Opinion and Analysis

Digital addiction an emerging crisis in Kenya

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By BITANGE NDEMO

Posted  Wednesday, January 11   2017 at  18:42

We are facing a digital addiction crisis in Kenya. The fact that we often don’t collect data on digital-related incidents makes it even worse.

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The number of people suffering from digital addiction could be even higher than those suffering from alcohol addiction.

I came to this realisation following an incident at a club that I frequent for my routine exercise. I had just parked my vehicle and taken a few minutes to flip through the newspaper before I got onto my day’s programme.

A young woman entered the vehicle parked next to mine, switched on the engine and started reversing while still on phone. Suddenly, a vehicle emerged from behind her.

The subsequent hooting and screeching of tyres startled her, sending her into panic mode and she ended up hitting my passenger door.

What intrigued me most was the ensuing discussion. She came out cursing the motorist who had tried his best to avoid hitting her. And when I emerged from my car, she was surprised that there was someone inside.

But instead of apologising, she kept interrupting our discussion to answer her phone calls. I politely asked her to ignore the calls until we sorted out the mess. She struggled for a few minutes and I could see her fight the impulse to check her phone messages.

I concluded that she may have been a digital wreck and any further discussions would have been a waste of time since she appeared completely disconnected and disoriented from the environment we were in.

When I narrated the experience to my friends, they told me similar stories. Some talked of toddlers who cannot sleep without iPads on their bedside.

A digital addict is someone who uses digital technology impulsively and compulsively. The condition is referred to in many names: “digital heroin,” “nomophobia,” and “internet addiction disorder.”

Research has shown that any form of addiction is when we seek the feel-good effect, which is attributed to the release of the hormone dopamine.

This chemical, psychologists say, helps the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Repeated need for the feel-good effect leads to addiction.

Experts suggest several possible causes of addiction but I will restrict myself to two. First, people may engage in harmful behaviours because of an abnormality, or “psychopathology” that manifests itself as mental illness.

Second, people may learn unhealthy behaviour in response to their environment.

In 1970, American writer and futurist Alvin Toffler, known for his works on digital revolution, predicted in his book Future Shock that “people have a limited biological capacity for change and that when that capacity is overwhelmed, people end up feeling disconnected, stressed and disorientated – future shock.

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