'Excessive texting' among the young could soon be classed as a medical problem
Tina was on the dance floor at Heroes bar in Abu Dhabi last week, moving slowly to the rhythm of the music with a friend.
As she dances, she stares at her phone, typing a message. Her eyes almost never leave the screen for the four minutes of the song.
Her friend keeps dancing - awkwardly and a little confused.
A week before this, I tried talking to Tina as we left the meet-up group we both attend but communication was impossible. The whole time we waited for a taxi, her face was stuck in her phone, watching her text messages. Occasionally her head would appear from behind the screen to say “what?” and then she returned to the display. It was deeply irritating but I didn’t tell anyone, until a few days later I heard one of the group’s most enthusiastic attendees had quit “because of the people on their phones, texting all the time, it is so rude”, he said.
Rude, irritating, frustrating it is, but it may also be a genuine addiction that is hurting the lives of thousands of young people, according to new research by Abu Dhabi University.
A team lead by education professor Mohammed Alzyoud found that all 555 Abu Dhabi University students who took part in a new study showed signs of addiction to texting and mobile messaging.
Sixty-four students, who are probably as chronic as Tina, admitted that they checked their phones every minute for new messages, since there was such a huge array to choose from - has a friend or potential love interest contacted me on facebook? How about Yahoo Chat? Maybe Google Chat? No? How about Twitter? Or maybe they just sent me a plain old text?
Keep up that level of anxiety and pretty soon you can’t hold a “real world” conversation and studying will suffer - 73 students admitted that their grades were suffering because of the amount of time they spend checking their phones. That’s more than 10 per cent, while 25 per cent of students admitted that they had an addiction. Another one in six weren’t sure if they were full-blown addicts or not.
The root causes of all of this are not fully known, but early analysis points to chronic loneliness and possible homesickness.
About a third of the students said their main reason for texting was to stay in contact with distant friends, a statistic Professor Alzyoud describes as “very significant” but warns that he’s still crunching the data and will need time to reach firm conclusions.
There may be help coming, though. A senior government addiction counsellor told 7DAYS that both of the international psychology standards used in the UAE may soon officially recognise internet addiction as a legitimate psychological problem.
“If that happens, we could see more official help for people who overuse their BlackBerrys or iPhones for messaging,” he said. He added the underlining problem may differ among patients, noting that the behaviour may be “addiction, obsessive behaviour or simply overuse”.
So what do those in the study’s survey range of 18 to 22 year olds think of the findings? Is this hype or are we watching a generation about to come into the workforce who cannot focus without the constant whirl of new mobile messages to entertain them?
Do they know how irritating it is when someone is glued to their phone?
“I am 100 per cent behind anything that will make people wake up to this,” said Jennifer Shaw, a first-year student at American University.
“I was in the university canteen, telling a friend about my mother’s illness and she looks up from the iPhone screen and says: ‘Right. I think he wants to meet up!’ People use to complain about TV addiction, but this is far worse, because there is no escape.”
555 students were asked about phone habits:
Why do you text?
>> 191 - To talk to distant friends
>> 142 - To express feelings
>> 117 - To get news
>> 104 - To discuss educational topics
>> 101- To exchange ideas and games
>> 100 - It’s a pastime
>> 91 - Entertainment
>> 48 - To meet new friends
>> 44 - To achieve satisfaction
How often do you check for messages?
>> 64 - Every minute
>> 70 - Every five minutes
>> 90 - Every half an hour
>> 210 - Every hour
Do you consider yourself addicted to texting?
>> Yes - 139
>> No - 293
>> I Don’t Know - 91
>> Other - 5