Technology is Making You Sick. Here's the Cure.

Do you text in the bathroom? Do you "check in" at church? If so, it may be time for an Internet intervention.
August 15, 2012 When the power went out this summer in Chicago, my first thought was not “Will the food spoil in the freezer?” It was to check and see whether my iPad was fully charged. I immediately obsessed about how I could access the Internet if the blackout lasted for an extended period of time.

These are not unusual thoughts in the age of the “always-on” technology. Through the Internet, we can access information almost anywhere and anytime we want. But, Professor Larry Rosen, who studies the psychology of technology, explains in his new book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, that this has become an increasing psychological disorder among the general population.  

Spotting the Symptoms

In my interview with Dr. Rosen, he described how to recognize the symptoms of a technology addiction. See if you find yourself identifying with any of the following behaviors described below.

Always being “connected.” Dr. Rosen points to the most common problem: the need to “check in” with the world all the time. "I don’t mean our physical world—calling our kids, calling our parents," he says. "I mean our virtual world, even when we are in the company of other people. We do this because we think we are going to miss something.” MTV has called this F.O.M.O., or fear of missing out. This is very prevalent in the business world with the constant flood of information.

Creeping anxiety. There is a sense that business is moving so fast, if we do not respond immediately, we will be left behind. We check our phones to reduce this anxiety. Dr. Rosen says that people check their phones everywhere including "bathrooms, churches and movie theatres.” In fact, in a July issue of The New Yorker, the cover shows a family posing for a picture, but they are all looking down at their own smart phones texting. Unfortunately, many people are getting more comfortable living in the virtual world than in the physical one.

Feeling that phantom ring. Even when not carrying phones, many people feel a vibration in their pockets. It has become so prevalent that it is a medically documented condition. We now live in such an interruption-based culture from constant texting to social media notifications, that many of us actually seek these interruptions as comfort while trying to focus on our daily work.

Multitasking more, accomplishing less.
 While multitasking does allow us to get more done, it also does not improve the quality of the results. Dr. Rosen says that when technology is added into this mix, the brain gets over stimulated. He describes research from brain scans showing that, "When you use technology, it over-activates your brain. If you keep your brain overly active all the time, it wants to switch back and forth from one task to the next just to make sure it’s not missing out on anything.” The more you multitask, the more your brains wants to do it again and again.

There's a Cure for That

If you do have some of the symptoms mentioned above and worry that your smart phone is controlling your brain, read on to find some simple ways to free yourself from its hold. 

Calm your brain. In order to overcome this addiction, Dr. Rosen suggests finding ways to “calm your brain” every few hours. He suggests activities such as walking outside and looking at nature.
“All it takes is about 10 to 15 minutes every couple hours to reset your brain. So exercising, doing jumping jacks, even playing a video game helps. Talking to a human being as long as you’re talking either on the phone or face-to-face and as long as it’s a fairly positive conversation works, too.” The key is to find out what is personally effective for you.

Practice technology breaks. Dr. Rosen suggests that instead of taking a break from technology, let technology be the break.
“What we’re doing, particularly in classrooms, is effectively allowing students to have their smartphones, but then we have the teachers say, 'Okay everybody, you’ve got one minute to look at your phone. Everybody look at their phone, turn it on silent, turn it upside down, put it in front of you on your desk.” This same technique can be used in business meetings so attendees aren’t worrying they will miss something since there is a scheduled time to check in with their e-mail or other social media feeds.

Teach yourself to disconnect. This is not easy, especially on the weekends or while on vacation. Dr. Rosen suggests to start slowly. During your regular business day, try being disconnected for an hour for the first week. Then, expand it to two hours. Setting clear and consistent boundaries can relieve anxiety.