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Communications of the ACM


Excessive Use of Technology: Can Tech Providers be the Culprits?

young male and female looking at smartphones

Credit: Syda Productions

The influx of hedonic online services (including video streaming, social media, video games) has created rather fierce competition for people's attention, in what is termed the "attention economy—in which every minute of attention and engagement tech companies can "squeeze" out of users counts. To compete in this environment, tech companies, intentionally or unintentionally, have adapted practices that have capitalized on varying features of human decision making and brain physiology to cultivate automatic, and uninterrupted use.4

There is a body of evidence—growing yet debated—suggesting that when some technologies are used excessively, the use can interfere with normal functioning, such as with sleep, physical activity, and school performance.12 What's more, populations such as children and adolescents may be susceptible to excessive use,2 although age related prevalence issues have not always been made clear. We say the evidence is debated because some studies suggest that excessive use may be related to prior mental illness rather than to the technology itself.6 Consequently, some scholarly groups have criticized the concept of "technology addiction."1 Therefore, we use here the term "excessive use," which reflects use patterns that are excessive in that they infringe on normal functioning of users.5


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