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Sobre la adicción a internet

IMAGE: "There Is No ‘Internet Addiction’: An Interview with Professor Dans" - YouthTime Magazine

A Grese Sermaxhaj le llamaron la atención algunos artículos míos sobre el tema de los jóvenes y la supuesta adicción a internet, y decidió pedirme una entrevista a través de correo electrónico para YouthTime Magazine, una revista que desde hace diez años trata temas relacionados con los jóvenes, la sociedad, el emprendimiento, la formación, etc. Lo publicó ayer bajo el título «There Is No ‘Internet Addiction’: An Interview with Professor Dans« (pdf).

La postura de negar la adicción a internet y achacar sus efectos a un problema de educación e inadaptación es francamente difícil e impopular, porque en muchísimos casos te encuentras ante críticos que afirman que estás equivocado, que esa adicción existe, que ellos la han visto, y que, además, niegan su responsabilidad en ella. La adicción es una forma fácil de eliminar la culpa, de mirar hacia otro lado y decir «el problema es de los dispositivos, de sus fabricantes que los hacen muy atractivos, o de los creadores de apps y juegos».

La realidad es que tanto dispositivos, como apps, redes sociales o juegos, entre otras muchas cosas, son elementos de contexto que están ahí y que no van a desaparecer, y seguramente todo lo contrario. Ante el cambio en variables de contexto, la clave es adaptarse, y nuestra sociedad, por las razones que sean, ha preferido confiar en una supuesta adaptación espontánea de las personas, sin involucrar ni a las instituciones educativas – que en algunos casos incluso prohiben el uso de esos dispositivos, en un ejercicio de continuismo y de tratar de hacer su vida más fácil – ni de manera expresa a los padres – que en muchos casos se inhiben porque piensan que es o una batalla perdida, o que sus hijos son «nativos digitales» que saben más que ellos.

Es un error. Lo que tenemos que hacer con los dispositivos, las apps, etc. es introducirlos con total normalidad y educar en su uso, como tradicionalmente se ha educado en el uso de todo. La educación, obviamente, implica restricción, del mismo modo que no dejamos a un niño comer todo lo que quiera o jugar todo el tiempo. Bajo ciertas condiciones, un dispositivo o una app pueden generar síndromes similares a los de una adicción, del tipo de una ludopatía, pero la realidad es que se trata de un problema de educación. O mejor dicho, de falta de ella.

Dramatizar sobre supuestas adicciones no sirve más que para aliviar el peso de la culpa en quienes renuncian a educar a sus hijos o a sus alumnos en su uso. Achacar el problema a los diseñadores de dispositivos o de apps, que obviamente van a tratar de conseguir el mayor nivel de uso o de engagement para sus productos, es intentar huir de la responsabilidad que tiene la sociedad a la hora de educar a los más jóvenes. Si nos dejamos de tanta dialéctica tremendista sobre esas supuestas «adicciones digitales» (que la gran mayoría de las asociaciones de psicólogos niegan), podremos pasar al siguiente paso lógico: desarrollar metodologías educativas adecuadas para padres e instituciones educativas a todos los niveles, libros blancos sobre la incorporación de la tecnología al proceso educativo, mejores prácticas, y otros elementos que nos permitan normalizar nuestra relación con un contexto que, nos pongamos como nos pongamos, no va a desaparecer ni a volver atrás.

A continuación, el intercambio completo de preguntas y respuestas que crucé con Grese:

Q. While we are overloaded with news about internet addiction, in your piece “There is no such thing as internet addiction” you argue that such a thing does not exist. Can you please briefly elaborate this viewpoint for our readers? How is possible for a non-existent thing to gain this much attention and visibility?

A. The myth of «technology addiction» has been a constant in history across the many technology adoption processes humanity has gone through. Every time a new technology gets adopted, there’s this fear of certain people, certain groups, the youngsters, etc. getting somehow «trapped» or «hooked» by them and becoming «addicted», as if technology was some kind of drug. The difference between substance dependence and psychological dependence is pretty obvious, and that parallelism should be treated with more rigor and seriousness. People use technology when they find it convenient or nice to use, but they don’t become «addicted», they just incorporate technology into their lives as they see fit. Dopamine is not a drug, is a secretion of our body, and while it’s true that people can enjoy dopamine release and try to obtain more of that through certain practices, such as social networking or video games, the same can be applied to, for instance, extreme sports, gambling or watching certain contents. The problem is that the protocols that regulate certain activities typically appear much later than the activity itself: by now, we consider gambling a problem, and we try to regulate it by imposing certain social rules (not at all effective).When the internet appears and people can start gambling there, these social controls vanish, and people can gamble all the time, as much as they want, and this can become problematic for certain people with low self-control. These patterns are fought not by restricting the whole activity, but social protocols that are typically imposed via education. When a kid refuses to release his or her smartphone because they are playing or browsing a social network, they don’t have a problem with any addiction, they are just not educated, what they are is ill-mannered: their parents have found it easier to inhibit themselves from educating them, and they find it more convenient to just «blame the internet». The myth of the «digital native» is a great culprit: many parents assume they can’t teach their kids anything about the internet because they see themselves as total ignorants, so they decide to inhibit themselves. The result is that, first of all, they love to believe their kids are some sort of «geniuses» because they master the technology without them (when, in fact, the technology has become so easy to use that anyone can «master» it), and second, that their kids grow not as «digital natives», but as «digital orphans» that are forced to learn by themselves. They are not «addicts», they just have been left to their own devices with no control whatsoever for too long. The «internet addiction» is just a convenient lie that allows too many people to feel self-justified for not fulfilling their roles as educators.

Q. Between lines you state “Internet is a medium, not an activity as such”, “the internet is a vehicle, not a condition”. Does this imply that we just project our true selves into internet activities and we are the one to hold accountable, not the internet to blame.

A. The internet is a great friction remover: it allows us to engage in many activities that previously would have required more things, such as being physically present, or together, or closer to certain resources, etc. Suddenly, we can get to know what our friends are doing without having to call them, talk to them, or without getting together, just by moving our fingertips through the smooth surface of a screen. This means that the activity becomes independent from previous restrictions, and can be done at any given time. But the same way we used to educate our children and get them to understand they cannot play with their friends all the time, go shopping all the time or eat candy at all times, we still need to educate them that they cannot be using social networks or playing video games all the time. Instead, many parents find convenient to use technology as «the ultimate babysitter», and they prefer to skip their duties as educators. Unless we readapt education to the new context, we will fail to prepare the new generation to deal with it. The worst case is France and its decision to forbid smartphones in schools: how do you expect kids to learn how to benefit from a technology that is going to be in their hands through their whole life, if you refuse to integrate it into the educational process and condemn kids to learn it on their own? It is just absurd!

Q. Can you please advise the youth on how to take advantage of technology?

A. We need to deal with technology as we deal with any other other contextual variable. Teach them how to understand what technology does, its effects, etc. pretty much the same way we teach them how to play or how to eat: we don’t just allow kids to play all the time, or to eat only what they want to eat. Technology is the same: it requires some control and discipline. In the beginning, such control and discipline should be exerted by parents, educators, teachers, etc. until kids learn how to exert a certain degree of self-control. This process involves necessarily introducing technology – smartphones, computers, etc. – in the educational process, putting chargers in their desks and tables and using smartphones instead of textbooks, so that kids learn that a smartphone allows them to search for information and educate their critical thinking, learning how to spot fake news, etc. Get them to understand that the truth is not in any textbook (relying on just one source of information makes them far easier to manipulate), the truth is out there on the web and you need to be educated in how to find it. We need to educate kids in critical thinking.


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