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LONDON: When you wake up, do you check your e-mails on your phone in the time it takes your laptop to start up? Do you sometimes feel a buzz in your pocket when there is nothing there?
Do you keep your Blackberry on the table at a restaurant, like a digital side plate? Do you struggle to finish a page of a book before your hand twitches and your brain starts imagining the status updates you’re almost certainly not missing out on?
No? Then carry on, you’re fine. But if you do any of these things and wonder what the technology in your hand might be doing to your head, read on (after you’ve checked your inbox!).
The idea that the internet is diminishing our brains despite linking us to vast reservoirs of knowledge is almost as old as the web, and continues to divide psychologists and neurologists.
“Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” asked The Atlantic magazine in 2008, triggering a great debate about digital literacy among those who had the attention span to read the 4 000-word article.
Now we consume technology by ever more mobile means, and it sometimes feels as though technology is consuming us.
An estimated 65 percent of people in the developed world have a smartphone, tablet or laptop. By 2015, eight in 10 of all people are predicted to be connected this way – all the time.
Dr Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, calls these gadgets wireless mobile devices, or WMDs, and explores their potentially explosive effects in his new book, iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us.
“We’re in the middle of a grand experiment here,” says Rosen. “We’re at the early stages of understanding a society that carries the world in its pocket.”
In his book, Rosen uses his own and other academics’ research to show how the users of WMDs appear to display the symptoms of personality disorders.
One example is narcissism, named after the hunter in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pond. Are our touch screens the water?
To a narcissist, who would display traits including grandiosity, a need for admiration and a lack of empathy, social networks, Rosen writes, “provide a virtual playground for self-expression”.
A study of 3 000 Twitter users by Rutgers University in the US identified two types of tweeters: Meformers and Informers. About 80 percent of all the Meformers’ tweets were about “me”.
Rosen admits he shows signs of obsessive behaviour around Words with Friends, the Scrabble-inspired smartphone game. “I’ve conditioned myself to turn it off at night but I’m still up at midnight refreshing it.”
Whether it’s repeatedly checking your inbox or Facebook, Rosen blames this sort of behaviour on the “undercurrent of anxiety that if we don’t check in we may be missing out on something”.
“Disconnectivity anxiety” leads to worry and even physical distress. To combat anxiety, Rosen suggests using your WMDs less.
– The Independent