Hooked on tech, wired for distraction

Teenagers on cell phones ignoring each other
Photo: © Antonio Diaz / 123RF Stock Photo

Do you feel that your Facebook friends are more interesting than the ones you have in real life? Does high speed internet make you impatient with slow-paced people? Do you sometimes think about reaching out for a fast-forward button and then suddenly realize that your life does not come with a remote control? Has a text alert just reminded you that it is your ‘the one and only’ sister’s birthday today?

If your answer is ‘yes’ to any of these questions, exposure to technology may be slowly reshaping your personality. Some researchers are of the opinion that excessive use of the internet, smartphones and other technologies can cause us to become more impatient, impulsive, forgetful and even more narcissistic.

“More and more, life resembles the chat room,” says Dr Elias Aboujaoude, Director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford. “We’re paying a price in terms of our cognitive life because of this virtual lifestyle.”

We do spend a lot of time with our devices, and some studies have suggested that excessive dependence on smartphones and the internet is akin to an addiction.

Typically, the concern about our dependence on technology is that it detracts from our time with family and friends in the real world. But psychologists have become intrigued by a more subtle and insidious effect of our online interactions. It may be that the immediacy of the internet, the efficiency of the iPhone and the anonymity of the chat room changes the core of who we are, issues that Dr Aboujaoude explores in his book Virtually You: The Internet and the Fracturing of the Self, to be released next year.

Dr Aboujaoude also asks whether the vast storage available in e-mail and on the internet is preventing many of us from letting go, causing us to retain many old and unnecessary memories at the expense of making new ones. Everything is saved these days, he notes, from the meaningless e-mail sent after a work lunch to the angry online exchange with a spouse.

“If you can’t forget because all this stuff is staring at you, what does that do to your ability to lay down new memories and remember things that you should be remembering?” Dr Aboujaoude said. “When you have 500 pictures from your vacation in your Flickr account, as opposed to five pictures that are really meaningful, does that change your ability to recall the moments that you really want to recall?”

Another major aspect technology affects is memory. If you do not use your memory through memorizing even small details, this powerful task will deteriorate. And nowadays we are no longer memorizing tasks. Instead, we are using available smartphone applications to do so. And this is the case for birth dates even for our parents, siblings and children!

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Dr Anjali Chhabria
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Dr Anjali Chhabria

Dr Anjali Chhabria, a practising consultant and psychiatrist for over 25 years, is the founder of Mindtemple, a counselling centre in Mumbai, catering to the treatment of psychological disorders. She has spoken on mental health topics at seminars and conferences, and has written innumerable articles on emotional health and interpersonal relationships in newspapers and magazines. She has also shared her expert opinions in documentary films, on TV shows and radio channels.