In keeping with my interest and focus on writing about the internet and its effect on human behavior, thinking and relationship, I read with interest a review in the New York Times of a book that looks at this very question. The reviewer’s first sentence expressed a similar interest as my own: “I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the debate about what our mobile devices are doing to us — to our behaviors, our manners, our minds — at least as interesting as reports about what we’re doing with these devices.”
The book he is reviewing is iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a psychologist in California. In the book, Dr. Rosen reviews the growing research and literature on the topic. Clearly, the pervasiveness of the internet, its accessibility even as we are on the go using hand-held mini-computers, has the possibility of (or in some view has already) altering the way we interact and communicate with one another. Some view this influence negatively; others see some possibility for enhancing communication and ways of relating.
The review sites some of the facts that iDisorder offers: “Did you know that… 70 percent of those who report heavily using mobile devices experience ‘phantom vibration syndrome,’ which is what happens when your pocket buzzes and there’s no phone in your pocket?…Or that heavy use of Facebook has been linked to mood swings among some teenagers? Researchers are calling this ‘Facebook depression.’”
Two consequences of excessive internet use that the reviewer mentioned caught my eye. The first has to do with what is being called “cyberchondriacs,” a phenomenon caused by the plethora of available medical data online. I don’t know that I know any cyberchondriacs. But I do know that many of my clients talk about research they’ve done, often on medical conditions, on the internet. And I know that there is a wide disparity in terms of reliable information out there. One such way in which all that available information may affect people is, I think, suggested by this new term.
And he cites a study on memory that suggests a decrease in this ability given a reliance on on-line information. He says that this impact is being referred to as the “Google effect.” I recall, some years ago, just what deleterious impact the introduction and use of the calculator had on my then fourth-grade ability to multiply. I learned then first-hand that relying on some technology impaired the workings of my mind.
I know that some of my clients talk about their use and sometimes preoccupation with the internet. For some, there are endless distractions possible which interfere with their lives, their relationships, their goals. For others, there are gateways to communities and links to people available. The topic is fascinating to me. Clearly, there is a marriage, if not made in heaven, but in Silicon Valley and places like that, between humans and technology. For better and for worse.