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3 Key Insights on the Psychology of Technology from Author & Researcher Dr. Larry Rosen

If you’ve ever been concerned about the psychological impact of our society’s increasing obsession with technology, Dr. Larry Rosen has studied it from every angle over the past 30 years.

You might be wondering what there was to study back in the late 1980s! Even then, as computers made their way into homes and workplaces, Rosen began to recognize and study signs of “technophobia.” In fact, his first publication TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work @Home @Play was published in 1997. 

But with the exponential growth of personal technology like iPhones and social media, fear has been replaced with anxiety and distraction due to our constant connectedness. That’s been the focus of his research over the past decade. 

Robert Plotkin had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Rosen on episode 23 of the Technology for Mindfulness podcast about what he’s learned from his years of research and how the fields of neuroscience and psychology can help us engage with technology in a healthy way. Here are three key insights we gleaned from their conversation on the psychology of technology.

How Our Tech-Focused Society Affects Us Psychologically

Dr. Rosen pointed out that there’s been a dramatic shift in the way we view the world over the past ten years. We’ve experienced three game-changers:

  • The invention of the internet, which gave us the power to search for anything
  • The development of smartphones, which allowed us to carry our computers everywhere
  • The introduction of social media, which changed how we communicate

So, what are some of the issues with these advancements from a psychological point of view?

Diminished Sense of Self

The common phrase, “pics or it didn’t happen,” implies that experiences aren’t valid unless they’ve been documented and shared. So, we hold up the phone and record, unconsciously filtering our experiences to make them more palatable to our “audience.” Then, we wait to see the response. Our sense of self becomes dependent on the opinions of others.

Social Comparison

While likes and comments can give us a little dopamine rush, they can also give us pain. Everyone knows on some level that people are only sharing their best versions online – the photoshopped picture, the fancy vacation, the new car. But sometimes we forget. Constantly scrolling through the best parts of people’s lives can create disappointment and sadness. Social comparison has always been around, but social media has magnified its effects.

Eroding Interpersonal Skills

As humans, our goal is to connect with others. That’s why social media has such a strong pull. But prior to things like Friendster and Myspace, these connections occurred one-on-one. Now you’re talking one-to-many, and it changes the dynamic.

As adults, we begin to lose some of our social graces, which causes unnecessary conflict and miscommunication. But it’s especially hard for children. They’re learning to communicate through technology at the same time they should be gaining experience with body language and the nuances of conversation. We’ve yet to see the implications of this long term.

Impaired Introspection

In our world of distraction, it becomes harder to process our thoughts as deeply. We’ve replaced every moment of boredom with our phones, which leaves no space for making connections, brainstorming, or inspiration. That’s part of what makes us human. It’s the spark of creativity. Dr. Rosen says, “You can’t process at a light level and expect to live a fulfilling life.”

But a discussion about the psychology of technology wouldn’t be complete without mentioning FOMO (fear of missing out). This is a real problem that many people experience, even though the term is used rather casually. Let’s talk about that in more depth.

psychology of technology
When we document and share pieces of our life on social media, our sense of self becomes tied to others’ reactions and comments. We also lose the ability to stay in the moment.

What Neuroscience Tells Us About FOMO

Though the acronym AOMO is not as hip or memorable, Dr. Rosen emphasizes that FOMO is really a form of anxiety. So, what causes FOMO?

The Roots of FOMO

Every notification could be someone talking about you. Someone needs you or has “approved” of something you did or said. From the brain’s perspective, this is tantalizing. Even when you know better, and you don’t check it, your brain is still thinking about it. The distraction is still there.

The more this anxiety creeps up, the more you want to check your phone to relieve it. And with the constant stream of information, you never feel caught up. It’s a feedback loop you can’t escape.

Increasing FOMO

In a recent study, Dr. Rosen saw signs that our anxiety is growing. In a recent study, he added an app on his students’ phones to see how often they unlocked their phone and how long they used it each day. He noted these were working adults, mostly in their late 20s.

  • In 2016, they unlocked their phones 56 times a day for 220 minutes total for about 3 minutes at a time.
  • In 2017, the unlocked their phones 50 times a day, 262 minutes total for about 5 minutes at a time.

He theorized that with the growth of new social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, students had more websites to monitor. More notifications to check. And, as a result, more opportunities for FOMO.

A Practical Exercise

To break the habit of constantly checking your phone, Dr. Rosen feels that “technology fasts” don’t work very well because they’re not getting to the root of the problem. When you come back from your fast, you’re faced with a mountain of notifications and the process begins again.

Instead, he recommends a behavioral approach. Set a timer for a period of time that feels comfortable (like 15 minutes). When the alarm goes off, allow yourself to check your phone for two minutes. The goal is to slowly extend the period of time between checks.

Rather than allowing your brain’s biochemistry to unconsciously guide you, use the alarm. You’re essentially deciding in advance when to be “mindless.”

He cautions that it will likely feel harder before it gets better. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. You have to fight through your anxiety and relearn delayed gratification. 

psychology of technology
Why is it so hard to resist checking our phone? It’s really a form of anxiety that you’re “missing out” on something important, or that someone is talking about you.

How to Restore Balance Between Our “Real” and “Digital” Lives

Dr. Rosen likens our relationship to technology to a pendulum. We’re still swinging upward, infatuated with the newness and wonder of all the things technology can do. After all, it happened so fast. But there will come a time when we turn back to a more balanced way of communicating.

His book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, offers practical strategies, backed by science, to fight distraction. For those who are ready, the methods might seem surprising in their simplicity. He suggests exercise, spending time in nature, and mindfulness meditation. In other words, time-tested practices for greater focus and productivity. Just ten minutes a day can help your brain slow down and resist instant gratification, even the allure of a red notification button.

Our experiential course Tap into Mindfulness is an excellent way to get started. It’s a transformational four-week audio course with workbooks to help you on the path to mindful interaction with technology. Our founder, Robert Plotkin, developed the exercises to specifically address the anxiety (or FOMO) associated with smartphones.

Want to learn more about the Psychology of Technology?

Dr. Rosen is a prolific researcher and writer. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Rosen and his colleagues have examined reactions to technology among more than 70,000 people in the United States and in 22 other countries. He has written seven books about the psychology of technology and writes a column for the newspaper The National Psychologist and regular blog posts for the magazine Psychology Today and the Huffington Post. For more:

Robert Plotkin Talks Smartphone Addiction with the Early Risers Podcast

TFM founder Robert Plotkin, was recently featured on the Early Risers podcast

Listen as Robert talks with host Schuyler Diehm about using mindfulness to break smartphone addiction and establishing a healthier relationship with tech.

You’ll learn:

  • Dealing with FOMO and the need to constantly check your phone
  • A simple mindfulness exercise for managing tech habits
  • And an important step you can take to start creating a healthier relationship with technology

Listen to Robert on the Early Risers podcast (iTunes).

Robert Plotkin Talks Tech and Stress with The Stress Mastery Podcast

TFM founder Robert Plotkin was recently invited onto The Stress Mastery Podcast with Bill Cortright.

Listen as Robert talks with Cortright about the effect that technology has on us and what we can do about it, to not only better manage stress but take back control over your time to become more focused and productive.

You’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to Impose structure that influences how you use technology
  • Techniques for taking back control over technology
  • And tips for dealing with binge-watching

Listen to Robert on The Stress Mastery Podcast (iTunes) or via Thestressmasterpodcast.com.

How to Take Back Your Health Without Putting Your Smartphone Down

Our smartphone helps us stay connected with those we love and can keep us safe.

It helps us navigate uncharted roads, light dark rooms, manage our to-do list, and keep up with world events.

It entertains us and gives us the ability to find an answer to virtually any question at a moment’s notice.

And the power of the handheld devices in our pockets grows by the day.

But while the benefits of 21st Century technology, especially smartphones, is undeniable, the conversation about our smartphone habits and their effect on our mental and physical health is becoming louder. Continue reading How to Take Back Your Health Without Putting Your Smartphone Down

How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

For the past decade, mindfulness has arisen as a valuable tool for educators.

But mindfulness’ value in the classroom has only just begun to become clear.

Now, it’s inspiring others to find new and creative ways to teach mindfulness and other related qualities.

One such example is a Toronto instructor who is using music to help students learn about mindfulness, kindness, and teamwork in a fresh new way. Continue reading How One Toronto School Teacher is Teaching Mindfulness Through Music

How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

“Meditation calms me down and stuff.”

– 4th-grade girl, Holistic Me program

Should we replace detention with mindfulness?

That’s the question now posed to schools all across the U.S. as a result of the work by the Holistic Life Foundation. Continue reading How One School Transformed Student Behavior by Replacing Detention with Mindfulness

Robert Plotkin of Mindfulness for Technology Featured on the AATH Laughbox Podcast

Our very own Robert Plotkin, Mindfulness for Technology founder, was recently featured on the Association for Applied Therapeutic Humor’s (AATH) Laughbox podcast.

Listen as Robert talks with host Chip Lutz about how technology affects our brain and how to integrate that technology into your mindfulness practice.

You’ll learn:

  • A simple mindfulness practice for learning how to use your smartphone more mindfully
  • How the “reptilian” brain affects our behavior
  • And a powerful tip for managing your technology use

Listen to Robert on the Laughbox podcast (iTunes) or via Laughbox.AATH.org.

Scheduling Time to Respond to Emails

Staying on top of your email inbox can feel like a daunting and never-ending task. Although I don’t have any magic solution to this issue, the tip I’ll share today has helped me cut through the clutter much more efficiently, allowing me to stay focused on real work and thus have much more time during my work day.

Here is my suggestion: Put emails that you receive onto your calendar so that you respond to them at scheduled times.

If that sounds completely crazy to you, let me clarify. First, I have a few recurring appointments on my calendar for responding to emails in certain categories. These include:

  • Accounting- and bookkeeping-related emails such as invoices I receive from vendors.
  • Messages from potential new customers.
  • Emails related to marketing tasks.
  • Small miscellaneous questions that I receive from my clients.

The common thread between these categories is that the emails don’t require an immediate reply. Also, they aren’t typically part of a longer conversation — a single response will do the trick. This combination of qualities makes these types of emails work really well with my calendaring system.

Granted, this may not suit urgent emails quite as well. So if you think that calendaring your emails won’t work for you, perhaps it’s because you’re thinking about certain types of emails that aren’t fit for your calendar. Step back for a minute and consider whether you frequently receive the types of emails I’m talking about. Your categories may be different than mine, but if they’re similar in nature, then read on.

1. Pick Your Categories and Put Recurring Appointments on Your Calendar

Choose times that would make sense for you to respond to emails in those categories. Think carefully about the timing. Some categories might require you to have appointments every day of the week or even multiple times a day. Other categories might only require a weekly appointment.

Consider how frequently you really need to respond to emails in each category and put in the minimum number of appointments per day/week that you will need. Set up the appointments to repeat according to a schedule that you think will work for you.

2. Be Disciplined

Whenever you check your inbox, you must be very diligent about not responding to any emails within your calendared categories. Instead, add them to the next appointment for that category.

Personally, I use Microsoft Outlook, which makes it very easy to just drag and drop emails directly onto calendar appointments. Just open the appointment, drag an email onto it, and it will attach there. It’s that simple. You could also type notes next to each email in the appointment to give yourself some guidance or context about how to respond to it.

I’m sure you will find it hard to resist the temptation to respond immediately, so expect this to happen and remember that it will take practice to create the habit.

3. Stay Focused

When the time arrives for each of your scheduled email appointments, you must be disciplined about opening that appointment and staying focused on responding to all of the emails without switching to other tasks. Try doing it a few times and see how it feels.

In my experience, I typically feel very satisfied by how efficiently I can get through a large number of emails in each category. There are many reasons for this, and one is that I find it easier to keep my mindset focused on a particular topic (ex. accounting or marketing) and to respond to emails solely in that category rather than switching back and forth between different categories.

Another reason is that many of the emails in the same category often relate to the same topic or project, and as a result, I can easily keep all of the information about that topic or project in mind while responding to all of the emails.

Moreover, I’ve often found that by waiting to respond to emails, some of them become unnecessary to address by the time I get around to them. Maybe someone else responded to them. Waiting to respond can sometimes eliminate work that I would have had to perform if I responded immediately.

4. After You Respond to Your Emails

When you’re done responding to all of the emails in one of your appointments, it’s important to return to not responding to emails in that category until your next appointment. Begin the process again.

Give this a try and see how it works for you. Some aspects may not work for you immediately, but instead of giving up on the process entirely, tweak it to see if you can make it work better for your particular situation. For example, you may need more or fewer appointments. You may need to change your email categories. You may need to change your stance on which types of emails you will respond to. All of this will depend on your own situation, demands, and preferences.

I hope you find this helpful and your email productivity increases!

Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Trish Weinmann

In an effort to share a range of perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness and to facilitate a discussion about this important topic, we are posting a series of short essays by different contributors on “What Mindfulness Means to Me.” Below is a blog post by Trish Weinmann.

Continue reading Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Trish Weinmann

Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Elizabeth Wood

In an effort to share a range of perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness and to facilitate a discussion about this important topic, we are posting a series of short essays by different contributors on “What Mindfulness Means to Me.” Below is a poem by Elizabeth Wood expressing what mindfulness means to her.

Continue reading Series: What Mindfulness Means to Me, Elizabeth Wood

Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

  I started using an electric toothbrush about a year ago after scoffing at them for many years. Now I love it. What I didn’t expect was that it would both provide some good mindfulness training and also encourage mindlessness.  Let me explain.

Continue reading Electric Toothbrushes: A Tool for Mindfulness?

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

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