Can we be addicted to a computer? No, I don’t think we can. Addict is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “One who is addicted to the habitual and excessive use of a drug.” A computer is not a drug, so in fact I would tend to say that we can be dependent on what the computer offers us. Shotton (1989) spoke at great lengths about the misuse of the word addict or addiction in the context of computers. She concluded that the most appropriate word to use was dependency or its other forms. Dependency was explained to mean that there was a strong, compelling desire to do something. As the world grows and the influence technology has increases, we can expect to see more children becoming dependent on their computers. There is nothing wrong with using a computer or technology in fact it makes our lives a lot easier in many ways. However it is when someone becomes obsessed with something a computer can offer them that problems occur.
The use of technology in our everyday lives has increased dramatically, according to the Office for National Statistics, 77 per cent of UK households have a home computer. This means that over three quarters of the population have the potential to become dependent on the computers found in their homes. over the last few days it was stated on Sky News (2013) that the average cost of raising a child has rocketed to £222,000, with one of the main reasons for this being children’s desire for technology such as laptops and tablets. The big question is why do people become dependent on computers or what they offer? There are many reasons to why people become dependent on computers, allowing them to become a major part of their lives. One reason may be a problematic family or social life. Many people find computers as a form of escapism. They are able to forget the real world for a while and immerse themselves in the fictional world portrayed in a game or website. Research conducted by Shotton (1989) showed that the majority of the people considered to be dependent on their computers had in fact family troubles. They had experienced negative relationships with either one or both parents. In addition to this she found that although not all of these people came from cold environments in terms of their household they did often have neglecting parents. Considering the social life of those dependent on computers, it was found that they were object based people. Dependents spoke about how they felt “alien” from their peers and it could in fact be this feeling of isolation that has driven people to seek comfort or acceptance from their computer.
There are several different types of computer dependents, defined by why they are dependent on their computers. There are those that are networkers, people who use their computer to be social. Website such as Facebook and Twitter have dominated the internet in recent years and in some cases the lives of children. Although it is technically illegal for anyone under the age of thirteen to have a Facebook account, research shows that in fact a consumer reports survey showed that as many as 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13, and two-thirds of those children are under 10. This sparks another debate regarding the safety of children on the internet. However those children dependent on social networking find themselves glued to their computer screen waiting on the next notification or message from one of their friends. Friends which they may not even know personally. Another group would be those that work on their computers. These people who often show themselves to be ambitious careerists who would struggle to differentiate between work and play. For these types of people work and play are one as they get enthralled in their activities, indulging their need to develop their passion into a viable financial solution. Finally I want to consider the gamers, the people that are dependent upon the virtual worlds that many platforms such as PC, Xbox and PlayStation offer. Gaming worlds offer people a chance to leave the world they are in and embrace a new one. These worlds are at their mercy and this can provide these dependents with a feeling of control, a feeling that they may be unable to experience outside of their video game.
There are many negative effects and health concerns that accompany computer dependency; these can be divided into three categories; mental, physical and social. If we first consider a few of the mental effects a dependency on computers can have beginning with stress. Many dependents can get frustrated when a system isn’t working leading to stress, which in turn can cause someone to act out their feelings sometimes violently. Grifﬁths (1991) felt that an addiction or dependency on computers especially violent video games does in fact affect children negatively and they tend to show increased levels of aggression. Research has found children to exhibit addictive behaviour towards their participation in computer game playing (Phillips et al, 1995), which can be a catalyst for many problems. On such problem that I experienced first-hand whilst on a teaching placement was sleep deprivation. Children can get so enthralled in their computers especially video games that they lose all track of time or will sit into the late hours of the night. This of course has a great impact the following day as children show signs of drowsiness and a difficulty concentrating whilst in school. This was ratified by research conducted by (Meijar et al, 2000) who concluded that quality of sleep has a “substantial impact” on school functioning for children. Secondly there are also physical repercussions for having a dependency on games. Long extended periods sitting at a computer or hunched over a video games can lead to the development of a sore back, neck and even eye problems. Personal hygiene can also suffer as looking after your own body becomes less of a priority and spending more time on the computer increases. In addition to this there is also a link between computer dependency and obesity, researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University Hospital of Zurich published a study in the journal of Obesity Research in 2004 that establishes the link between computer dependency and childhood obesity.
Finally another factor which suffers because of a person’s dependency on their computer is their social life. The user can gradually withdraw into a virtual world where by the dependent becomes more focused on the computer and places emotional value on what happens in an artificial world rather than in real life. Brod (1984) suggested that children’s ability to learn would become distorted and that they might develop and intolerance for human interaction. He believed the computer was used as a refuge for stress, preventing the development of a well-rounded personality by cutting the child off from other activities.
We are very quick to jump to the conclusion that computers and video games are bad; only hampering the development of our children, but it is important to understand the opinions of the involved parties. The main concern of parents is that computers will affect their children in a negative way; this was proven in the Byron Review (2008) when 79 per cent of parents thought computers may affect the behaviour of children. Researching various debates recorded online I found many parents commented saying things such as, “It’s a waste of time” or “They could be out playing football or working on their homework.” Other parents believed that there is no problem with children using computers as long as it is in moderation and does not affect other aspects of their lives.
As a trainee teacher I found that computer dependency was not a big problem on my placements. There were children in my class who were obsessed with video games and games on their computer. In fact it would often be the topic of conversation during their lunch breaks and free time. However I found that this obsession never got in the way of their learning. A study conducted by (Gentile et al, 2004) with teachers found that computer dependency in children often led to more children confronting members of staff and they often witnessed a decline in their school achievements. On the 28th January 2011 BBC Radio Five live spoke to a young boy and his mother regarding his addiction to his computer and video games. The young boy described himself as feeling happy in his own world and stated “I’d just get proper angry over nothing.” this interview highlighted some of the effects computer dependency has on children. The boy blamed the amount of time he spent on his computer as one of the reasons he become so dependent. In one study by Walsh (2000), a majority of teens admitted that their parents do not impose a time limit on the number of hours they are allowed to spend on their computers. Perhaps responsibility falls to the parents to regulate how much time children are allowed to spend on their computers, perhaps the blame for computer dependent children lies with them.
Children use their computers for a number of reasons, many use them for social networking, gaming and educational purposes. It is important that computers are not seen as detrimental to our children or their development. In fact if used correctly they can be one of the greatest tools at a child’s disposal, furthering their education. I feel that it is essential that parent regulate how long children are allowed on their computers but also guide their children. Show them new ways to exploit the capabilities of a computer.
Sources, References and Further Reading
- Brod, C. (1984) Technostress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution. Michigan: Addison-Wesley.
- Byron, T. (2008) The Byron Review: Safer Children in a Digital World.
- Gentile, D. A., Lynch, P., Linder, J. & Walsh, D. (2004). The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 5-22.
- Griffiths, M.D. (1991) ‘Amusement machine playing in childhood and adolescence: A comparative analysis of video games and fruit machines’, Journal of Adolescence, 14, pp. 53–73
- Griffiths, M.D. (1993) ‘Are computer games bad for children?’ The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, pp. 401–7
- Mark Griffiths. CyberPsychology & Behavior. April 2000, 3(2): 211-218.
- Meijer, A., Habekothea, H. & Vandenwittenboer, G. (2000) Time in bed, quality of sleep and school functioning of children. Journal of Sleep Research. 9(2): 145-153.
- Office for National Statistics. (2010) http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-spending/family-spending/family-spending-2011-edition/sum-consumer-durables-nugget.html
- Phillips, C.A., Rolls, S., Rouse, A. and Grifﬁths, M.D. (1995) ‘Home video game playing in school children: a study of incidence and patterns of play’, Journal of Adolescence, 18, pp. 687–691
- Shotton, M. (1989) Computer Addiction: A study of Computer Dependency. London: Taylor & Francis.
- Sky News (2013) Cost Of Raising A Child Soars To £222,000. [Online] Available at: http://news.sky.com/story/1042120/cost-of-raising-a-child-soars-to-222000 (Accessed: 25th January 2013)
- Walsh, D. (2000). Interactive violence and children: Testimony submitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate. (March 21, 2000.) Available:http://commerce.senate.gov/ hearings/0321wal1.pdf (Accessed: 26th January 2013)