Van Beek: The dangers of digital crack
Those of us who live in Eagle County are certainly addicted to the highs of being in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but that is not all that we are addicted to.
While it’s hard to believe that people may want to escape “Happy Valley,” things like life, happen. We are not immune to the pressures of living, which occur everywhere to everyone.
With increasing awareness of depression and the tragic places where that may lead, we also see an increase in addiction. Escaping reality takes many forms, yet they are only temporary retreats — there are no safe havens from life, but the illusion of escape can become addicting.
Addiction is defined as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.”
We hear about drug addiction or even gambling compulsions, yet there is one habit that has far surpassed those and is encompassing children as young as age 3 … the cell phone!
In fact, we are so addicted that if we leave it behind, its loss becomes an obsession for the balance of the day.
The digital age has brought with it some incredible innovations, but it has also brought an enticement that is hard to reject. It’s not just the convenience, it’s that sense of urgency (certainly, the world would stop without our immediate input), or feelings of importance (everyone awaits my comment on this very critical video of cats), and people might think we are starving if we don’t post a photo of our lunch. There is a reason why those in the business keep their children away.
Cell phones provide the ultimate convenience. Google, GPS, texts, phone numbers that are now photos … it’s now all so easy. So, what’s the problem? Most centers on social media.
Instagram has us photographing food like it’s our last meal on a planet. Facebook has us sharing posts on global issues like we were up for a Pulitzer Prize. Twitter allows us to jump into conversations that seem deeply moving at the time, but like a morning hangover, we soon regret. And, YouTube is the ultimate escape, watching the most ridiculous events being filmed and grateful that the subjects on camera aren’t us.
Yet, despite the obvious disconnect from reality, we just can’t get enough. Think about how many times our hands are on that phone. How often we open Facebook to see how many “likes” our post has generated or checking on how many have retweeted a comment or picture. When bored, Candy Crush awaits. And, just how much mail do you really need to read … that shirt is still on sale.
The fulfillment we seek in our lives won’t be found on cell phones. When we enter this world of make-believe, we leave with an added sense of loss, not only from the place we were originally escaping but from the imaginary land we visited, where happiness exists only for others. Yet, that continual pursuit of a place with no pain leads to addiction.
Never have we been more connected yet felt lonelier. While we realize that most of what we see on social media is staged, we are still compelled to make comparisons. It’s easy to think, “Why is everyone else so happy when I’m so miserable?” Depression soon follows, which has now become an epidemic.
For a “harmless” high, we open the games app and after buying some inexpensive upgrades, we soon find ourselves in pure gambling mode, as those 99-cent purchases become dollars.
Like most addictions, we use our phones to escape the reality of life, and like all addictions, it is simply an illusion.
Everyone wants to be loved and our phones prove just how popular we are … our number of “friends,” the beautiful photos, the gaming teammates who are stuck without us, and the huge amount of emails we receive … we are obviously very important and popular. Our hearts race with excitement at the ding of every text.
Then comes reality. Loneliness sets in because while our online numbers are high, we are sitting at home alone on our phones; or worse yet, we are with family and friends, but it’s our phones that have our undivided attention, actual friends and family become non-existent.
Our phones are the needle, and social media, the drug. And that drug has never been easier, more accessible, nor more enticing. But, just like its drug counterpart, it is filled with illusions and dangers.
Our addiction to a fictitious digital world comes at the cost of real friends and experiences. We lose time to create an actual future of happiness and success.
Make “Happy Valley” a reality by rejoining it. Put down the cell phone and smile at your friends and family … they’ve been waiting for you.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.