The internet has changed how we socialize, work, travel, and learn—and it is also changing our health. The prevalence of internet use and mobile technology has led to the rise of new illnesses that did not exist twenty years ago. Including both mental and physical symptoms, these diseases and syndromes range in severity from mildly annoying to the life-altering and dangerous. Here are five of the most significant.
1. The Google Effect
The internet provides instant access to vast amounts of information—but that access comes at a price. Beginning in 2011, researchers began to notice that internet access was correlated with decreased memory and cognitive function. Their studies concluded that the ability to retrieve information from the internet at any time diminished the ability to remember and retain that information.
Known as The Google Effect, the phenomenon is new enough that scientists do not know the long-term consequences it will have on brain function and memory. However, they did find that we are more likely to remember information that we do not think we can find again on the internet.
2. Phantom Ringing Syndrome
Do you ever think you feel your cell phone vibrating, only to discover that no one has called for hours? If you are highly depending on your phone, you may experience this sensation so frequently that it is affecting the signals in your brain.
Known as either Phantom Ringing Syndrome or Phantom Vibration Syndrome, this feeling can be prompted by any sort of sensation, like an itch on your leg under a pocket or someone brushing the arm that holds your purse. Because your brain has been programed to be on alert for your phone ringing, the feeling prompts a burst of messages sent through the neurotransmitters in your brain, which can cause feelings of either extreme pleasure or anxiety, depending on your relationship with your phone. In extreme cases, this can create a compulsive or obsessive need to check your phone.
Short for “no mobile phobia”, nomophobia is a type of extreme—and sometimes debilitating— anxiety that arises from not being able to access your mobile devices.
Nomophobia is most common among heavy users of mobile technology. For example, think of someone who compulsively checks their phone every few minutes. Having their phone lose power, being required to turn it off, or discovering that they have left it somewhere can cause a huge surge of anxiety (or even a panic attack) that cannot be resolved until the person is connected with their mobile device again. The problem has become so severe and widespread among heavy mobile users that it was added to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Many mental health facilities are developing treatment options for this sort of anxiety.
4. Online gaming addiction
Lots of people play online games from time to time. But for some gamers—especially men who play online multiplayer games—gaming is no longer a hobby. It’s an addiction, fueled by the positive reinforcement they receive from playing. Online gaming addiction manifests as a compulsive need to play at the expense of social relationships, going to work or school, and even personal hygiene and health.
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Statistics on how many gamers suffer from addiction vary. A 2010 study found that 8% of the population in South Korea between the ages of 9 and 39 are addicted to online gaming, while a 2014 study in Hong Kong determined that 15.6% of study participants showed symptoms of an online gaming addiction. Researchers expect that the number will continue to rise. Though it is not currently included in the DSM-5, it is included in their Section III index, which means that more research into the causes and treatment of online gaming addiction is likely.
When you are moving around, the signals your brain receives from your five sense all agree. But when your sense of motion doesn’t match up to your sense of sight, your brain reacts as though it is being poisoned, resulting in dizziness and nausea as your body tries to rid itself of the poison.
The most common form of this is motion sickness, but there is another kind caused by internet use and mobile devices: cybersickness. Cybersickness has all the symptoms associated with motion sickness, but it is caused by disorientation from virtual reality, 3D technology, or even smartphones (as was the case with Apple’s iOS7.1). Some people are more prone to cybersickness than others; those who are sensitive may experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.