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Face the Facts: We Are All Headed For an iDisorder

Face the Facts: We Are All Headed For an iDisorder


    (Editor’s note: The following is an article written by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., author of the book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. Rosen is past Chair and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is a research psychologist and computer educator, and is recognized as an international expert in the “Psychology of Technology.” Over the past 25 years, Dr. Rosen and his colleagues have examined reactions to technology among more than 30,000 children, teens, college students, and adults in the United States and in 23 other countries. He has been quoted in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, CNN, and Good Morning America and writes a regular blog for Psychology Today. You can learn more about Rosen’s new book here.)

    It should come as no surprise that we are all hopelessly addicted to our devices, particularly our smartphones. Why shouldn’t we be? We are now able to carry a powerful computer around 24/7 in our pocket or purse. The new “WWW” really means “Whatever, Wherever, Whenever.” And we are all succumbing to its draw. Just look at any restaurant table and you will see phones sitting next to forks and knives. It is normal to see someone pick up a smartphone, tap tap tap and put it back down while in the middle of talking. Is this healthy or are we all headed down a slippery slope toward what I call an “iDisorder.”

    An iDisorder is where you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction or even ADHD, which are manifested through your use — or overuse — of technology. Whether our use of technology makes us exhibit these signs or simply exacerbates our natural tendencies is an open question, but the fact is we are all acting as though we are potentially diagnosable.

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    Several recent studies from my lab highlight some of these issues. In one anonymous online survey of more than 1,000 Americans we found that more than half of teenagers and young adults of the iGeneration (born in the 1990s) and the Net Generation (born in the 1980s) told us that they became anxious if they couldn’t check their text messages all day long. And text they do! According to the Nielsen Company the “typical” teen sends and receives 3,417 text messages per month. Teen girls top that with nearly 4,000 per month! If the teens sleep 8 hours a night (which is an hour less than recommended) that’s between 7 and 8 text messages per waking hour.

    The study also showed us that the majority of teens and young adults check their texts and Facebook several times a day. And most of that is on their mobile device, on the go. How about sleep? In one study of 300 high school students, the average teen slept only 6 hours per school night. They tried to make up for it by sleeping more than 10 hours each weekend night but it still all averaged out to only 7 hours per night leaving a weekly 14-hour sleep debt. Eight in 10 of those students told us that they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep during the week. They must be studying so hard that they don’t have time for sleep.

    Well, yes and no.

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    They are studying but the number one activity in the last hour before sleep is surfing the Internet followed by studying, texting and social networking. Are they simply glued to their laptops? Nope! It is their smartphone that is the cause of much of their sleep debt. Not only is it used instead of a computer, but most teens sleep with it on vibrate or tone and one in four are awakened at night by a text or email that they respond to before attempting to fall back asleep. And most of those activities are done either at the same time or by rapidly switching back and forth. We all multitask — well we are really task switching — and the younger generations do it more but we are all succumbing to the allure of clicking and switching.

    It’s not just the younger generations who are inundated by technology. One in three Gen Xers and one in six Baby Boomers check their devices all the time. They may not be texting as much but they are constantly checking in with websites, email and other cyberactivities.

    Our most surprising study examined a thousand teens and adults to see whether technology use might be related to signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders. The short answer is YES. For each generation, regardless of ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender, the more certain technologies are used the more likely it is that the person will exhibit these signs. Different technologies appear to be predictive of different signs. One of the major culprits is social networking, which is a predictor of many disorders.

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    Do we need to take a permanent holiday from our technology or is there an iCure for an iDisorder? The outlook is very positive if we recognize the signs and learn to take small steps to keep our brains healthy and sane. Here are sample strategies. More can be found in my new book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us.

    Social networking can be all about “ME” and it can make us appear narcissistic. I advocate using an “e-waiting” period between writing any post, email, text or comment and pressing the key that offers it to the world. Take a couple of minutes, do something else, and then come back and count the times you use me or I compared to the number of times you use we, us, they or other inclusive pronouns. One of the signs of narcissism is a focus on the self and our specialness.

    At the dinner table declare a “tech break” at the beginning of the meal and have everyone check their phones for a minute and then silence them and place them upside down on the table. Now talk for 15 minutes followed by someone declaring another “tech break.” The upside down silent phone is a stimulus that says, “Don’t worry – you can check me soon.” This stops the brain from obsessing about every little e-communication.

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    Using technology evokes excessive mental activity so much so that our brains are all abuzz all day long. Your brain needs periodic resetting. This doesn’t take a lot of time. Fifteen minutes of walking through nature (or even looking at a nature picture book), doing puzzles, or talking to someone about something fun and positive are just a few ways to reset your brain. Consider doing one of these activities every few hours to calm the brain and stop the potential iDisorder.

    There is no turning back. We live in a connected world and we are better because of it. We know more than ever before and we are more social than ever before. But we have to learn to take care of our brains to avoid an iDisorder. Don’t blame Steve Jobs for your compulsions. Take control and do something good for your brain. You will be a better person for it and have better relationships with those around you.

    (Photo credit: Young Man Chained to Computer via Shutterstock)

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    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

    Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

    Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

    Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

    Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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    1. Make a list of your goal destinations

    Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

    So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

    Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

    If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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    2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

    This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

    Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

    3. Write down your goals clearly

    Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

    For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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    4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

    Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

    These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

    5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

    Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

    For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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    Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

    6. Schedule your to-dos

    Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

    Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

    7. Review your progress

    At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

    Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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