Business Technology

Saturday 16 December 2017

Status update: checking tweets on the go . . . #sad

Smartphones aren't just changing the world -- they're changing how our brains work, writes Simon Usborne

When you wake up, do you check your emails on your phone in the time it takes your laptop to start up? Do you sometimes feel a buzz in your pocket when there is nothing there? Do you keep your Blackberry on the table at a restaurant, like a digital side plate? Do you struggle to finish a page of a book before your hand twitches and your brain starts imagining the status updates you're almost certainly not missing out on?

No? Then carry on, you're fine. But if you do any of these things and wonder what the technology in your hand might be doing to your head, read on (after you've checked your inbox).

The idea that the internet is diminishing our brains despite linking us to vast reservoirs of knowledge is almost as old as the web, and continues to divide psychologists and neurologists. "Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" asked The Atlantic magazine in 2008, triggering a great debate about digital literacy among those who had the attention span to read the 4,000-word article.

Now we consume technology by ever more mobile means. It sometimes feels as though technology is consuming us. An estimated 65pc of people in the developed world have a smartphone, tablet or laptop. By 2015, eight in 10 of all people are predicted to be connected this way -- all the time.

Dr Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, calls these gadgets wireless mobile devices, or WMDs, and explores their potentially explosive effects in his new book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us.

"We're in the middle of a grand experiment here," says Rosen. "We're at the early stages of understanding a society that carries the world in its pocket.

"It's good -- you can always connect with someone -- but it also means you're there, 24 hours a day... Our brains have not developed to be constantly engaged like this."

In his book, Rosen shows how the users of WMDs appear to display an array of personality disorders.

One example is narcissism. To a narcissist, whose traits would include a need for admiration, social networks "provide a virtual playground for self-expression".

A study of 3,000 Twitter users by Rutgers University in the US showed 80pc of all tweets were about "me".

To reduce self-regard, Rosen suggests hesitating before firing off a tweet or update and asking yourself, "is this really the message I want to portray to the world?"

iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us by Larry R Rosen (Palgrave Macmillan, £15.99).

Irish Independent

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