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Navigating the Mental Health Internet


Lesson 7.1 Technostress


Definition Symptoms of TechnoStressCoping with TechnoStressTechnophobia Instructions for CE Credit References


Larry Rosen, Ph.D., and Michelle Weil, Ph.D. define "TechnoStress" as any negative impact on attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, or body physiology that is caused either directly or indirectly by technology. One well-documented form of TechnoStress is the escalating problem of information overload, colloquially called "data smog."

In his book Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut David Shenk claims that just as fat has replaced starvation as this nation's number one dietary concern, information overload has replaced information scarcity as an important new emotional, social, and political problem. Up until recently, the production, distribution and processing of information all remained pretty much in synch. People could receive and think about information at roughly the same pace it was generated and disseminated. But in the mid-20th century, the introduction of computers, television, satellites, and Internet have created a condition of hyper-production and hyper-distribution that has surpassed human processing ability, leaving us with a permanent processing deficit.
David Shenk "Buckle Up"

The impact of information overload is particularly apparent in the workplace as more and more people spend their time at work sorting through e-mail, voice messages, and web pages while their day is interrupted by ringing phones, dinging e-mails, and squealing fax machines. As they describe it in their online article,
Multitasking Madness by Larry Rosen, Ph.D. and Michelle Weil, Ph.D.

You walk in the door at 8:02 a.m. to be greeted by your secretary. She hands you a stack of 18 "While You Were Out" slips that she has transcribed from your voicemail. You glance at your overstuffed briefcase in one hand, your laptop in the other, and the stack of folders under your arm. You consider trying to squeeze the messages between two available fingers. "Oh, wait," she says, and she points to three Federal Express packages. No way to carry it all now, so you head off to unload the work you brought back from home.

Your desk looks like a war zone-and your side lost. A quick glance at your computer reminds you to check your e-mail. What? 26 messages! How can that be? You checked it before you went to bed last night and spent 45 minutes answering all the messages. As you read your e-mail, you flip through yesterday's mail. The phone rings, and as you half-listen to one of your employees you scroll through your e-mail to decide what to answer now and what can wait until later.
Your day has just begun, and already you are exhausted. You feel like an octopus, with your arms and brain moving in multiple directions at the same time. By the time you have finished your work day-technically eight hours later (ha!)-you will have started and stopped dozens of tasks. The phone, the fax, the beep of an incoming e-mail all wrench your mind from what you are doing and thinking. When you finally return to your work, often you have lost your train of thought. Finding it again takes extra effort and time that you don't really have.

They report a study in which employees of Fortune 1000 companies averaged 178 messages a day and 3 interruptions an hour. Technology intrudes regardless of whether one uses a computer or purchases new technology. It is omnipresent: microchips are implanted in cars, coffee makers, VCRs, and other tools people use everyday. People who don't feel comfortable with technology often feel inferior and intimidated, and that their boundaries are being invaded.

Symptoms of TechnoStress

TechnoStress can make people feel their memory isn't as good as it used to be as they lose track of what they wanted to do or say. Getting a peaceful night's sleep becomes difficult as their overstimulated minds buzz and chatter, and enjoying laid back recreational activities is disrupted by preoccupation with to do lists, calls, errands, memos, etc. Headaches, irritability, GI discomfort, heart problems, and hypertension can also be related to TechnoStress. Dr. Rosen, who has conducted research on human-computer interactions in the workplace, maintains, "Our brains aren't wired to 'multitask' the way our computers are. We're testing the limits of our human abilities."
In addition, information technologies allow people to work 5 PM to 9 AM as well as 9 to 5. And home life is further interrupted by technologically-captured moments as the phone rings with a charity call during dinner, television, radio and TV blare in the background often unattended to, and family members retreat into their private "Techno-Cocoons." As Drs. Weil and Rosen describe in:
A Conversation with Drs. Weil and Rosen

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 dayMom 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.

Gene Ondrusek,PhD, chief psychologist at the Scripps Memorial Center for Executive Health, and other guests describe a similar concept they call "urgency addiction": the impact of having life be technologically-driven by devices that operate without need for sleeping, eating or socializing. They see the potential for cell phones, e-mail and the Internet to make "urgency addicts" out of all of us. The scientific understanding of the body's response to this assault on the mind is still in its infancy, but it draws upon Hans Selye's classic work on stress--but where individuals get addicted to their own adrenaline.They not only live on the edge of constant crisis, they seem to prefer life that way.

the cutting edge of technology

Coping With TechnoStress

We need to learn new ways to cope with the constant demand to learn new skills, meet speedier turnaround times, and be accessible 24 hours a day. The pace of technological innovation and intrusion into our lives is unprecedented, and there needs to be a radical re-thinking of how we relate to technology. Yet managed appropriately, technology can enhance both the quality and efficiency of everyday life.

Drs. Weil and Rosen offer some tips to help people manage the information flow:

Sift and trash-Try to focus on the information you really need instead of news blips that distract. Think critically and separate the gems from the dross.
Set limits-Ration the time you spend watching television, listening to the radio and cruising the Internet. Designate the best times for people to call or fax you.
Respond on your own time-Disable the e-mail ding and turn off the ringer on the fax machine. You can respond after you've finis
Relax when technology makes you wait-Instead of getting irritated while your e-mail boots or a company's telephone system puts you on hold, use that time to rest or tend to small tasks.
Use the technologies that work for you-You don't have to acquire every new technology. If beepers and cell phones cause you stress, stick with voice mail.
Schedule time away from information-Set aside slots for exercise, sports, dinner with friends and family vacations.

Their book
TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @WORK @HOME @PLAY
offers additional stategies for coping with the detrimental effects of technology on health and well-being at work and home.


In Data smog: Newest culprit in brain drain it is reported that researchers are finding that problems stem from people''s ..

a) overuse of technologies
b) misuse of technologies
c) from technology's ineffective presentation of information
d) all of the above

Record your answers for later insertion into the Quiz.


Surveys show that 85% of the population feel uncomfortable with technology. Only about 10 to 15% of the industrialized population are Eager Adopters. Hesitant "Prove Its" make up about 50 to 60% of the population, and the Resisters 30% or so. A study by Dell computers (1) identified 55% of Americans as technophobic. The percentage of the population who are becoming hesitant and resistant is increasing: Over a three-year period, clerical workers became more hesitant and resistant toward technology while managers and executives became more resistant.
42-month Study of Business Attitudes Show Clerical Workers, Managers and Executives Becoming More Hesitant and Resistant Toward Technology by Larry D. Rosen & Michelle M. Weil.

In their study, which is available online
Adult and Teenage Consumer Users of Technology: Potholes on the Information Superhighway? (1995). Journal of Consumer Affairs, 29(1), 55-84.

Drs. Rosen and Weil point out the detrimental effects of technophobia:

avoiding technology may prove problematic. A report by Krueger (1991) showed that workers who use computers on their jobs earn 10 percent to 15 percent more than those who do not even after holding education, income, occupation, and other characteristics constant. Another examination of the same data by Boozer, Krueger, and Wolkon (1991) found that minority workers were less likely to use computers on their jobs than white workers. The same study found that minority workers were much less likely to be exposed to computers in school or at home than white workers even after adjusting for family income. These studies suggest that avoiding computers can be very costly!

Studies (2) have shown that the key psychological factor determining resistance to technological change is the person's perceived ability to use a product successfully (termed self-efficacy by Bandura (3) .

Having taken this course is one way to enhance your confidence in using the important information technologies available on the Internet!

Congratulations on having completed the course!

Instructions for CE credit

First check the page listing Types of CE Available to see whether your state accepts CE from APA Providers. California MCEP, BBS and BRN CE are also available from SCRC.

To obtain CE, fill out the online CE Credit Form or print out, fill it in and mail or fax it to Internet Guided Learning (instructions are on the form). A tuition fee of $89 applies for CE credits.


(1). Dell Computer Corporation (1993, July 26), Fear of technology is phobia of the '90s; Computer habits, attitudes determine 'Techno-Type'. Press release available from Dell Computer Corporation, 9505 Arboretum Blvd. Austin, TX.
(2). Ellen, Pam Schroeder, William O. Beardon and Subhash Sharma (1991). Resistance to technological innovations: An examination of the role of self-efficacy and performance satisfaction. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, 19(4): 297-307.
(3). Bandura, Albert. (1977), Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84: 191-215.


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