Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Web Secret 422: virtual reality will take addiction to the next level

Did you know that in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5, Internet Gaming Disorder is not recognized as an official diagnosis?

It was introduced in 2013 for further study.

I think we can all save some research dollars by putting that question to rest.

Forget the kids who play World of Warcraft for days on end - I have watched adults play Angry Birds until they developed repetitive stress injuries. In China, there's even a boot camp to rehabilitate "web junkies" who prefer the gaming world to the real world.

A recent Tech Insider article stated that the typical adult under the age of 45 relies upon four digital devices, and the average individual spends 90% more time consuming digital media on a smartphone today versus 2013.

And the signs of crisis are everywhere. Nearly 60% of computer users check email in the bathroom; 15% have read their email in church; and 85% say they would take a laptop on vacation. Drilling down on the numbers, it’s even worse. We check 40 web sites a day; open 85% of work emails within two minutes; and switch between programs nearly 37 times an hour.


Well to quote Al Jolson, "you ain't heard nothin' yet."

In an article "Digital disconnect: Will VR take addiction to the next level?," author Christina Nava discusses the impact of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive - two virtual reality systems that are now accessible to the public.

They are expensive and not yet perfected. But that will change in a New York minute.

Brittany Ott, a corporate services clinician at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital, believes that "VR provides a quicker way to get into an altered state, so the more accessible it becomes, the more at risk it is of becoming an addiction."

Addiction professionals at reSTART, the nation's first internet and technology addiction recovery center, are already concerned that VR may alter brain chemistry in ways not yet fully understood.

Additionally, the reSTART team has spent seven years gathering research that indicates the excessive use of digital devices, including video game systems, are associated with "an intensity of mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and in many cases, autism spectrum traits and features."

Science fiction, especially landmark shows like the original Star Trek, have been predictive of many advances in technology. In fact, other than the "warp speed" allowing rapid space travel, almost every gadget from the show is already in existencein the 21st century.

Reading about the potential impact of VR reminds me of the aliens in "The Menagerie," arguably the best episode of the show. It features the Talosians, humanoid aliens who are able to mass-project illusions. Their civilization fell after they discovered the ability to cast these illusions.

Their power to conjure these alternate realities is considered so dangerous, that the entire planet of Talos IV is off limits to Starfleet personnel.

When I first saw this episode, in the late 60s, it seemed the stuff of fantasy set in a distant future.

But then I watched Web Junkie, a 2015 documentary about an inpatient treatment facility for internet addiction in China, where it has been declared a national health crisis. The film follows the treatment of three Chinese teenagers, obsessive gamers whose preference is for the virtual world over the real one.

The institute's founder, a psychiatrist, explains that the average person cannot begin to imagine the level of pathology he has seen. He describes young people who voluntarily wear adult diapers so that even the call of nature need not interrupt their game play for even a minute.

250 years before the timeline of the fictional Star Trek series, we are creating illusions and falling victim to their power.

We ain't seen nothing yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment