The rapid uptake of smart phones, social media and the instant availability of information has changed our behaviours, social interactions and lifestyles in a very short timespan. As a result, we are adapting physically and mentally, but academics are arguing over how harmful the changes are.

Experts are not clear about how much time online is too much The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( used to diagnosed mental health illness) doesn't officially recognise internet addiction, but it classifies " internet-use" disorder as something that needs to be further explored. There is some research suggesting that for some, internet addiction has health effects. Small studies have found that it can disrupt the brain's wiring in a similar way to drug and alcohol addiction, negatively affecting brain neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Another study suggests people who are lonely or lack social skills often use the internet as compensation for human connections, thus avoiding the need to deal with these issues and causing further disconnection and alienation.

Three weeks ago the " instafamous" teenager Essena O'Neill "came-out" and de-bunked on-line celebrity, causing widespread discussion on social media. She had spent the time  between 12 and 19 years of age building her instagram following with an obsessive attention to a mix of 'body-image' detail and 'social-media' etiquette. ( said to have had over 800 000 followers on Facebook and Instagram). She told her followers  it was all "fake and futile". In her teary-eyed post she told her followers that they should not judge themselves or build a life around social media and described  how although successful on social media, the whole process had left her anxiety filled and depressed.

Apart from addiction, excessive on-line time can affect everyone with irritability, short temper, fatigue and trouble coping with changes to routine and plans. Physical effects include dry eyes, strained vision, back and neck aches, headaches, sleep disruption and weight gain or loss.

Clues that you may have a problem  from Swinbourne University Faculty of Life and Social Sciences:

  • Feeling stressed or anxious if logged off and feeling that logging on will relieve this
  • Feeling irritable when unable to easily log on
  • Do you have at least one internet-free evening per week?
  • Avoiding family or social commitments to spend time on-line
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about being online when not logged on
  • Family, friends or workmates nagging you about being online, and you having to lie about it
  • Staying up late of waking early to log on
  • Frequently skipping meals due to being on-line
  • Missing deadlines or arriving late for work because of internet use
  • Trying to cut back on internet use and failing

Regularly doing several of these points could be a warning sign of problems with internet use, some of them are normal to do occasionally. neglecting work and family or if technology is causing distress may be a reason to seek help from your GP or psychologist.

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