The Struggle with Technology

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By Laura Knop
Broadcast News Instructor, SAIT

One of the best things about BEAC conferences (other than meeting up with all our colleagues from across the nation) is the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas. At the conference in Vancouver this past spring we had a wonderful presentation from Dr. Bob Aitken from Vancouver Community College, whose passion and discipline is studying the workings of the human brain.

During his presentation he mentioned several books. One of them, iDisorder by Dr. Larry Rosen, is concerned with understanding why we are increasingly obsessed with technology and how we can overcome its hold on us.
As technology continues to be a larger and larger part of all of our lives, our brains and behaviours are changing. And even though we point our fingers at the new generation, this is true for all ages. As Dr. Rosen observes the pervasiveness of technological devices has actually changed how people think and interact with others, to the point where for some, it manifests as psychological disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Know somebody who has to constantly check his or her phone (often during class)? This is a sign of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; the overwhelming urge to do something repeatedly. How about people who lash out on the internet, saying things they would never say in person? That’s a symptom of sociopathic behaviour or the inability to feel empathy with others. Ever see students switching rapidly from one task to another (or one window to another on their computers) and then having trouble completing their initial task? Rosen says this is a sign of ADHD. He points out that medical and mental health practitioners agree there are many difficulties with all these behaviours including attention difficulties, poor decision making, information overload, internet addiction and poor sleep habits.

So are we doomed to be the lone voice in the classroom, struggling to get our message heard above all the bells and whistles that the internet and social media have to offer? And how do we guide our students to understand the importance of presentation both in the “real” world and the virtual world?

Dr. Rosen says connecting to nature and putting away our devices, even for a short time, “re-sets” the brain and gives it a chance to calm down. So does beautiful music and art, laughing, taking a ten minute walk, and even relaxing in a hot bath. While having baths in the classroom is not encouraged, how about taking a break and getting the students to move around when you sense they are drifting away. He also encourages tech breaks, if possible. This involves putting the cell phone away at the start of class, but letting the students know that in 15 minutes, they will have one minute to check their phones. In classrooms where this has been tried, he reports, students stay more focused on the task at hand, knowing that they will soon get their reward.

As for keeping the students on track when it comes to presentation, Rosen says we must stress the importance of the impression we give others in the social media world. Are we always posting or tweeting about ourselves and how wonderful we are (narcissism) or are we showing what he terms “virtual empathy”, where we display understanding and empathy with others? And lastly and in my view most importantly, we should help our students understand that it is the interactions with people in the real world which truly enrich our lives, as opposed to hundreds of “Facebook friends” whom we may rarely or never actually see.

This just touches briefly on the many points found in iDisorder. I would highly recommend this book as another teaching tool that can help us connect (in the real world) with our students.

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