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Emerging technologies, instant gratification and ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We’ve heard it about it a million times. With the advent of the Internet, and particularly, social media, are we hearing more of it? Before we get into how Internet is exacerbating the problem, let’s define a few terms.

What is ADHD?

Here’s how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV defines ADHD.

“A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequently displayed and more severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development.”

As you can see, ADHD is marked by three key elements:  inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

It is a mental illness that affects your ability to focus or concentrate. The diagnosis is usually done for schoolchildren but the effects of ADHD continue well into adulthood. Among adults, it manifests in a different way. For ex. hyperactivity might might manifest itself as restlessness.

Here’s an excellent video that explains the basics of ADHD:

Understanding emerging technologies

Everything’s almost instant nowadays. We want food, we use an app to order them and they get delivered in less than an hour. We want a taxi, there’s one available at a click of a button. We can pass messages at a blink. We get ‘likes’ and reactions to our posts immediately. What is the common thread in all these things?

Instant gratification.

To say that instant gratification drives the world would be an understatement. In simple terms, instant gratification is the experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. We need a feedback immediately. And, if we don’t get one, it sets off an alarm in our minds. But was this the case a few decades ago? Did we ever someone saying “I don’t have time” then? Clocks still have the same configuration and are running at the same speed.

So what happened?

Our concept of time has changed over the years. Our minds are increasingly finding it hard to delay gratification. The more instant a gratification occurs, the more we start yearning for it. And, that gives birth to faster and more efficient technologies. Here’s a rough sketch of the phenomenon.

Instant gratification and technology

So we’re currently in this cycle of producing better technology and caught in the side-effects of it. And, one of the side-effects is ADHD. We clearly see that the cycle breeds inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity — the three key main elements of ADHD.

Studies suggest that it then feeds on itself to become an integral part of our lives. These then lead to other problems, such as lack of sleep, frustration and fears.  This one suggests that children with ADHD are more addicted to the internet, spend more time online, and go to sleep later than those without ADHD. It also says that children and adolescents with ADHD turn to the internet to escape from daily problems,  both emotionally and socially,  to a safe place that is free of demands and obligations.

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