I’ve been reading a book by Susan Greenfield, Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, and the concept of iDisorder was referenced. It’s a concept that seems increasingly relevant in a digital society, so it seemed apt to talk about.
The concept iDisorder was coined by Dr. Larry Rosen (who wrote a book about it), and it is defined as “changes to your brain´s ability to process information and your ability to relate to the world due to your daily use of media and technology resulting in signs and symptoms of psychological disorders – such as stress, sleeplessness, and a compulsive need to check in with all of your technology.” (Dr. Larry Rosen’s Website)
iDisorder and Education
It’s an interesting concept when you consider it in the context of education. Outside of education many of us are glued to our devices, continually checking and refreshing our email and frequently visited websites. Within the realm of education, students are doing this too, and it’s causing an increased expectations (on the instructor) to be constantly available.
Whenever I work with faculty members on crafting their course outlines or syllabus, I always emphasize the importance of setting expectations; not just for assignments or graded components, but for their availability. When will you be available in office? What will your email turnaround time be? When will you return feedback on assignments? Without defining these expectations, faculty members are setting themselves up for failure in terms of how students perceive their availability. In a society where ‘on demand’ is a popular service offering, students have been trained to believe that you, as an instructor, will also be on demand. This is a bit dehumanizing. Even if students don’t mean to dehumanize, the expectations makes instructors seem a bit more robotic.
When instructors don’t outline their expectations, and students perceive them as constantly available, slower response times may emphasize a student’s iDisorder – increased stress, sleeplessness, and constantly checking their devices as they wait for a response, which poses the question “how to we deal with this?” Unfortunately, I think the change needs to begin at home, and then in K-12, and then throughout classes in university or in the real-world at places of employment, and it all hinges on setting clear expectations and modelling. When I say modelling, I mean that if you outline your communication expectations clearly, you stick to them. If you say you’ll respond within 24 hours, you do; you don’t respond in 36. When you say that you’ll be unavailable after 5pm, you stick to that and don’t respond to emails or inquiries after 5pm.
It’s unfortunate that this concept has been coined and seems to be running rampant in our society, but if we can take small steps to be clear with our expectations, we might just combat it as much as possible, and then, if individuals still experience symptoms associated with iDisorder, they’re doing it to themselves.