A Conversation with TechnoStress Authors

Michelle M. Weil, Ph.D. and Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

Q: What is TechnoStress?

A: TechnoStress is our reaction to technology and how we are changing due to its influence. Over the past 15 years, as technology has become an increasingly prevalent part of our lives, we have watched TechnoStress develop and impact people in their personal lives, their family and their work environment. We are changing both internally and externally due to technology and these changes are not in our best interests physically, socially or emotionally.

Q: What is TechnoStress doing to us?

A: Some of the ramifications of the rapid influx of technology in our world are blatant, while others are quite subtle. Today, people diminish their own intelligence in comparison to technology, feeling less able and less capable in comparison to "the machine." Because technology lets us do so much, today we take on too much and end up feeling overwhelmed and never "finished." We feel invaded by technology on all fronts, by the beeps of our pagers, cell phones, incoming faxes and those of others around us. We tote our laptops on vacation and our bosses expect us to carry sky pagers. Our personal and work boundaries are blurred and we never feel true "down time" any more.

Q: Who is feeling TechnoStressed? Isn't it just people who don't use a computer?

A: Our years of research has revealed that 85% of the population feel uncomfortable with technology. Yet, surprisingly, even people who are comfortable and confident with technology can feel frustrated, intimidated and/or distressed in many ways. The problem goes beyond computers and the Internet. We are no longer able to live in this society and not bump into technology. It is everywhere, whether we purchase it or not. To put it simply: we are all experiencing a reaction to the omnipresence of technology, and that reaction is often TechnoStress.

Q: What are the symptoms of TechnoStress?

A: There are many signs of TechnoStress. For example, technology allows us to do many things simultaneously. If we work at home, we can cook our dinner in the microwave oven, talk on our cellular phone, send e-mail, do a load of laundry, and be printing a document all at the same time. However, even though technology enables us to do many things at the same time, our brains become overloaded. We call this "Multitasking Madness" and we are seeing more and more of it every day. We have fallen into the trap of, "Because we can, we do." We can find ourselves unable to think clearly and we become forgetful and incapable of having a restful sleep as the stimulation from the overload keeps our brain working overtime.

Q: What other signs have you seen that technology is upsetting our lives?

A: We mentioned earlier that people are feeling invaded by technology. For example, you arrive at work at 8 AM and check your voice mail to find 8 messages. As you are writing them down, two more arrive. Then you notice a stack of faxes awaiting you in the machine and when you turn on your computer you find that you have 27 e-mail messages to read. This goes on all day as you try to work. And for good measure, phones and faxes go off all day and jar your concentration. You arrive home and sit down for a quiet dinner only to be interrupted three times by telephone calls and once by a page from your boss.

Q: You talk about TechnoStress in the home - how is technology affecting the family?

A: The modern family is isolated, with each person wrapped in his or her own "Techno-Cocoon." Just take a look at the typical family looks at the end of the day ... Mom preparing dinner while checking the answer machine, head glued to the portable phone while she returns calls. One child is playing games on the computer in his bedroom, another is talking on her own phone, and the youngest is playing Nintendo. Dad comes home later from work and goes immediately to the computer. And the kids seem to know so much more about computer technology that their parents are feeling intimidated and inadequate. In many homes we are seeing a loss of communication and a major shift in the power balance in the family.

Q: You talk about being overwhelmed by technology at work, but haven't computers made our work life so much more efficient?

A: Computers and communication technology have given us many more options for getting our work done. Yet we feel inundated by technology. Recent studies have shown that employees are interrupted no fewer than 3 times an hour by electronic communications, and concentration and effectiveness suffers. We are feeling frustrated by the pace at which we are asked to adapt to new technologies as well. Even when we master one computer program, we are asked to change to another that can "do more," but takes time to learn. And we are rarely given the time to learn. Or, we are offered an 8-hour intensive seminar to prepare for the transition. But all that happens is that our eyes glaze over and our heads pound. Additionally, workers are suffering from Information Fatigue Syndrome with more information than can be read and digested in a lifetime seemingly coming at them via technology, every day.

Q: So, what can we do about TechnoStress? Isn't technology inevitable? Isn't it going to part of our lives whether we want it or not?

A: We want to make it clear that we are not anti-technology. We are anti-TechnoStress. Our book is about learning how to maintain our humanity in a technological world. Technology provides us with a range of options that can enrich and enhance our lives. However, to fight TechnoStress we must learn to be the driver and not be driven by technology. In TechnoStress we provide numerous empowering suggestions that enable us to decide when and how to use technology and when to put it aside. Awareness is the first step. We need to see where technology has created stress in our personal, family and work life. Once we see what is happening, using the practical tips, suggestions and exercises will help you regain control and banish TechnoStress from your life. My goal is a TechnoStress-free society.

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