Can you really be addicted to your smartphone? Daria Kuss has shown that it is only a problem for a small number of people – and she knows how to help
30 April 2020
So, what do you do?
I’ve been researching the psychology of internet and technology use for more than 10 years. I also teach a Master’s degree course in cyberpsychology. Aside from that, I work with organisations like the World Health Organization to help develop approaches to the prevention and treatment of mental health problems that spring from technology.
How does the internet affect us?
The internet has made our lives far more convenient and technology can connect us when we are distant from family and friends – the coronavirus pandemic is a great example. But my research shows that for a small number of vulnerable individuals, excessive internet use may lead to a variety of detrimental mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression, stress and addiction.
Do people spend too much time looking at screens these days? And what is too much?
Having smartphones with us constantly has increased the likelihood that we’ll spend a lot of time looking at screens. But there’s no single answer to what is too much. Some people can spend hours every day using the internet without any problems. “Too much” is when your technology use significantly impacts your health, work and relationships.
Can you actually be addicted to the internet or your smartphone?
Addiction is a specific mental health condition and not everyone uses the term correctly. It’s only a small minority of vulnerable individuals who use the internet and smartphones excessively who develop symptoms of addiction.
Internet addiction is quite controversial. Why?
The term is frequently used in common parlance to refer to people who spend a lot of time on their computers. However, we need to accept that technology is here to stay as an integral element of our lives. Just because we use it a lot, it does not mean that we are addicted to it. There’s a difference between a habit and an addiction; the latter causes significant negative impacts.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a number of different international projects on technology use. One of my European collaborations is about helping people who really are addicted to the internet develop withdrawal plans based on their individual usage and experiences. The tool we have developed provides individualised withdrawal strategies using the science behind behavioural modification techniques often used in addiction treatment.
“There’s a difference between a habit and an addiction; the latter causes significant negative impacts.”
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer! From an early age, I’ve devoured books, and still do. I’ve now written three books myself and edited another. My plan is to write a novel in my lifetime. One of my ideas is to develop a dystopian story set in a fictional future – but that’s as much as I can tell you for now.
If you could have a conversation with any scientist living or dead, who would it be?
It is difficult to give just one name. I’m a big fan of Sherry Turkle – reading her book “Life on the screen” as a student was one of the key inspirations for my research career, as she was able to use her expertise as clinical psychologist to understand why and how people use technology and how this may impact their lives and relationships in multiple ways.
Do you have an unexpected hobby, and if so, please will you tell us about it?
I enjoy the great outdoors and try to explore natural landscapes in different countries. One of the things on my bucket list is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. This plays to my academic interests because climbing such a peak is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.
How useful will your skills be after the apocalypse?
As a researcher, I’ve developed a number of transferable skills, including problem solving, communication to various groups and stakeholders and managing people – these skills could come in handy after the apocalypse!
OK one last thing: tell us something that will blow our minds…
Here are two things. On average, we check our phones about a hundred times a day, or an average of six times per waking hour. And contrary to popular wisdom, the average gamer is not an adolescent boy but a man or woman in their mid-30s.
Daria Kuss is an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University, UK
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