Neurological Disorders Emerging Due to Digital Obsession

Do you remember life before the internet? The tryst lovers made in restaurants, research done from books, the letters and pen pals sent daily at the post office? Life was a whole lot different unlike now we have the internet at our fingertips, smartphones in our pockets, and a laptop on every desk. Our brains have been struggling to adapt to the new lifestyle brought by the digital age. Experts say that the numbers of times we spend on our screens today have presented a number of neurological problems to our lives.

In one recent study, researchers asked people a series of trivia questions. Half the group was allowed to use Google, the other half was not. Then, in the second half of the study, all participants were given a new round of easier questions and told they could choose whether or not to use Google to answer them. As you might have guessed, those who used the internet in the first round really struggled to answer any questions in the second round while relying solely on their own knowledge and memories. One-third of them didn’t even bother they accessed Google immediately.

As evidenced from the study, the digital age has really changed the way we read and comprehend. Internet browsing has shortened both our attention spans and our patience. And it’s doing a number on our memories as well. Good examples of those mostly affected are university students who are the biggest consumers of internet in Kenya.  The students have relied so much on the internet that it affects their general university study experience. This has led to the introduction of half-baked graduates into the job market which could have a serious implication on our economy in the future.

We cannot refute that the internet and access to information has brought some good in our society, But considering  how  more and more people are becoming progressively more reliant on access to information via smart phones and other devices, it’s worth highlighting a few of the more recent  neurological disorders that cognitive neuroscientists  blame on our digital obsession.

Nomophobia

As the name suggests, it’s an extreme fear that someone may experience to unreasonable fear of something. Be it heights, closed spaces, snakes, spiders etc. Well in 2012 as more internet enabled devices penetrated the society, researches thought they should add Nomophobia to the list.

Also known as “No mobile phobia” is an extreme feeling of panic when one is separated from their mobile device.  This is a mushrooming trait in the Kenyan scene where by a lot of people switch into panic mode upon misplacing their phones. Some cry, some get mild panic attacks, many feel like their life is over.  Some (especially the ladies) can have their panic spiral into pure desperation willing to do anything to get the phone back.

The Phantom Ring

Sounds like the name of some Horror movie right? Maybe there is such a movie but I’m pretty sure it would be inspired by the universal presence of our buzzing, pinging smartphones. Fauxcellarm, phantom ringing, and ringxiety are all terms that refer to the perception that one’s mobile device is ringing (or, more precisely, vibrating) when, in fact, it is not.

David Laramie, a clinical psychologist describes these imagined Phantom vibrations as this unusual curiosity that speaks to our connection with our phones. A vibrating phone triggers the learned association and the perception of a vibrating phone. So next time you keep feeling a vibration in your pocket but its not there (unless you’re in a PSV-there is always somebody’s phone ringing next to you), there goes your red light. It’s probably lime you learn to dissociate yourself from your phone.

Technoference

According to a study done in 2014, our digital obsession might be doing more than just putting us on edge but also, it could also be dragging down our relationships. Many people in relationships believe that tech devices interrupt their leisure time, conversations, and meals with their significant other. The study also found that smartphones are also getting in the way of couple’s sex lives.

One of the study authors, hypothesizes that when partners experience what they perceive to be an interruption due to technology, their views of the relationship are likely to suffer, especially if these interruptions are frequent. This disorder is especially common in Kenya, with courts dealing with cases of domestic violence instigated by the use of smartphones on a daily basis.  No one can ever forget the extreme case of “Miss Prison” the sassy lady who stabbed her boyfriend (over 30 times) to death due to Whatsapp messages.

Cyberchondria

As you can tell from the name, this disorder is closely related to hypochondria, which is not a new brain disorder. However the internet has taken the disorder to a new level. This new term refers to people who have a high predisposition to research and diagnose their own illnesses through online platforms.

For people already suffering from hypochondria this can be detrimental. They get neurotic, and go down a Google wormhole, frantically reading about every dreaded disease that matches their symptoms. A search for abdominal pain brings up diagnoses that include everything from food poisoning to stomach cancer, and soon, the Googler is convinced they’re dying.

In our Kenyan context, this mainly affects the self-proclaimed “digital gurus” who are mostly youth who would rather spend a couple of data bundles to self-diagnose than go to a hospital and pay the consultation fee. This is very dangerous as these searches are full of inconsistencies and inaccuracies that can mess the diagnostic process. You may end up taking medicine that could only worsen your ailment or worse slip into a fit of depression brought by the morbid Google search results.

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