“Get off the computer and go play outside!” A mother or father may urge his teenage child to go on a bike ride or walk the dog or to do something as simple as read a book. Many middle class American homes today are filled with parents urging their children to cease their media consumption and participate in some other activity. These same parents often complain about how their children are “addicted” to the medium of choice, whether it is the Internet, video games or the latest iPod. In order to be able to tell if addiction to media is a viable concept; the definition of both addiction and dependence needs to be made clear, it needs to be understood to which media one may get addicted and then this issue must applied to a specific group of people such as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the Missionary Training Center (MTC).
Addiction is a term that is used quite often in today’s society, yet often those that use the term give it slightly different meanings. Young college students were surveyed to discover how they defined the term addiction: a business student from Texas stated that addiction was a desire for the thing to which one is addicted that is so strong it consumes the persons thoughts and that in order to satiate the addiction one must consume consistently more of the “thing”. One former student with a degree in psychology described addictions as “unhealthy, negative, habitual behaviors th[at] come and go in cycles.” These definitions seem sound and they also describe the state of being of those who have an addiction, however, they do not include all of the possibilities of what may be defined as an addiction.
According to the American Psychiatric Association a term more appropriate for an “addiction” is dependence. This is because addiction has been traditionally defined as a physical dependence like an addiction to drugs, alcohol or nicotine. With recent studies and for this paper it may be added, the expansion of media into the mainstream, the idea of psychological dependence has become much more prevalent. It is hard, but not entirely impossible; to define the media as substances or exactly what signifies an addiction to a certain medium. An addiction to media, technological or otherwise, says Dr. Young, is “a clinical impulse control disorder, an addiction in the same sense as compulsive gambling.” (Rauh) Thus it is shown that the term addiction has been redefined to include addictive behaviors along with long recognized addictions to mood altering substances.
Dr. Aviel Goodman from the Minnesota Institute of Psychiatry decided that this new way of thinking about addiction needed to have a definition that could be accepted by the scientific community and thus used to diagnose addictive disorders more easily. Dr. Goodman states:
“An addiction designates a process whereby a behavior, that can function both to produce pleasure and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is employed in a pattern characterized by (1) recurrent failure to control the behaviour (powerlessness) and (2) continuation of the behaviour despite significant negative consequences (unmanageability).” (Goodman)
Continuing in his study, Dr. Goodman lists five diagnostic criteria for an addictive disorder. These criteria are: recurrent failure to resist impulses to engage in a specific behavior, increasing sense of tension immediately prior to initiating the behavior, pleasure or relief at the time of engaging in the behavior, a feeling of lack of control while engaging in the behavior, some symptoms of the disturbance have persisted for at least 1 month, or have occurred repeatedly over a longer period of time. A sixth criterion is also listed as several indicators are described that reveal that a specific behavior may be an addictive disorder, or addiction.
As this definition is applied to the concept of addiction to the media it may be said that “the way to clinically define addictive use of the Internet is to compare it against criteria for other established addictions,” as stated in a report on the addiction of a certain case to a medium, the Internet. (Young)
The definition of an addiction to one medium in particular is difficult because there are so many different media that often are used simultaneously. Doing a simple search on the internet reveals a multitude of blogs with these consumers reporting on their perceived effects of the media on consumers. According to Kimberly Young, PsyD, clinical director of the Center for On-Line Addiction and author of Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction — and a Winning Strategy for Recovery, “reports…indicated that some on-line users were becoming addicted to the Internet in much the same way that others became addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling.”
In dealing with addiction, one often looks at how a person reacts when faced with the sudden absence of the substance on which one is dependent. According to MedicineNet.com, withdrawal symptoms are abnormal physical or psychological features that follow the abrupt discontinuation of a drug that has the capability of producing physical dependence. This definition is interesting because it admits that there may be other symptoms that a person may experience just from the psychological dependence on the addictive substance. Common withdrawal symptoms may include, but are not limited to: sweating, tremor, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle pain.
When analyzing media addiction the withdrawal symptoms are going to be more psychological than physical because the dependence is psychological. Although it could be argued that the psychological dependence becomes a physical dependence in a way because it affects behaviors and the patterns of activity of the addicted individuals.
For example, a non physical dependence, gambling, was examined for the possibility of withdrawal symptoms just like a drug addiction manifests itself in the withdrawal symptoms discussed previously. These former high frequency gamblers described disturbance of mood that was at a level similar to that of high frequency alcohol drinkers. These same former gamblers described such withdrawal symptoms as pacing, fidgeting, or shouting out. In accordance with the previous definition of withdrawal symptoms these three reactions could all fit under the category of anxiety. (Wray)
There are many different types of media on the market to buy or consume, this paper will only focus on those that a typical young adult would consume because that is the demographic of those surveyed. This paper will also seek to give a random sampling of how the different types of media may be consumed to help the reader see the picture in general, not focusing on one aspect alone. Music, in all of its many forms is one of the most widely used forms of media. Music can be found on the radio, both satellite and am/fm. It may also be found on the internet through diverse sites ranging from radio stations broadcasting over the internet or through a handheld device like the cd player and iPod.
The Internet is also widely used through the computer, the iPod, and even cellphones and televisions. Television can now be watched on the television set or on the internet or recorded to be watched at a different time. Newspapers are distributed on college campuses, over the internet and to the front door of people’s homes. This list is not exhaustive but works to help the reader understand the variety of media available to the typical young adult who then becomes a missionary in the MTC.
After examining the meaning of addiction, the possibility of being addicted to the media, some of the symptoms of withdrawal a person might endure after ceasing his media distraction and listing some of the media to which one may become addicted, the survey of returned LDS missionaries can be examined more specifically and the application of the different terms will be more true to the definitions used in the psychological and scientific community.
LDS missionaries as they enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC) enter an almost media-free environment after being surrounded by the media by which most of society is surrounded daily. LDS missionaries are 19 year old young men and 21 year old young women who, previous to their mission, lead normal lives. They go to school, interact with their peers, have jobs and consume many different types of media as previously discussed. As missionaries in the MTC they are cut off from the first day they enter from all media such as the radio, telephone, newspaper, Internet, and television.
In the findings of the survey (mentioned earlier) the LDS missionaries who enter the MTC have often been exposed to more than one medium and in many cases prefer to use more than one at the same time, such as music and the internet. Almost 50% of the respondents of the survey used a combination of two media at the same time or more than one medium per day. Thus it may be assumed that a large percentage of missionaries who enter the MTC have similar backgrounds.
Within these similar backgrounds there are many differences that must be addressed to come to an accurate conclusion about the effects of media in these missionaries’ lives. Using the criteria to diagnose addictive disorders discussed previously the level of addiction to the media may be assessed and thus the description of the withdrawal experienced will be more accurate.
According to Dr. Goodman’s criterion of recurrent failure to resist impulses to engage in a specified behavior, the missionaries prior to entering the MTC or after entering the MTC must have tried to resist consuming the specified media, or for the purposes of this paper, any media in general and failed to resist the impulse. The survey conducted found that this criterion becomes obsolete in the environment of the MTC because the missionaries have no choice, they must resist the impulses because most of the media is not available for consumption.
Dr. Goodman also lists as one of his criteria for an addictive behavior as the pleasure or relief at the time of engaging in the behavior. All those who took the survey described feeling pleasure when consuming the media of their choice. All of the participants in the survey chose their “favorite media” because it gave them pleasure to consume said media. The reason for the selection of media may be why those who then become addicted to media engage in this specific behavior at a level of consumption high enough to become an addiction.
Another common theme throughout the participants in the survey was that there was a great deal of time spent engaging in the behavior or activities necessary for the behavior. For example the majority stated that they would listen to music while also completing many other activities. Several stated that they listened to music, “whenever possible,” “at least 8-10 hours a day,” and “had it going while doing other things.” These findings help bring to light the idea of media being consumed at the same time as other media or at least while participating in many other activities.
When faced with the lack of availability of media in such an environment as the MTC, an addicted person would feel the disturbance in behavior and maybe symptoms of withdrawal such as restlessness or irritability. In all of those that were surveyed only three out of the 20 reported that they had noticed the absence of media. These people listened to music and/or used the Internet.
The male subject who noticed a lack of media in the MTC, reported that his life experience before entering the MTC was very “tied in with music” and thus had a hard time separating himself from his habit of listening to music. He noticed the lack of media and tried to compensate by translating the words of his favorite songs into the language that he was learning.
Two female subjects reported that they missed being able to check their email and use the Internet to answer their questions while in the MTC. All of the subjects reported that they were able to overcome noticing the lack of media by delving deeper into the work at the MTC and staying focused.
After speaking to a teacher at the MTC who is an outside observer in this closed environment she stated that the process of overcoming the media influence was greater than the survey responses indicated. She gave several examples of missionaries exhibiting withdrawal symptoms such as: singing songs that are stuck in their heads, quoting movies incessantly and trying to hear the loudspeaker from the football stadium during games. She said some missionaries even go as far as to speaking in songs or translating their favorite songs into the mission language. This is an example of having difficulty with the reduction in media availability.
Another interesting aspect of the MTC is that they have now developed a training series called, “The District” that is a series of filmed episodes teaching the missionaries how to be effective missionaries. This same teacher and other returned missionaries stated that the highlight of their day will be when they are allowed to watch one of these episodes. “It’s our reality TV in the MTC” is a famous quote by the missionaries in one district currently in the MTC.
A favorite memory of the returned missionaries who participated in the survey was of watching movies on Sunday nights. It was their time to relax, feel the tension slip away and enjoy a film. These feelings are often associated with the pleasure and release of tension described by Dr. Goodman as symptoms of an addiction. In fact, once the “real world” gets left behind and the missionaries don’t have as much media addiction simply because they have been in the MTC for so long they begin to quote the movies they watch on Sunday nights or the episodes they watch of “The District.”
In summary, media addiction has been shown to be a viable concept with the definition of addiction being adapted to substances other than chemically changing ones and that even the LDS missionaries who are supposed to be dedicated to a new way of life have a hard time overcoming the lack of media. One observation that can be made from the survey of returned missionaries and current teachers at the MTC is that often missionaries don’t recognize how much they themselves may be suffering but they will notice the suffering of others. This even comes to play in the steps of overcoming an addiction because the first step to overcoming an addiction is that a person admits he or she is addicted to something.
In order to fully analyze the effects of the media a researcher would need to follow potential missionaries to discover their media consumption habits and then have them keep a journal of their experience as they enter the MTC. The MTC is a unique environment that although in the past may have completely cut off those inside from most forms of media is now using different forms of media to teach those who enter therein. This may be because those who enter are more addicted to media and thus react better to these learning tools than others, or these learning tools may be the most efficient way to teach because of other underlying factors that were not addressed.
Goodman, Aviel. “Addiction: definition and implications.” Addiction 85 (11), 1403-1408.
MedicineNet.com “Definition of Withdrawal Symptoms.” <http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9974> 27 November 2007.
Rauh, Sherry. “Detox for Video Game Addiction?” July 3, 2006. 27 November 2007.
Taylor, Kyna L. Survey of LDS Returned Missionaries. November 2007.
Young, Kimberly S. “Psychology of Computer Use: XL. Addictive Use of the Internet a Case That Breaks the Stereotype.” Psychological Reportrs. 1996, 79, 899-902.
Wray, Ian; Dickerson, Mark G. “Cessation of High Frequency Gambling and ‘Withdrawal’ Symptoms.” Addiction 76 (4), 401-405. December 1981.