Fifteen-year-old Mumbai schoolboy Siddharth Saxena (name changed on request) had a very stable childhood. He stayed out of trouble at home and in school, and his parents rewarded his behaviour by fulfilling all his needs. Last year, however, he failed his Class 10 exams. Soon afterwards, he withdrew himself from his friends and family.
Also read: Heavy smartphone use can make you depressed
He started spending most of his time at his computer and smartphone, and playing online games was his primary obsession. Gradually, he changed his food habits, stopped eating on time, or even taking a bath. Alarmed by this disturbing behaviour, his father cut off the Internet connection at home, hoping that his son would get back on track. But Siddharth's reaction was totally the opposite. He destroyed his desktop PC, keyboard and his smartphone, and threatened to do more if the Internet connection was not restored.
Do you have IGD?
Siddharth is now seeking counselling to get over what is broadly described as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), one of the many health problems caused by increased usage of gadgets like desktops, laptops, tablet and smartphones. It's an old term, but was recently listed in Section III of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatry Association.
It found IGD to be more common among youth in Asian countries including India. But IGD is not the only thing affecting the youth. Recent penetration of smartphones has led to several more technology-linked problems, says Dr Chetan Vispute, MD, DNB, Psychiatry and expert on TypeAThought.com, an online platform for seeking psychiatric help.
Also read: Is your life dependent on Facebook?
"We are facing an epidemic level of technology-related health problems — from addictions to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, cyberchondria (compulsive surfing) and online shopping," he says.
The effects of technology-dependence, however is not only psychological, as new musculoskeletal disorders have emerged as well, and some with tacky names. One such problem is Tech-Neck, which refers to the head hanging, shoulders hunched and eyes glued to the device position of smartphone and laptop/desktop users, and is forcing some to seek cosmetic treatments as well.
"This unique position causes postural changes in the human body, characterised by neck and back pain, as well as dark eyes and a sagging neckline," says Dr Mohan Thomas, senior cosmetic surgeon at Breach Candy Hospital. Dr Thomas informs that he has been treating patients both male and female, mostly from corporate world, and showbiz and entertainment, seeking cosmetic treatments to cure sagging neckline and dark eye circles, etc.
WhatsAppititis is another such example. First coined in Spain in 2014, it refers to bilateral wrist pain due to excessive use of thumbs for typing in instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp. Similar examples include Twitter and Facebook Addiction (TFAD), Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Selfie Addiction, which forces one to make some unreasonable choices. Last February, two HSC students from Pune drowned at a dam in Nashik while clicking selfies. In 2015, a 21-year-old tried to commit suicide after being scolded for using WhatsApp. Similar cases have been reported internationally as well.
It's your behaviour, boss
But is technology alone to be blamed? Experts say these technology-related addictions and health problems are a symptom of an underlying mental illness or poor lifestyle choices.
"We have often seen that in such cases that the patients are suffering from co-morbid illnesses such as depression, general anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, or have past history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If we treat these psychiatric conditions independently, there could be an overall improvement in the other tech-related illnesses or behaviour," he says.
Vispute points out that in all these tech-related illnesses, timely intervention from support groups, prove more vital. "I remember a case where a wife gifted her husband a greeting card on their anniversary, saying, 'I love you more than your computer.' This made him realise how he had been ignoring his husbandly duties and been more glued to his machine. It forced him to make some behavioural changes and pay more attention to his wife," he signs off.
Other common technology related illnesses
>> Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain: The American Optometric Association defines Digital Eye Strain as a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use. The most common symptoms associated this ailment are: eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, neck and shoulder pain.
>> Cellphone Thumb: It was reported in 2009 to be common among teenagers who used mobile phone texting for longer duration.
>> Acute Wiiitis: Named after Nintendo Wii tennis video game, it was first reported in a 24-year-old male who had a history of playing several hours of tennis video game. In this game, the player made the same arm movements as in a real game of tennis but facing a video screen. Described first in 2007, it is characterised by intense pain in the right shoulder and affects infraspinatus muscle, one of the four muscles fo the rotrator cuff that helps externally rotate the humerus and stabilise the shoulder joint.
Sources: Annadurai K, Mani G, Danasekaran R. Evolution of electronic gadgets and emergence of high-tech diseases. Digit Med 2015;1:49-50; American Optometric Association
Did you know that most phones now have one-hand navigation?
Do you find the large screen of your device difficult to navigate through? Several phones in the market now come with a one-hand navigation, with a choice between left or right navigation. In this set-up the keyboard slides to either left or right, depending on your convenience. Check with your phone’s manufacturer for further details on the navigation features on the phone, and how to modify the settings for single hand navigation.
Take the quiz: Are you addicted to technology?
Rate yourself on the following scale: (1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Very often:
>> You spend a lot of time thinking about your smartphone and constantly check whether or not you have received a new notification/update.
>> You feel an urge to use your smartphone or apps like (Facebook/Twitter /Instagram) more and more.
>> You use your smartphone or the apps in it, in order to forget about personal problems.
>> You have tried to cut down on the use of smartphone/app without success.
>> You become restless or troubled if you forget to carry your phone, or log in to the app on your phone.
>> You use your smartphone or app on it so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.
A score of “often” or “very often” on at least four of the six items may suggest that you are addicted to your phone or to the apps on it.
NOTE: The above quiz is based on the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (University of Bergen) which was designed to check Facebook addiction. You can replace places where it says smartphone with an app, to check your addiction to that particular app. This quiz is for information only, and may not be 100% accurate.