WHEN times are hard people will try and find anything to eat.

In times of plenty, we as humans eat far too much and suddenly, we have an obesity problem.

Since the creation of social media, we have seen the birth of Facebook in 2004; Twitter in 2006; WhatsApp in 2009; Instagram 2010 and Snapchat in 2011.

What we have now is a digital age of plenty and many of us, whether we care to admit it or not, are suffering ‘digital addiction’.

To find out more about an issue which is hitting the headlines as mobile phones and tablets become every ingrained into our lives, your County Gazette spoke to an expert in the issue.

Associate professor in computing in the department of computing and information at Bournemouth University, Raian Ali, said it was time for people to go on a digital detox - or a digital diet.

If you look around you, look at people on buses, look at them walking along the high streets, the one thing they have in common is nearly 90 per cent have with them a mobile phone.

They carry them in their hands, keep them clipped to their waists, using them to make calls or are listening to music.

The mobile phone is not so much a phone now, it is a personal mini computer, in fact smartphones are a million times faster than NASA’S computers from the 1960s.

The danger is too many are addicted to their phones. The digital addiction is for many hard to break. What many have is Nomophobia - a fear of being without a mobile phone. Each of us will know if we have a problem with digital addiction, all you have to do is count how many hours you have to be online each day.

How many times you have to look at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram throughout your day, even if you are supposed to be working?

It is a distraction, you feel compelled to look just in case there is something to see, something you are missing out on-then what you are feeling is FOMO - fear of missing out.

Professor Ali has a keen interest in digital addiction which he defines as problematic usage of digital devices characterised by properties like becoming excessive, obsessive, compulsive, impulsive and hasty.

“We need to be selective about how we use of social media and our digital devices,” he said. “Each generation uses their phones for different purposes. The younger generation use it in order to keep up with their online persona so it matches their physical persona. Older people use it to get on with business, set up meetings or do to emails.

“There can be a conflict where people might have to do work but they cannot resist looking at Facebook to see what is happening.

“They might be struggling with life and having a relationship breakdown but they will go on Facebook and post a picture.

“The problem is when you need help you need a real friend not a virtual friend.”

Professor Ali explained addicts create their own obsession and ‘live in their own bubble’.

He said: “What people suffer from is compulsive/impulsive link to social media. They get a rush of dopamine when they see a like or a retweet when they refresh. It is a similar hit to playing bingo or gambling.

“If they put a picture online and it doesn’t get any hits, they will put it back on line during ‘rush hour’ between 6pm-7pm.”

One of those helping to treat people with digital addiction is Tessa Corner, CEO of StreetScene Rehab Centre in Bournemouth.

As it states on its website about digital addiction: “Traditional addiction experts from Streetscene are collaborating with researchers from The Computing and Informatics Research Centre at Bournemouth University to do research on Digital Addiction. Streetscene has match-funded a PhD studentship to work on this area and investigate methods and tools to design addiction-aware software.”

It also helps people with multiple addictions including food issues, drug and alcohol.

Tessa said the signs of a digital addiction come from the same place as any addiction. This includes an obsession with being close to digital technology, not being away from wifi hotspots and constantly checking social media.

Tessa said: “The side effect allow people to hide their personality and separating themselves from human interaction.

“As humans we need social interaction and what digital addiction gives is a internal synthetic but it is not meeting their needs as it is not genuine. The main symptom of addiction is denial. One of the points of the 12 steps asks if you want to know why you have and addiction, then stop and you will find out.”

Tessa thought if you use digital devices to make an account of how often and how long you use your device during a day, the week or over a month.

She felt this would have two effects; one group would be shocked into putting the device down, while others would not see it as a problem.

- Take a digital audit and let us know at the what are you find and if what you discover will make you change your digital habits.