iDisorder by Larry Rosen (book review).

The title ‘iDisorder’ is helped immensely by its longer sub-title, ‘Understanding Our Obsession With Technology And Overcoming Its Hold On Us’, as author Larry Rosen examines how obsessed you are with your technology.

I should point out from the start that I’m among the 40% of people noted who don’t have a mobile telephone or tablet and nor do I TXT, blog, twitter, facebook or use other social media sites. Granted, I regard myself as unsocial than anti-social or you wouldn’t be reading me here but there’s only so much time in a day to get things done. At most, I’m on-line a couple hours a day but most of that would be deemed supervising material for SFC or research. If isn’t as though I can’t be contacted if you need to submit something by the way. Considering that Rosen admits to his own Net use through his mobile phone quite extensively, I couldn’t help but wonder if he needs some help as well as the people he is pin-pointing here. Saying that, having someone familiar with the problem of digital obsession would probably be a better choice than an onlooker like me tut-tutting over excessive use.


The real question is would the truly obsessive of all of the above media communication have the time to pick up and read this book or wouldn’t they have the time? Well, unless they are trying to cut back on their habit, that is. So, as this 60% is busy, it’s up to me to look at this book and if you think your nearest and dearest can’t spend more time with you than their tapping habit, then you need to buy this book and see if they need help. Mind you, if your entire family is hit by the digital bug, you’re just as likely to think people like me are the oddity not the other way around.

The fact that the obsession is growing means we are getting a SF scenario where people will only communicate by text than that other way. Y’know, the one that involves talking. Rosen points out that when using technology so much that it becomes obsessive that it is more illness than not, although I think that would happen with whatever you use too much than have a more balanced use. He also provides tests with a couple of the chapters to see how badly you are affected as well. I like tests, although I wish there were more to test the various problems throughout the chapters. The one testing my narcissistic attitude had me score less than the population norm and it might have been even lower had I not had to tick yes to leadership qualities as an editor.

I liked Rosen comparing mobile phones as WMDs or ‘wireless mobile devices’ to ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as they have taken over the world in the past decade. I have to confess that I find it odd how people need to find out what is going on with their ‘friends’ all the time, mostly because it doesn’t allow time to do anything significant themselves. If anything, I can see a comparison to how people get engrossed with soap operas in a similar fashion where it becomes a matter of busy-bodies and gossip about things outside of their own conventional reality. Although I can see some comparison to our interest in Science Fiction and its associated genres, they do not make such marked comparisons to real life.

The kind of close contact by communicating all the time, especially where replies are almost instant hooks people to be up close and personal and in the now, even if they forget that it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to reply instantly as well. As this is still a nascent culture of just over a decade old, I don’t really think it’s settled down yet and we’re still on the upward swing before adjusting to how much this should fill your life. Even Rosen points out that this culture change hasn’t reached two decades yet and boredom and normal life hasn’t settled in for many people. If anything, the various mediums to link into the Net just means there’s a bigger scattershot that catches more people which must seem like an advertiser’s dream.

I always thought people checking to see if they are carrying their mobile phones was because they were so small and easy to lose because they were so expensive. Y’know, like checking to see if you’ve got your house keys on you. Then again, I rarely see people using them so maybe I’ve managed to avoid such problems in others. I had to ask someone locally to have a look at their mobile phone to see how it connected to the Internet a couple months back so it still sounds pretty alien to me why people would want to use such a small screen when a comfortable laptop monitor is better for the eyes. According to a test on being anxious away from my technology, I got a fat zero. My two times when I was hospitalised for over ten days in the past couple decades and returning home and back on-line showed the only things I really missed out on were a stack of emails and took longer to remove the spam than the other messages, before hotmail had controls to remove them automatically. What remained only took a couple days to sort. Maybe I’m too well disciplined or not getting enough emails back then, although the amount I get for SFC probably compares to more business orientated emails.

Rosen’s analysis is interesting because a lot of it just exaggerates normal human traits. We have always had the egocentric amongst us. They’ve just got a place where they can e-talk about themselves and even get people prepared to read what they say…or so they think. Rosen points out what to look for and be wary of people who talk only about themselves than show a remote interest in what you have to say. Saying that, if both parties are doing that, is anyone truly listening to what you have to say?

That’s not to say that I totally disagree with what Rosen has to say. I do think technology has a habit of convincing some people that they can multi-function when clearly it is often best not to, especially when they attempt to text and drive a car at the same time. I think people have to learn how to prioritise their activities, especially as most people are in the same boat and some times of the day, like travelling, eating and sleeping should be regarded as downtime and you can always catch up later when there are fewer distractions. The statistics on this on page 109 speaks for itself although it is a puzzle why Rosen uses a British rather than an American statistic on this multi-functioning, although I presume this might be because there isn’t that kind of info Stateside. However, the statistics are there for US car accidents caused by distraction which is going up geometrically on page 111 is getting scary and you people across the pond should take note. Is risking crashing when driving over sending a message that important?

If anything, all the Net is really doing is exaggerating people’s existing problems like hypochondria. It’s just another outlet for their worries to hook on to. Considering how so much of computer usage, especially in games, depends on treat for success, it’s hardly surprising that a lot of people can’t differentiate between levels of concentration in the real world. Objectively, your sprogs really should be brought up to treat computer usage, outside of education, as being the reward than the other way around. Doing that, might well bring down the obsessive level.

The examination of body image is another thing that has become more accented except that with on-line avatars, you can give yourself an image of what you would like to be rather than what you are. It must be one heck of an equaliser when you meet and compare the two appearances. If anything, it shows how much people are affected by self-image.

I’m not too much sure about the desensitisation by playing first person shooting computer games. I mean, if you want an outlet to get rid of any aggressive feelings you have, then it’s a lot safer than bringing it out in real life. Being shot and ‘killed’ by digital opponents would also be a sharp reminder of the consequences of such actions so not to do a similar thing in real life. The few that have done that are just that, a few and not even a fraction of a percentage who play games. I do agree that playing excessively a day takes it up to obsessive levels which makes me wonder why no one has bothered to survey what these same folk would do if there wasn’t any games? It’s like Parkinson’s Law is being utilised more by giving people more things to do with their idle time than twiddling their thumbs (sic).

One thing I did learn from this book is that I don’t have voyeuristic tendencies, having no interest in the so-called ‘reality’ shows or soap operas on TV. At least with the former, the media is over-exploiting this and catching the unwary. If anything, it’s a puzzle why they haven’t found the next ‘big thing’ yet.

Rosen does give some good suggestions to sort yourself out if you feel you do need to rein things in, although I wonder how many will maintain this regime or slip back into the old routine by lack of self-determination.

One thing I do find odd when it comes to junior cyberbullying is the assumption that all school kids go on-line. Granted the opportunity is there at school to develop computer skills but even at that age, there must be technophobes or who don’t get the geeky habit. That being the case, it would have been useful to have done a comparison between the two extremes.

As you can tell by my response from reading this book, I’ve learnt a lot. In many respects, I’m glad to discover I’m not that obsessive. I’ve always seen the use of my computer and even Net access as a means to an end. Then again, I have a wide range of interests and need to manipulate my time to fit everything in. I do agree with Rosen that there are far too many people obsessed with digital communication but I think the cheap cost compared to phone calls is a contributory factor. For specialised groups who are spread across the world, then it has to be an asset.

If you do think you are getting obsessive or know someone is, try to get them to at least read this book if for no other reason that it’ll help get themselves into perspective. If you need a simple test to see if it affects yourself, see how long you can go without texting someone or get irritable by not being able to, then grab this book as quickly as possible.

GF Willmetts

October 2013

(pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 246 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK), $16.00 (US), $18.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-137-27831-9)
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