Sitting at a bar at the end of a long day, Jane Chong hears the unmistakable 'beep' from her Blackberry. Without looking, she reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out the personal digital assistant (PDA). She momentarily breaks eye contact with the people around her as she checks her e-mail. After a quick note to the sender, she returns it to her pocket and rejoins the conversation. Chong's actions are similar to those of many other executives in cities all over the world. What businessperson these days isn't in 24-hour contact with their office, customers, friends and family? What makes Chong different is that she checks her Blackberry over 200 times a day; if she is half-way to the airport and has forgotten it (which is extremely unlikely) she would risk missing her plane by returning home to collect it; she gets tense if she can't respond immediately to its electronic summons; and relations with her friends and family have become strained since she refuses to turn it off at mealtimes. If Chong's story sounds familiar - if her behaviour isn't very different from your own - then you too could be a modern-day obsessive. Technology and science touch every aspect of our lives: the way we communicate, what we buy, how we look and how we live. Improvements in the standard of living and a steady increase in disposable income mean we have more money to spend, more things to spend it on and more time to enjoy it. In recent years, health experts have urged us to take time out from our full-on daily routines to sit back and relax. Advertisements for Pilates, shiatsu, thalassotherapy and aquatic exercise jostle for space in magazines, while the classes themselves fill an increasing number of time-slots in our electronic diaries. Holistic medicine and aromatherapy now compete on a level playing field with established western medicines, as people search for ways to maintain optimum health. A trip to Mannings reveals whole aisles devoted to supplements and herbal remedies. Omega 3, Ginkboa, Nu-Liver, Amoryn Mood Booster and Radiant Wonder are among the brand names packing the shelves, and the great thing is you don't need a prescription to buy as many as you want. Lives have been made easier through wireless internet and 3G communications, enabling us to download music and movies, buy drugs, date, apply for and max out a credit card in a matter of minutes, all from the comfort of our armchair. For many, the quest for this 'balanced' lifestyle has resulted in even more imbalance as life in the 21st century exposes us to a whole new range of psychological dependencies. Whereas the previous century was dominated by sex, drugs, booze and fags - and if you crossed the line you knew it - that line has now become blurred and more people are crossing over without realising it. 'I was changing my computer's CPU [central processing unit] every month for a while,' says Dr Tsang Fan-kwong, a specialist in psychology at Castle Peak Hospital. Tsang is clearly skirting the fringes of modern-day addiction, but his admission neatly illustrates one of the main driving forces behind many of today's obsessions: advertising. 'The mass media and marketing are very powerful tools. They know the psychology of consumers and get them to buy these new things,' he explains. 'The advertisements were telling me my computer would work better with a new CPU and I believed it.' Pinpointing the difference between obsession and addiction is no easy task. Even psychologists are divided on a clear definition. It is generally understood an addiction will have a negative impact on someone's life and health. Obsession, on the other hand, is usually an aberration of the mind (like an obsessive-compulsive disorder). Whatever the definition, it can affect us all. 'Alcoholics keep drinking despite the negative consequences,' states Dr Lauren Bramley, a general practitioner who specialises in cosmetic procedures. 'If drinking makes you late for work, makes you sick or causes major problems at home and you keep doing it - you're addicted.' According to Bramley, 'addiction' to modern-day skin care products will usually manifest itself in the mind, making it more of an obsession. For example, in a controlled environment, Botox, a toxin, is safe and beneficial to its users. The problem is it can become ineffective with excessive use over a long period. 'If you do it too often, you can build up antibodies. The manufacturers are trying to develop a different Botox, one the antibodies won't affect, but it's not ready yet,' she explains. 'For a patient who is obsessed with their appearance, I'd be worried for them. For most people, if it stops working it's like, 'What's the big deal?' But for the obsessive it can be devastating.' While yesterday's addictions to alcohol or nicotine are easily recognisable for their obvious impact on health, the symptoms of modern-day addicts are more subtle. This means we may be displaying addictive behaviour without even knowing it. The ritual of having to switch on a laptop every morning before filling the kettle or the urge to check a Blackberry every time it beeps is not considered normal behaviour. Is the widely used expression 'addicted to my Crackberry' among executives a veiled admission to their guilty secret? Carolyn Neunuebel, a clinical specialist with Hong Kong Psychiatric Services, says the modern-day lifestyle presents a clear and present danger - a slide into addiction. 'If people are separated from their Blackberry and they are thinking about it beeping, then I'd say they have a problem.' Like a carrot at the end of a stick, technological and scientific advances continually offer us faster, better or smoother. People think nothing of searching out the latest skin treatments, starting their morning with several vitamin supplements, sitting in the lotus position for a few hours every day, or reaching for their PDA whenever it vibrates. This sounds like normal behaviour, but is it? Psychologists suggest you ask yourself: do I feel guilty; does it annoy my family; could I stop if I wanted to? And like the alcoholic looking for the answer at the bottom of a bottle, there could be something of the 21st-century addict in us all. * Some names in this article have been changed. Alice Stevens, 52. Painter - yoga fanatic I've been going to yoga every day for the past 18 months. I'll do two or three sessions; it all depends on the weather. If it's raining, I can't play tennis so I'll do yoga. I used to play tennis 12 hours a week. I do things to the extreme. I never go half-way in anything I do. I used to play squash, but my knees started to hurt so I took up golf and would spend two hours a day on the driving range. Then my daughter came along and I had to give that up. My husband says yoga has calmed me down, because I have always been a bit hyperactive. My friends think I'm a little bit crazy, but I look around and see women sitting about all day and that would drive me mad. Besides, I have some other friends I do yoga with and one of them goes to four or five classes a day. I wake up at 5.30am and take a hot shower because I need to warm up. I leave my home in Pokfulam around 6am so I can get to Planet Yoga at least 10 minutes before the start of the 7am class. I do Kamal's Vinyasa Yoga, Kryoga, Kryoga Sun, Satyananda and Pranayama. It's a mixture of hard and soft classes. My instructor says I should move on to the meditation classes, but I don't think I'm ready for that yet. You get six lessons for about $100, so it's not expensive. My husband thinks I've lost too much weigh since I started yoga. I've always been skinny, but I've never liked love handles. Some people go to yoga to lose weight. That's not why I go. Once my husband passed by the studio and the staff asked him if he was going to start coming and he said no, he was just checking up on his wife. He's never complained, but my daughter is always asking me if I can have a morning off. I say of course, Sunday morning. Luckily there is an hour and a half afternoon session on Sunday. I usually go in the morning so I can see my family in the evening. Anyway, I don't like to go in the afternoon or evening because I would find it difficult to relax afterwards and then I wouldn't sleep. I've never missed an anniversary or birthday because of what I do. In the summer we went to France. The problem in France is that in July and August everything is closed. I tried and tried, but I couldn't find anywhere to do yoga. I had a yoga video tape, but I found it extremely boring because I'm better than the people in it. The first week was OK, but then I improved and started to move quicker than them. I was going nuts. I said to my husband, 'I don't think I can stay here for six weeks. I'll let you stay and I have to go back because I really need to exercise.' People need food and it's like food to me. I need it everyday like a supplement. I take my vitamins every day and I need yoga. Every day it gives me something to wake up for. James Whittle, 30. Artist - serial show downloader I check my computer when I wake up to see if the downloads are complete. It's the first thing I do when I get home from work and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. My computer is on 24/7 downloading. I even check it during my mealtimes. Only when it crashes is it not downloading. I watch a dozen or so American TV shows. They include Gilmore Girls, Smallville, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Las Vegas, Joan of Arcadia, Desperate Housewives, JAG, Monk, CSI, CSI Miami, Law & Order ... These are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. I will get The West Wing a few hours after it is broadcast in the United States. I'll probably start downloading it at the same time as people on the west coast are watching it. I used to watch all these shows when I was at university. The problem is they are not all available in Hong Kong yet and, besides, I can't get a good reception in my flat. That's why I do it. Why should I have to wait weeks to see a show on TV here? You could put me on a TV quiz show and I would probably win. I'm also an otaku; that's slang for someone who is obsessed with anime - Japanese cartoons. I started that at university in the states. When I first went to the Anime Club I thought it would be full of geeks. At the moment I've got about 120 GB of just anime and I've probably dumped about 50 GB. I got depressed when they recently licensed Naruto to the Cartoon Network. The website I use to download the stuff won't put it online if it's licensed, but I've already watched 123 shows. Luckily I've found somewhere else I can download it from. At the moment the computer's downloading episodes one to 17 of a show called Samurai Champloo. It's been downloading for the past week because it's a slow download. I recently took an online 'anime otaku-ness' test. I was rated as a 'shameful otaku' and 'past the point of no return'. It's not expensive. I've just got a regular broadband connection for which I pay a monthly rate. The only additional equipment I've got is an extra hard drive where I can store the stuff I want to keep. I have no social life, since I am constantly watching what I download. Just last night I was watching shows until 7am. After five hours' sleep I got up for my afternoon shift at work. When I get home in the evening I'll check my computer to see what I have finished downloading and watch all of it. I go to a specialist website to see if there are any new TV shows. If it looks interesting, I'll download the first episode and if I like it I'll download the rest. Altogether I've probably downloaded over 10,000 hours of shows. I downloaded Monk specifically for my mom. She likes to watch it and it stops her complaining about me being in my room all the time watching stuff. There are things I won't download. I downloaded the first episode of Joey, the spin-off from Friends. It didn't do anything for me. I'm not the type that would just download anything. I'm picky about what I watch. Suzanne Wu, 42. Housewife - Botox dependent I want to be the perfect wife - the perfect-looking wife. If you've always looked fabulous and your whole life has been based on your appearance, then suddenly ageing steps in, it's not easy. My appearance has helped me through life, given me an advantage; good things have happened to me because of my appearance. If I lose that, good things might not happen anymore. I started using Botox about eight years ago, before I met my husband. He doesn't know I use it, which is why I pay a doctor in cash. It's a facade I need to keep up. I can't tolerate it wearing off. As time passes it gets harder to tell your husband you don't really look like this; that this is an illusion. How do you say, 'Listen, darling, this isn't how I really look and it's going to cost $10,000 to maintain it.' I guess it's because I got married later in life and we haven't been married for very long. There's lots of pressure on women in this part of the world considering how well Asian women age and lots of men are going through midlife crises. There is an underlying latent threat. Maybe your husband isn't doing it but everyone else's is. Every year I'll spend about $80,000 on Botox, skin fillers, peels and creams. I have wrinkles no one else can see and I'll go to a doctor when I find one. I can get quite frantic, especially if it's at night. I'll call a doctor and tell him it's urgent, any time day or night - and I'll have to have that appointment the next day. I will not take no for an answer. Sometimes a doctor asks, 'Where do you want it?' because he can't see any wrinkles. My husband has a good job and I worry that he may get posted overseas. I like the doctors here and I like the techniques they use. It's always difficult to find a doctor you like. I'd have to fly back to Hong Kong to get it done until I found one I liked. Luckily you can get Botox in most countries now. I don't know what I would do if we went somewhere that didn't have it. I try not to think about it. I'm always thinking short term. In the next three months I might have six parties and a couple of trips so I have to look my best. I probably know all the doctors in Hong Kong who administer Botox. Different doctors have different techniques so I'll go to the doctor who can help me with a particular area on my face - my eyes, my brow, crow's feet or laughter lines - there are about 400 places on your face where a doctor can inject. There might be some bruising on the bone, but it's difficult for a doctor to tell if you've had it done by someone else. That means I can go whenever I need to. I do feel guilty about the frequency I go. I know I'm breaking the rules, but I don't think I would stop even if my husband found out. Jane Chong, 35. Media buyer - Blackberry ('Crackberry') nut I pull it out at dinner and get shouted at. At the moment I report to the United States so at 9.30pm, when they are getting to work, I just want to see what their request is. Maybe it's me and I'm so anal that I have to prepare myself for the next day. If they are going to ask me to put something together in the next 24 hours then I'm not going to drink that next glass of red wine. Actually that never happens, but I think it will. I am constantly wondering what's going on. I get hundreds of e-mails a day. It's always on, even at night. I don't check on my e-mails at night, but I keep it on the pillow next to me with my mobile phone. I check it when I wake up in the morning. The first thing I do is check my e-mails to see if anything interesting has come in. Then I go and have a shower and I check it again, just in case. I've got it on silent now, but I haven't received any messages yet. Before I got this I used SMS on my phone. I still use my phone, but this is easier and you can send and receive a lot more information. Sometimes you just get so into it and you think the whole world will crash if you aren't constantly checking up on stuff. It just becomes your life, the framework of your life. I was at a friend's birthday on Friday and a few of us had our Blackberries out and we were told to put them away. I finished reading my e-mails then put it on silent. I couldn't turn it off. In fact, it's on all the time so I have to make sure it's charged all the time. I don't know what I'd do if it ran down. I didn't want this even though it was company policy that every head of department should have one. At the time I was the only department head who didn't have one. I was at a conference and the general manager kept e-mailing me something and he needed a response and he was like, 'Why are you not respon-ding to me?' So he pulled me out of the conference and he said, 'First thing on Monday you have to go out and get one.' People get impatient and they need a response straight away. I was sitting in a cafe in New York and there was this couple and they were talking and all of a sudden there was a 'beep, beep' and the man completely switched off from the conversation to check his messages and the woman rolled her eyes at me and I was like, 'Oh my God, is that what I do?' I would drive back from the airport if I left mine at home. Let me just check to see if I've received any messages. It's peer pressure because everybody has got one and if someone sends out an e-mail then you should be responding within an hour and if you don't it's like, 'They can't be bothered. They've got a Blackberry, why aren't they answering?' Amanda Wong, 58. Motivational counsellor - pill popper Let me see. I've got garlic oil, Starflower oil, multi-vitamins, primrose oil, and an algae supplement that doesn't really do too much. I've got ETA coenzyme Q10, DHEA for the menopause and, of course, calcium; Vitamin D for the over-50s, ginseng, garlic oil, spirulina - that's more algae - antioxidant, and this is for the brain, it's like ginkgo powder; and this is the cod liver oil. I also take two aspirin a day. I read in Reader's Digest that it helps thin the blood. I take something for the lungs, but that's because I've smoked since I was 17. They are all here in these two baskets. I colour-code the caps. These are for mornings only, these are for twice a day and these are for evening only. I probably take more than 20 pills a day. I used to take a lot more. Sunday is my day off. On Sunday I just have Chinese herbal medicine. I started taking supplements about 30 years ago, just after my first daughter was born. They were things that were supposed to be good for a woman's reproductive system. As I got older I started taking the things that the magazines and leaflets said could prevent age-related illnesses in women. I also used to be a blood donor, so I'd take extra iron. Most of it's just common sense. My daughter has been cutting off my supply. She'll say, 'Mummy, don't take this, get rid of that.' From time to time, after a very long interval, I'll check out again what I'm taking. I've cut down on some. As my age progresses I stop some things, but I'll start others. I don't see a day when I'll be taking just multi-vitamins. Ten years ago people weren't that stressed. Today we are living a much more stressful lifestyle. People work long hours, have bad eating habits and there is bound to be some things they are not getting enough of. I don't eat vegetables and I don't like fruit. I just drink a big glass of orange juice in the morning. I have a really bad diet. I eat far too much fast food, so I need my vitamins. When I eat, I eat a lot. I just don't snack. What nutrition can you get from a McDonald's or KFC? But I don't let it worry me because if you worry too much you can get ill. It's all psychological because if I go on a trip, I'll just take the essential ones like the multi-vitamins. I don't take all of them. My children think I'm a bit eccentric. I live life by my own rules. I don't care what people think because I don't owe them anything - as long as I don't step on people's toes. I don't look my age. It's not because I'm happy, it's just that I don't let things worry me. I have this doctor friend who is more worried about me than I am. I went for a full medical check-up: heart, lungs, cholesterol, blood pressure, the lot. He said, 'This can't be right, let's do another one.' It was clear. Normal. He was surprised that it was all at a normal rate. My doctor knows I take all these pills and says, 'Everything in moderation.' Some of my friends don't call this moderate, but once on 60 Minutes I saw somebody taking about 200 pills a day! I'm not that bad. I don't convert people. Sometimes I will suggest to my friends, if they are catching a cold or have allergy problems, that they should put more garlic in their cooking or take garlic pills. I had a doctor friend with a heart problem. You would have thought he would know. So I advised him to take cayenne pepper and he felt much better. They're all available from any drug store. I walk into Mannings and pick them up. When I buy I look at the components - and I check the price. It doesn't have to be the same brand, as long as it has the same components. A bottle of 300 Vitamin E will last me a few months. In fact I probably need to get some more - it looks like I'm running out. They come in different sizes so I might be in the pharmacy every week. With everyone taking supplements these days, what's so strange about a woman carrying a basket of pills? I probably spend a few thousand dollars on them every three months. Are you an obsessive? The CAGE questionnaire was developed by Dr John Ewing, founding director of the Centre for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina. It has become an internationally recognised tool for identifying alcoholics, but can be adapted to almost anything. Responses to the questions are scored with a zero or one, and a high score indicates problems. A total score of two or more is considered clinically significant. Have you ever felt you could Cut down? Do you get Annoyed when people criticise you? Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about it? Do you need an Eye-opener first thing in the morning?