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Thursday July 24th 2014

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Q&A with author of “iDisorder” Dr. Larry Rosen

Dr. Larry Rosen is Professor and Past Chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is a research psychologist, computer educator, keynote speaker, and as a testimony of his decades of research conducted on the subject matter, is recognized as an international expert in the “Psychology of Technology.”

Rosen has authored numerous articles, and written several books exploring relationships with technology, including his latest book, “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us.”

This “iDisorder” condition is defined as “changes to your brain’s ability to process information and your ability to relate to the world due to your daily use of media and technology resulting in signs and symptoms of psychological disorders—such as stress, sleeplessness, and a compulsive need to check in with all of your technology.”
The IN conducted an email Q&A with Rosen while he was traveling out West in “Big Sky Country,” with his daughter—ironically enough, with sporadic cellular and Internet reception resulting in limited connectivity to the rest of the technology-bound world.

IN: What was the intent of writing your latest book, “iDisorder?” How does this differ from your previous works/technology assessments?
ROSEN: I have always been pro-technology, but between writing “Rewired” and “iDisorder” I saw a monumental change with technology. In particular, our research showed that young people are checking in with their technology every 15 minutes or less and also awakening at night to texts or other alerts. It has become important to the younger generations—and older ones too, as I fall into the same trap often—to stay in touch and not be out of contact for even a few minutes.

IN: Do you consider it nearly impossible in the information age we live in, to not be struck with some degree of “iDisorder?” Are our brains being in essence “rewired?”
ROSEN: I would not argue that our brains are “rewired” but I would say that our interactions with technology are influencing the way our brains function. I am particularly interested in how our obsession with technology affects the neurotransmitters in our brains. For example, we appear to react almost as though we are Pavlov’s dogs and constantly check our technology regardless of whether there’s a reason to do so. I experienced an example of that today. Where we are in Wyoming there is rare, if any, access to WIFI, 3g or 4g. We took a drive five miles up Signal Mountain and at the top (about 8,000 feet above sea level) there was a cell tower. There were at least 10 cars in the parking lot and everyone was talking on the phone and ignoring the amazing vistas.

IN: Facebook depression, phantom phone buzzing in pockets—are these just myths or isolated cases? Are people quick to own up to these sorts of “ailments?”
ROSEN: They are very real, and people sheepishly own up to them.

IN: How does an “iDisorder” manifest itself? Or does it depend on the individual person and his or her degree of connectivity?
ROSEN: There are many forms, as each chapter illustrates, and we all suffer from some form of an “iDisorder.” Actually, that is an overstatement, but the vast majority of people do feel out of sorts when they are out of touch.

IN: Do you think obsessive personality types or those who already use technology heavily for work have a greater tendency to fall prey to “iDisorder” without realizing it?
ROSEN: This is a great question and one that must be studied. It is a chicken and egg issue but so many people are constantly checking in that it can’t just be those who are predisposed to OCD or depression or whatever. It is more than that.

IN: Pertaining to your article specifically related to Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), do you feel that FOMO attributes to technology-induced anxiety and depression? Is FOMO a symptom or a cause, and is it strictly characterized in the way we react to and process the information we are receiving?
ROSEN: Research shows that what is happening is our interest and dependence on electronic communication is precipitating our “iDisorder.” We now have so many places and ways to communicate that we feel we have to constantly check in. When I finally got service today I had to check my email, Facebook, and a zillion other websites where I regularly communicate with colleagues, family and friends. Recently I had to make some tough decisions to let go of some of my e-communication and social media websites because there were too many things I have to check. If I go a day or two without checking Twitter it screams at me that I have 250 tweets to read. It is tiring and that is what is leading to feeling anxious if I don’t check it often enough.

IN: Specifically in the FOMO article, you mention taking 10 minute breaks to reset the brain? Do you feel this is beneficial for the treatment of FOMO or all forms of over-connectedness, in terms of restorative balance and self-awareness?
ROSEN: Yes! I think that we have to figure out how to “reset’ our brains and keep ourselves from getting too enmeshed with technology. The breaks are a great way to make ourselves and our brains get rid of the neurotransmitters that are creating anxiety.

IN:  Do you encourage a total “detox” from our technology devices?
ROSEN: Actually I read a recent New York Times article that talked about the benefits of detoxes and am going to write a blog post when I get home to talk about why this is not the way to train your brain to not feel so obsessed and anxious. I absolutely believe that detoxes don’t work, particularly with respect to technology and electronic communication. All that happens is that we get worried about what we are missing out on and the anxiety cycle starts again. I have spent the better part of each day of the last week out of range of any Internet access and now that I have WIFI I am madly trying to catch up. This is what happens with trying to go on a fast and remove anything from our lives. Technology is particularly difficult because it holds our entire social world in a tiny box that resides close to our body 24/7.

For more from Dr. Larry Rosen, visit drlarryrosen.com.