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A nation of addicts?: exploring disciplinary perspectives on digital dependence

Research output: Working paper

Publication date27/06/2016
PublisherBalance Network & Urban Institute
Number of pages6
VolumeDaily life, digital technologies and energy demand. Working Paper Collection.
<mark>Original language</mark>English


According to some accounts, the UK is a nation addicted to smartphones. A similar rhetoric and set of concerns extends to other digital technologies, such as the internet and social media. In this short paper, we unpack ways of thinking about addictive, compulsive or otherwise frequent use of such technologies by drawing on a variety of disciplinary perspectives: from clinical assessments to the psychology and sociology of more widespread experiences. We begin by examining the most tightly specified definitions of addiction, as used in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal psychological conditions. Here, digital addictions are extreme conditions that bring highly detrimental impacts for those affected. This contrasts with the widespread and more ordinary ways in which digital technologies are used; some of which may nevertheless be defined as compulsive and detrimental through their affects on health, relationships and general sense of (im)balance. Reframing the discussion, we then consider how such experiences could be seen as outcomes of the organisation and interconnections of social practices. Finally, we argue that some aspects of the widespread and frequent use of digital technologies are not articulated through a language of addiction or compulsion but rather represent dependence, which is not necessarily problematic, at least for the individuals concerned. However, just as with car dependence, internet dependence may be problematised in terms of its consequences at societal level, that is, in relation to energy demand, equity and security of access.