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iDisorder: Does Technology Feed Psychological Disorders?

Evening Edition

Larry Rosen, author of "iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us," talks to KPBS Evening Edition.

Aired 3/28/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Dr. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder-Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us


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Above: Book Cover

Social media and smart phones can feed disorders like narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social phobia, according to a new book by psychologist Larry Rosen.

“iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us” describes the impact technology can have on the brain and offers solutions to the technology addiction Rosen calls “iDisorder.”

On social networking sites like Facebook, “a lot of people will post things like ‘I, I, I, me, me, me, it’s all about me,’ and that’s really exhibiting traits of narcissism,” Rosen told KPBS.

“So what you’re starting to see is people are playing out things behind screens, that they may have inside, or technology may help them play that out,” he said.

Rosen said his other favorite psychiatric disorders connected to technology are OCD and social phobia.

OCD manifests when people can’t leave the house without their phones, he said.

“I spend much of my day patting my pockets just to make sure that my phone is there, sort of like a safety blanket,” he said.

The disorder is worse among young adults and teenagers, he said.

“They are literally acting like they have OCD,” he said. “They can’t go to dinner without having the phone out on the table.”

Rosen added teenagers are “like Pavlov’s dog” when they get a text message, salivating and needing to answer immediately.

Social phobias can also be created when most social interaction and communication takes place behind screens, he said.

“We’re not thinking very carefully behind screens about the kind of things we’re saying, and the kinds of words we’re uttering to people at the other end of the screen,” he said.

If people are hurt online or receive nasty comments on an online post, they may begin to feel phobic about being social, according to Rosen.

But, he said, we have come too far to be able to give up this technology completely.

“And besides which, it’s wonderful technology, I love it, I can do anything I want,” he said. “The problem is learning to moderate your use of it.”

Moderating that usage means recognizing what goes on in your brain when you’re using technology, and what goes on inside your head when you’re not using it, Rosen said.

He said when someone is away from his phone, he might start thinking, “Ooh, I wonder if anyone liked my post that I did the other day,” or remember it’s someone’s birthday and think to post on her Facebook wall, or decide to look at a YouTube video of cats.

“Three hours later, you’re still online looking at videos of cats,” Rosen said.

To break these habits, Rosen suggested technology breaks, which he said he practices with his family at the dinner table. Each person checks his phone for a minute, then turns it on silent and places it upside down. The family has a conversation for 15 minutes, then someone yells, “tech break,” and everyone can check his phone.

Over time, you can extend those breaks to longer than 15 minutes, Rosen said.

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | March 29, 2012 at 6:59 a.m. ― 5 years ago

I find this funny because earlier NPR ran a story about how the only way to be "liked" on Facebook was to be dishonest, to pretend to be happy all the time because the fake friends on Facebook only want to "like" people who are optimistic and positive all the time. Frankly, I don't trust people who pretend to have no problems in their lives, which is probably why I refuse to have anything to do with Facebook, but I can see how this persistent insistence on a mythical life could lead to delusional thinking. I have a very simply solution to the whole phone obsession thing: mine is turned off except when I have a real need for it (need not being idly chewing up other people's time). There is a lot of rude and dangerous behavior resulting from this obsession with being in contact all the time. Anyone hear about the woman who walked off the wharf because she was texting? I'm sorry; how do you miss the fact that you are walking on a wharf?

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Avatar for user 'tombodebt'

tombodebt | March 30, 2013 at 8:54 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I don't think there's any doubt that technology shapes the manifestation of disorders. However, I think the problem is much broader than that. The technological society itself can not only shape, but also create psychological disorders. For example, anxiety is a prevalent disorder in modern societies. What is the primary source of this consuming anxiety? The mass media misrepresenting the probability of becoming a victim. You only hear the bad news most days punctuated by one or two "human interest" stories.

Sadly, psychology isn't more forte so I'm reluctant to comment in greater depth.

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