Of course, addictions do exist. They are bad habits and they are very hard to break. The best known treatment for addiction is a 12 step program, and, it must be noted, most therapists do not make a living from 12 step programs.
When therapists seem to over-diagnose addictions, it is not reasonable to infer a venal motive.
Given the nature of a bad habit you cannot overcome it by discovering its hidden meaning or ferreting out a childhood antecedent. Since most therapists engage in precisely such discovering and ferreting, they see addictive behavior as existing at the limit of their professional ability.
And, as of now, there is no pill that will stop an addiction. So the diagnosis of addiction is not making pharmaceutical manufacturers richer either.
All of this to introduce an interesting experiment, performed on Middle School pupils at a private school in Riverdale, New York. As Susan Dominus reported in the New York Times this morning, a school counselor asked pupils to forsake electronic media for two days. That meant: two days without texting, IM-ing, Facebooking, and the rest. Link here.
The counselor, KC Cohen had reasoned that children were texting their parents so often during the day that they were losing their independence. They were not granting themselves the opportunity to deal with their social challenges with their own resources. Being too connected to Mom and Dad, they were losing the chance to make their own decisions and suffer the consequences.
In the old days when texting did not exist the maturation process was different. Recalling the past Dominus explained: "If school had any universally agreed upon upside, it was that it gave a 12-year-old much needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection-- space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world."
Is it fair to call 12-year-olds addicts? The results of the Riverdale experiment suggest that they are not yet there. As Dominus described the outcome: "This text-free Sunday, the Riverdale students said, was unusually relaxing. They were shocked at how quickly they finished their homework, undistracted by an always-open video chat. or checking in on Facebook or responding to the hundred messages they get typically in a day."
Why were they so resilient? Perhaps because they were children,living with their parents, having immediate access to people who could assert some adult authority and discipline. Thus, these children found their voices and were able to adapt relatively easily.
The same seems not to have been true of a group of University of Maryland students who were subjected to the same experiment. When these students were abandoned their social media for 24 hours they showed immediate symptoms of withdrawal, the kinds of symptoms you would expect from an addict. Links here and here.
Apparently, the extra half-dozen or so years of texting has an effect. In that period of time students had made social media their primary way of connecting, with their friends and even with the world. Not only did they keep in touch with their friends by texting and Facebook, but they used social media to keep informed about the world. They did not get their news from television or the newspapers, but from social media.
Thus, when they were deprived of their electronic fixes, these students felt radically disconnected, confused and disoriented. They did not have the resilience and/or the parental supervision to guide them to finding their voice.
Social media has its use and its value. But, once it becomes the primary mode of communication and connection it induces children to live in a virtual community, one where the pleasures of human contact, the sound of someone's voice are repressed. As I have suggested, the truncated form of communication called texting provides less pleasure and less satisfaction than a conversation, and thus, those who rely on it find themselves using it more and more often, compulsively to try to gain that satisfaction.
Excessive texting seems to cause people to lose "emotional fluency," the ability to experience emotion and the ability to respond to the cues that other people communicate through the sound of their voices. Link here.