sample of their suggestions:
Why people end up taking a trip down the Reddit hole.
While not endorsing any particular solution or approach, the authors, from Bentley University, Simon Fraser University and the University of San Diego, do believe some type of intervention is necessary.
If you'd like a more complete look at the authors' many suggestions, see the article, “Addictive De-Vices: A Public Policy Analysis of Sources and Solutions to Digital Addiction” in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.