3 Reasons We Have Become Obsessed with Technology

Have you ever checked your phone after 30 minutes, an hour, maybe two hours, only to have nothing new to see on it? No missed calls. No texts. No Facebook notifications or new Twitter followers. Nothing from Instagram. No Snapchats.

Have you then ever checked your level of service, or your internet connection, or gone so far as to turn your phone off and back on again? It must be some kind of mistake, right?

We live in a world now where our ego is based very much upon our technological and social media connections. How many “Likes” we get on a photo we post or “Retweets” or “Favorites” we get from our Twitter musings directly affects our sense of self-worth.

The degree that this affects each of us varies. Previously, I wrote about how we are becoming addicted to technology. But not everyone is addicted. Many of us are merely obsessed.

It took us decades to realistically go from the first telephones to the first televisions. Over roughly that same amount of time, we more recently went from no one owning a personal computer to people carrying multiple devices on them at all times. The access to information and the ability to connect with others is astounding. And dangerous.

How did this happen? How did we, as a collection of individuals, so quickly grasp onto this blossoming area known as technology? Below are three reasons why technology has grabbed onto us tight and hasn’t let go.

1)      FEELING CONNECTED TO OTHERS

Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist, theorized that humans must feel a sense of belonging with others before they can increase their own self-esteem. Therefore, to belong or fit in with others is a requirement to feel good about oneself. Technology allows us to feel connected to others. To be a part of something.

As I write this, I have the Oscars on in the background. Just a moment ago, Ellen DeGeneres attempted to set the all-time “re-tweet” record on Twitter for a photo. They snapped a selfie that included the likes of Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts, among several others. In 13 seconds, that photo had been re-tweeted over 6200 times. In 13 seconds. (Update – as I edit this a day later, the photo has since been retweeted over 3 million times)

But then a funny thing happened. Twitter died. At least temporarily, anyway. The incredible surge and rush among all of the Oscars’ viewers to be a part of this moment overwhelmed the site. Later in the show, Ellen, live at the Oscars, announced to the world that they had successfully crashed Twitter. Immediately, thousands of people smiled to themselves as they know they contributed to this.

They helped. They were part of something.

Despite not actually having contact with anyone else.

2)      POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

Technology offers us something that no one human being on this earth can: immediate, constant, and never-ending positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement, the idea that any action that is rewarded is likely to be repeated, is far and away the most effective form of behavior modification. A text. A tweet. A “Like.” They all make us feel good. They give us the warm fuzzies. Someone is thinking of me. Someone likes me.

See after my own site launched, I installed Google Analytics. It is a wonderfully informative and terribly addicting tool that shows me how many people are viewing my site at any given moment, where they are from, among plenty of other great information.

Seeing that people are viewing my site is incredibly reinforcing to me. It tells me that the content I am creating is of interest and of use to others. I check my Analytics often (probably too often) on the off chance that I can notice my readers on my site.

On a daily basis, though, is that why we post pictures? Announce moment-by-moment updates on our lives? On the off chance that we receive “approval” from others through comments and shares? Of course it is.

We all do it.

We announce the sad times because we want and need sympathy from others. We share the great things and the accomplishments because we want the congratulations from others. It’s not wrong. It’s human nature. And technology figured out a way for us to be able to receive that all the time.

3)      ESCAPE FROM REALITY

Technology offers us a way to feel (at least superficially) connected to others, and it provides us a source of constant and immediate positive reinforcement. But it also allows us to escape from others.

We sit in a classroom. In a boardroom in a meeting. On a date. In a movie. At a red light (but never while driving, right?). In line pretty much anywhere. At any moment, we have the ability to be anywhere we want to be. It is like having a personal genie in our pockets. But instead of 3 magical wishes we get as many as we can ask over the course of a 12-hour battery life. Then we plug it in and keep going.

No matter what we type into Google. No matter what website we go to. No matter what video we seek, or song we listen to. For the first time, we have complete control over our entertainment and our information. If we are the least bit dissatisfied with the physical world around us, we can escape immediately into a virtual life that we create.

The increase in satisfaction that we immediately feel when we do so? You guessed it: immensely positively reinforcing. It feels good and we’re going to do it again. And again. And again.

No longer do we have to agonizingly watch the clock tick until we reach that moment of freedom. No longer do we have to make idle conversation with those nearby. No longer do we have to exhibit patience, or feign interest, or display any semblance of an attention span. It’s not needed because in just a click or two or five, we are immediately where we would rather be.

And what could possibly be more reinforcing than that?

This is the second installment of the Psychological Effects of Technology series. Topics include how we have come to be so dependent on technology, the effects technology is having on us individually, the effects technology is having on our relationships with others, and what we can do about our reliance on technology.

Help these conversations happen. Please post your comments and questions to my Facebook Fan Page or share this article on your own Facebook profile. Follow me and tweet at me on Twitter @Bevacqua_PhD, or simply print these articles and share them with loved ones.

 

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Frankly Speaking – 3/3/14

Frank,

     I just got a new job and I want to start out making clear boundaries with my co-workers and supervisors. I want a fresh start from my previous experience with my former employer. How do I show initiative and prove myself without becoming a doormat?

This is a very common concern that many people have and a problem many people do not attempt to address until they’re on the wrong side of the line. That you are aware of this possibility at the start of a new job gives you a great advantage.

Depending on the nature of your job, this balance can become particularly tricky. For instance advancement, raises, bonuses and other types of perks may be based not only on the quality of your performance, but on your ability to go “above and beyond.” This is where most people experience difficulty because we find ourselves doing things or acting in a way that we would not normally want or choose ourselves.

In general, never do anything one time that you’re not willing to do every time. As soon as a “favor” is completed, it becomes an expectation whether you think it will or not. For instance, if you are a salaried employee and you agree to stay late one night without additional compensation, expect that you will be asked to do so again in the future.

Saying “No,” is probably the most difficult and uncomfortable part, even if you know that’s the answer you wish to give.  At the same time, trying to skirt around the issue by saying things like “I’m working on something else right now,” or “I can’t stay late tonight,” opens yourself up to be asked those things again. Saying “No,” is not wrong. It only feels that way to most of us because we are not used to saying it. Any employer that is not willing to accept your boundaries, assuming your job duties are being fulfilled, is not an employer I would want to work for, anyway.

Ultimately, you need to decide what it is that you want out of your job. Even if there are potential perks to going above and beyond, be purposefully selective with which of them you choose to do. Maybe you are willing to do extra tasks during the day, but not stay after hours. If you set your long-term goals ahead of time, decide the purposeful actions you will take (and more importantly, NOT take!) to get there and stick to them, you will find yourself on the healthy side of the line!

 

Frank,

     My sister-in-law got into a bad car accident several years back, before I met my husband. From what I have heard she is a completely different person. She has severed many ties with the family. Her mom (my mother-in-law) tries to keep the peace with the family despite the fact that my sister-in-law and my husband have not spoken in 4 years. I feel very conflicted because some family members keep giving her chances because of her injury, however I also feel like she is an adult and has made choices she should live with. Sometimes I just can’t get past how much they enable her. Please help!

There are multiple layers to this, so let’s try to take a quick look at each of them.

Let’s put the car accident aside for a moment. In general, people ascribe to one of two theories when it comes to family members. Either A) family is family no matter what, or B) respect and consideration are a requirement for someone to be in your life, family or not.

Neither one is more right than the other. It sounds like those involved may be split as to which side of this fence they come down on. This may be why some members continue to give her chances, or enable her, while others may choose not to.

From your description of the situation, it sounds like the car accident may have resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury. A TBI can result in impairment in cognitive functioning and affect things like language and memory. It can also affect an individual’s personality, including their decision-making, impulsivity, and mood. A common change in TBI patients is to go from mild-mannered to more angry, irritable, and aggressive.

The hardest part is understanding that she does not have the level of control over her abilities and actions as we might expect. She might not even be aware of the changes that have occurred within her. This can be particularly frustrating for everyone.

Despite not knowing which of the above possibilities apply to your sister-in-law, the likelihood is that she is now a very different person in some important way. The old version of her is gone. Loss occurs in many different ways in our lives. Sometimes it is an actual death of a loved one. Sometimes it is the end of a relationship, or a friendship. Sometimes a friendship changes when one of the members gets a new job and moves across the country.

Whatever the logistical reason, what exists now is not what existed before, and mourning that loss is crucial to moving forward. In the case of your in-laws, they may be struggling with accepting this notion as they are still holding on to the way things were. The way she was.

Having met her after her accident, you only know who she is now and don’t have the same basis of comparison and the same level of conflicting information. The conflict that exists for you now, however, is more about protecting your new family unit (including yourself, your husband, and whoever else has or will come along).

Ultimately, as a unit, you need to decide what is best given the current set of circumstances. Once that occurs, it becomes a matter of setting up those boundaries with the rest of the family. As I wrote in my above response, remember that what is an exception one time becomes an expectation the next time.

Between you and your husband, decide what is and is not acceptable regarding your relationship with your sister-in-law. Perhaps more importantly (and more difficult), decide how this will affect your relationship with the rest of your in-laws. For example, there might be a boundary set that this topic is not to be discussed at family gatherings.

Whatever boundaries are set, first make sure that you and your husband agree. Then implement them. Change those boundaries in the future only if you both decide to, not if someone outside your family unit pressures you to do so.

 

“Frankly Speaking” is a weekly segment on this blog that provides an opportunity for my readers to ask questions aimed at better understanding themselves, others, or their relationship with others. Each week I will select some of those questions to answer here. As you can see, the askers of those questions remain anonymous.

To submit a potential question for future installments, the only requirement that I ask is that you first become a fan of my Facebook page. “Like” my page, and then send me a private message with your question(s). Until next week!

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