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The Net Effect

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Originally posted on May 18, 2016.

In an 80-minute class for which I recently guest-lectured, the instructor (a master teacher) gave students a mid-class break to enable them to stretch and talk to classmates. What a great way to build community, I thought. Alas, two-thirds of the class never moved. Rather, they pulled out their smart phones and sat staring at their screens. There was no face-to-face conversation, just solemn silence.


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When I recounted that story to tech expert psychologist Larry Rosen (co-author of The Distracted Brain: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us) he replied that “I see this all the time EVERYWHERE.”

The students I observed don’t exemplify The Onion’s recent parody (“Brain-Dead Teen, Only Capable of Rolling Eyes and Texting, To Be Euthanized”). But they did bring to mind the recent Western Psychological Association presentation by Rosen’s students, Stephanie Elias, Joshua Lozano, and Jonathan Bentley. They reported data on smartphone usage by 216 California State University, Dominguez Hills students, as recorded by a phone app. The stunning result: In an average day, the students unlocked their phones 56 times and spent 220 minutes—3.7 hours—connected. Moreover, more compulsive technology use not only drains time from eyeball-to-eyeball conversation but also predicts poorer course performance.

Today’s technology is “so user-friendly that the very use fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” says Rosen in iDisorder. If smartphones interfere with “having social relationships, then it is a problem, and it really is what I consider an iDisorder.” As Steven Pinker has written, “The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life.” We can live intentionally—by managing our time, blocking distracting online friends, turning off or leaving behind our mobile devices, or even going on a social media fast or diet—all in pursuit of our important goals.

About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.