The 7 invisible things of the 21st century that you are probably addicted to


Antismoking campaigns are nothing unusual these days, and even children know that smoking is bad for their health, kills and causes cancer. Alcohol is known to be dangerous. In Poland alone, consumption of strong alcoholic beverages is falling (according to WHO statistics, Poles over 15 years old drink an average of 10.6 litres of 100% alcohol per year, with the average for Europe being 10.85 litres). Narcotics are generally considered to be a bad thing. Also, people know what sexoholism, gambling or addiction to antidepressants are (in Iceland, which tops the rankings, as many as 10% of the people take antidepressants on a daily basis). But the above substances are, due to the danger involved, subject to control – they are controlled by social awareness and/or by legal restrictions. There are, however, certain substances and practices which have become so popular that they are invisible. And they are part and parcel of the lives of societies, cultures and businesses. They are legally permitted and regularly promoted, and most people could not do without them. They are the addictions of the 21st century.


Do you find it difficult to slow down? Or to say No to new duties? Do you automatically check your email on your smartphone or go online although you don’t really need it, whenever you have a moment to spare? Do you find it difficult to have a meal without watching television as you eat or to go to the toilet without a newspaper? If yes, consider the ‘being busy’ or ‘busyness’ syndrome. In a time defined by success, having free time has come to be seen as a sign of laziness and workaholism has become a virtue. The people of the 21th century are surrounded by busyness. banking systems work 24 hours a day; shops are open all the time; big cities not go to sleep; and the word ‘productivity’ has become synonymous with a sense of value. The ability to control everything, to avoid a sense of guilt caused by doing nothing, the false satisfaction with the very fact of taking any action (instead of optimisation, which is more effective than maximisation), plus the never-ending story of having more or better things – all these are the hallmarks of today’s society. Getting addicted to the fear that you are not good enough, out of the race to success, has come to be a normal part of the life of western cultures and prevents people from experiencing happiness. Beneath this ‘busyness’ are hidden demons of modern society, such as fear of boredom, fear of being an average person, difficulty experiencing deep moments with your family or friends, pangs of conscience caused by lack of contact with your own children, or having a hard time if are not successful all the time. In the United States, there is more and more talk of ATBS, or Addicted to Busyness Syndrome, which is a sign of defence against toxic success.


Fostering the narcissistic culture of selfies, building your sense of value based on the number of Facebook likes or inviting people to be your Facebook friends although you know nothing about them have all produced a new addiction, namely addiction to popularity. What used to be reserved for the powerful people of this world and, after some time, for the famous ones as well, is now available to the average man in the street with the speed of virals. Brands today are not necessarily physical products. The future of marketing is personnel branding, which means that people see themselves as products and build the right stories about themselves. The world of hashtags and likes, regular visits online to check and monitor is taking (especially) young people from the  world of having lunch or dinner with your family to the world of photographs of “the world’s best roast meat dish”, from a walk in a park to a ”the spiritual contemplation of nature”, from a morning cup of coffee as a wake-up call to ”building deep relations with a cup of black coffee”.  In the past, that is what advertising did. Today, that is what the members of online communities do. According to E. Goffman’s theory of impression management, people use the right strategies to present themselves in the best possible light. This is the place for the best photo, the best activity, the most beautiful smile, the funniest joke, or the toughest comment and the largest number of likes. This is the arena for the ideal “I”, or the picture of yourself that you would like more or less. Fame has never before been as easily available as it is today, and the illusion of control has never before been so powerful as it is nowadays. In the virtual world, you can become anyone you want. In the real world, however, things are a bit more difficult.

The Internet

The virtual world increasingly replaces the real world. World Internet Project research shows that 64% of Poles use the Internet. Of these, almost a half (47%) spends more than 10 hours a week online. The Canadians top the list, with their 43.5 hours a monthly, ahead of the Americans by 8 hours. While the Internet is useful at work, for entertainment or communication, no one today would dare to deny the fact that too much of it leads to negative consequences. The Internet addition takes different forms. cybersex, cyber relationships, online compulsions (gambling, online games, stock market speculation), information overload (searching the web for information) or computer games. The symptoms of addiction to the Internet can include loss of a sense of time, isolation from the outside world, feeling guilty because of using too much of the web, a state of euphoria that comes with the use of the web, avoiding more difficulty emotions and escaping to the virtual world from those emotions. If you look at the statistics, you will find them depressing: two hours a day wasted online means 14 hours a week, or one day. It is over 4 days a week and as many as 52 days a year. If you go even further with your calculations, you will find that you lose one year of life in the real world for every 7 years. Given the fact that it is only a matter of time before every person will have guaranteed access to the Internet and will not be able to do without it, it is very likely that will connect various items or objects to the web (the so-called Internet of things) and using mobile devices will no longer be normal but will become a necessity, while the addiction to the Internet will be transformed from a troublesome phenomenon into a new way of living.


In “The Science of Gossip:Why we can’t stop ourselves” (Scientific American, 2008), Frank McAndrew describes the social aspects of gossiping: strengthening a sense of group morality, exchanging information, sharing values and interests. Gossiping is a form of intragroup defence against other people’s intolerable views and behaviour, a way to avoid boredom and satisfy your curiosity by discovering the limits. Gossip is also defined as “strengthening one person at the expense of another” (Hafen) and a “a form of attack” (Peter Vajda). At work, it is often motivated by the willingness to adapt to the prevailing corporate culture and to achieve a higher status or to build a network of influence. It may lead to reduced productivity and loss of time, distortion of information and changes of the facts. It may result in less trust and confidence in those who gossip and in those who are gossiped about losing their motivation, as well as in hurt feelings and damaged reputation. The Daily Mail has published the results of a survey (First Cape) showing that women in the UK spend as many as 5 hours a day gossiping! They gossip mostly about the problems of other people, about who is going out with who and about other people’s children. These are followed by sex, shopping and soap opera stories. Another survey (by Dunbar in Human Nature, Vol. *, No. 3, pp 231-246) Dr Robin Dunbar claims that 65% of a person’s daily speech is gossiping. And although gossiping is thought of as trivial and superficial, it has evolved as a linguistic concept or tool for managing your social world and, without it, communication based on facts alone would be of an encyclopaedic nature and unattractive to your interlocutor. The culture celebration trend, which leads to situations where the brain, stimulated by the media, tends to see famous singers or actors rather than its own family members, additionally reinforces the institution of gossiping. It is difficult to imagine a corporation without this form of building relations and groups of friends gossiping about their “adversaries”.


In the United States, more than 70 million people are addicted to eating (David Kessler, Federal Drug Administration). Research involving animals shows that narcotics stimulate the same parts of the brain with respect to rewarding as eating does. Approx. 50% of obese people, 30% of those overweight and 20% of those eating a “healthy diet” are addicted to a particular kind of food, a combination of foods or to specific qualities of food.  Approx. 400,000 deaths are directly linked with excessive weight, and the costs of treatment or absence from work in 2000 alone amounted to 117 billion US dollars (Thompson w Handbook of Eating Disorders and Obesity). Sugar is a toxic substance and a number one cause of fatty liver disease. In Europe, the costs of treating obesity in adults account for as much as 65% of all health care spending. The results of a recent Multicentre Nationawide Study of the Polish Population’s Health show that 20% of Poles are obese, mainly as a result of not getting enough exercise and eating too much fat. Excess weight affects 9.7% of 13-year-old boys and 3.9% of girls of the same  age. For many people, eating has become an ineffective way to escape from their emotional problems, which has resulted in disorders such as anorexia or bulimia spreading. The addiction to eating, to a large extent, is caused by the prevailing social trends in the increasing consumption of everything. When in 1998, on the Fiji Islands, where women traditionally had no complexes about their bodies, television stations began to show US films (Beverly Hills 90210), then three years later, 73% of the same women said they were fat. Watching television 3-4 times a week, 30% of the women decided to go on a diet. This shows that the addiction to eating is now accompanied by an addiction to looking attractive (the current trend is the so-called aesthetic fitness). In the case of men, this may lead to bigorexia (an addiction to body building.


While economic indicators grow as more money is spent, psychiatrist wonder whether to classify compulsive shopping as a disease. In a culture where ”to have” means “to be” and where your sense of value is defined by your wealth and serves to stand out among other people, shopping is no longer about satisfying your actual needs. Oniomania (derived from the Greek word onios, which means “for sale”), the technical terms for the compulsive desire to shop, applies mainly to those countries where wealth is normal and ambition is the fundamental incentive. Some people shop for themselves, others compulsive buy presents or gifts for other people to feel accepted or loved. There are also people who are always in pursuit of bargains or who are brand slaves, i.e. people who first check the price of a particular product and continue their search if the price is not the highest. There is even a special term for people who buy something only to return it soon afterwards: returnaholics. There are also differences between men and women. The latter tend to buy more in terms of quantity, while the former tend to spend more money. Different studies show that this addiction affects 6% of the population (Stanford, 2006) or 9% (University of Virginia). 52% of women in the UK say that they prefer shopping to sex, and 20% of German women feel a constant need to buy things. The shopping addiction results in people running into debt, lying to their partners and spending less time at home. The solution could be the so-called voluntary simplicity culture, which involves living a life based on your natural needs and against the extreme consumerism. Living a life like this, you ask yourself whether buying the thing you are just about to buy will help you grow spiritually and whether you actually need that thing to satisfy a real need and whether you will now run into debt as a result. It is an alternative way to build your relations with money. Not only does it allow you save money, but it also gives more free time in your life and helps you define yourself in a way other than by your wealth.


The addiction to television is particularly popular, as an average of 13 years of a person’s life is spent watching TV. While there is no question that television is valuable in terms of education or entertainment, you should stop to think about yourself if you find that television has replaced your family life and that you can’t spend an evening without your TV on. It is also alarming if watching television is the only way you can spend your free time, or you can’t relax without television when on holiday, and if the fact of not watching your favourite programme is emotionally exaggerated. According to the results of research by the research firm OPOP (2008), the average Pole spent 3 hours and 26 minutes a day watching television.  Children born in the era of the media are particularly at risk. A survey by Kaiser Family Foundation (Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers) shows that 80% of children watch television or play computer games and that 77% of them turn on the TV or their computers on their own. 65% of children lives in homes where the TV is on at least for a half of the day, and 36% live in homes where it is on all the time.  Such children read less (down by 9%) and are more aggressive (59% of the parents say their children copy aggressive behaviour). As many as 30% of 2-year-old children have TVs in their bedrooms. There is a direct correlation between watching television and obesity. The number of TV commercials advertising junk food on Saturday mornings is 202 over a period of 4 hours (a TV Statistics survey carried out by TV Free America). Dr Dimitri Christakis of the University of Washington notes that children aged 7 years have increased concentration difficulties if they watched TV before the age of three. It has been proved that there is a correlation between watching television and increased aggression and antisocial behaviour among children (Scientific Advisory Report on Television and Social Behavior of 1972). Given the growing popularity of TV reality shows, it can be concluded that the addiction to television may, in extreme cases, lead to a situation where the reality is substituted with TV programmes and where real life is replaced with the TV screen.
The best summary of the above information can be the famous words once said by Paracelsus, the father of moden medicine: Dosis facit venenum. (All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.)
Good luck to all readers in your search of temperance in all you do.

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