There’s no denying that our culture has experienced seismic changes over the past decade brought about by digital innovation. In the early months of 2018 alone, our President tweeted out threats of nuclear war to the world, our Facebook data was stolen and used to manipulate us, and students in Parkland, Florida live streamed a mass shooting as they hid in their classrooms. We’re exposed to a deeper level of insight into the horrors of the world on a real time basis, and we can’t take our eyes off our screen.
People are desperate to understand how these unprecedented experiences are impacting us both as a culture and individually. Are we lonely? Are we addicted? Are we doomed?
For many, this rapid change is causing anxiety. Anxiety is on the rise; well, at least Anxiety searches on Google are up 150% from 2004. Further, people are worried about the impact of media use on a person’s mental well-being, especially our youth. A survey from Common Sense Media found that 47% of parents believe their teenage children are addicted to their phone. Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids’ mental health.
In addition to the anxiety and concern, or maybe because of it, there seems to be a scramble to understand the psychological implications of these changes and perhaps to pathologize them. Publications, such as The Atlantic have asked: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The word “addiction” is often tossed around for the excessive use of social media and cellphones (see, for example, the Common Sense Media study above). And there is not much information available on how to prevent or treat such “addictions.” The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced it would recognize “gaming disorder” in its upcoming edition of International Classification of Diseases for people who “obsessively” play online games.
Division 46 has been working hard to address these issues and answer questions with evidence-based information. In response to the WHO announcement Division 46 released a formal statement, led by the expertise of video game researcher and Board Member Chris Ferguson, stating the inclusion of a “gaming disorder” was premature (see this issue). Chris Ferguson also led the charge to educate the public when, following the Parkland School shooting, President Trump tweeted the erroneous statement “video game violence is creating monsters” despite the lack of strong evidence of a linkage between violent video games and mass shootings. The general concern of smartphone overuse is being addressed by Past President Joanne Broder Sumerson and the Committee on Device Management, a roll-over of her presidential initiative. Additionally, many of our members regularly appear in the media when a precarious current event hits; many more are working to address anxiety on an individual basis via therapy or telehealth technologies.
As I move towards my role as President of Division 46, I aim to amplify all of our amazing work. Our Division has the potential to become even more visible within APA and the general public, such that we are viewed as the “go-to” source for up to date information on all things related to media psychology and technology. Whatever the situation may be–a news development, a cultural happening, or a new platform–the burst of intense media and social activity that accompanies a moment is often associated with the desire for psychological commentary. The public needs accurate information as we navigate these anxiety-provoking, uncertain times, and no one is better equipped to give it than us.