Digital dementia alarming – expert

Dulce Sanchez (The Philippine Star) - April 30, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The increasing number of young people who are addicted to their electronic devices – and the digital dementia they develop as a consequence – should be a cause for alarm, a neuroscientist said earlier this week.

“I think that’s a real, critical problem,” said Gary Small, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and a member of Herbalife’s nutrition advisory board, in a press conference at the Shangri-La Hotel in Taguig City.

He said people who are too attached to electronic gadgets could “create a generation of less emphatic individuals” due to digital dementia, a term coined to refer to the phenomenon of people feeling forgetful and distracted because of their digital devices, not real dementia.

Noting that some of these device-addicted people are politicians who will lead the country, Small asked, “Will we have less emphatic leaders because of this age of digital mania?”

Pinoys top social media users

According to a “Digital in 2016” report by Singapore-based social media agency We Are Social, the Philippines topped the list of 30 countries in time spent on social media.

Filipinos spend 3.7 hours a day using social media, followed by Brazilians at 3.3 hours and the United Arab Emirates at three hours.

South Koreans, at second to the last place, spend 1.1 hours on social media while the Japanese spend .3 hours.

Filipinos, on the average, surf the Internet on their computer or tablet for five hours and 21 minutes each day and on the mobile phone for three hours and 14 minutes, the report said.

Filipinos also watch television for an average of two hours and 33 minutes per day, according to the report.

The report said that of the total population of 101.47 million, there are 47.13 million active Internet users, based on fixed and mobile connections. The number of Internet users has increased by seven percent since January 2015.   

Active user accounts held by Filipinos have hit 48 million and this has grown by 20 percent since January last year.

Mobile subscriptions have reached 119.21 million, or four percent higher since January 2015.

There are 41 million active mobile social users’ accounts and this number has increased by 28 percent since January 2015.

According to the report, 87 percent of the adult population in the Philippines own mobile phones (all types); smart phones, 55 percent; laptop or desktop computers, 43 percent; tablets, 24 percent; television streaming devices, eight percent; e-reader devices, five percent and wearable tech devices, five percent.

Disturbing trend

Small said Herbalife did a study of office workers aged 25 to 45 in Taiwan last year. The study found that many of the workers use their devices for six to 10 hours a day and many reported feeling that their memory was affected by their overuse of the device – the hallmarks of digital dementia.

“I think many of us experience it for ourselves. If you’re looking at a device, you’re not paying attention and things go in and out of your mind,” Small said in an interview with The STAR.

He noted that the “digital natives,” young people who grew up with digital devices, “tend to have poorer human contact skills. They don’t look you in the eye. They don’t notice non-verbal cues. They can’t read emotions.”

He cited another Herbalife study involving 13-year-olds who went to nature camp for five days and were not allowed to use any digital device.

After comparing them with a control group from the same school, who kept using their devices for up to six hours a day, the ones who went to nature camp had significant improvements in their emotional and social intelligence, Small said.

Going on rehab

Small recommends that local mental health professionals help people addicted to their electronic devices.

“One reason there is digital dementia is people can’t put down their devices because we love connecting. We’re social animals,” he said.

In the US, parents have become concerned about device addiction and digital dementia, Small said.

Some children and adults are more sensitive to the negative effects of the overuse of technology, he said, adding that the behavior patterns are similar to that of a drug addict.

“They can’t stop themselves. It disrupts their schoolwork, it disrupts their social interaction. If you see the problem and you take it away and they get better, that pretty much secures the diagnosis,” Small said.

The problem of device addiction and digital dementia has become serious enough that some countries have detox and rehabilitation centers for young people who can’t control their use of their devices, he said.

What can be done

Small advised parents of children to take away the device to which they are addicted or install parental controls on the device.

“Having a conversation with their children is more effective than just trying to restrict them. Kids are interested in how these technologies affect their brain,” he said.

Small said parents have to confront their children about the problem, but be kind in their approach.

“They can start conversations with them, try to tell them what’s going on and try to help them get into other activities, sports, social activities, try to substitute something else,” he said.

For parents of teenagers addicted to electronic devices, Small advised them to meet their children on their own level.

“Instead of being critical, try to engage them on what’s going on inside of them. Try to talk about their feelings rather than criticize their behavior,” he said.

He said parents should make time to connect with their children on a meaningful level and engage in activities they both enjoy.

“Try to go with the positive of family life and that will make these devices less fun,” Small said.

As for the memory problems that accompany digital dementia, Small said these devices can be used to augment a person’s memory.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with