“Always on” syndrome leads to nonstop data, nonstop software upgrades and nonstop stress.
The signs of tech stress are everywhere: The iPhone junkie freaking out over his contacts being swallowed alive by the new iOS 7 software. The office manager furiously swimming upstream against a never-ending flood of e-mails. The angry home-office worker hyperventilating over a computer virus and taking it out on a guy like Mike Kushner.
“We see people crying, we see people angry, we have people lash out at us because we can’t recover what they’ve lost,” said Kushner, co-owner of Bay Area Computer Solutions in Palo Alto, Calif., which provides paramedics for the digitally desperate. “People are under incredible pressure these days because of how dependent everyone is on their computers and especially their smartphones. We get calls from CEOs with e-mail problems and they’re going crazy, so it’s a good thing I took psychology classes in college because it helps me calm-talk them off the ledge.”
Our growing addiction to technology has become even more dramatic thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices. While their benefits are bountiful, that same powerful computer in our pocket is also spawning obsessive behavior, often served up with heaping sides of angst.
Palo Alto psychologist Francine Toder calls it the “Always on” syndrome. She has seen patients who are already “overwhelmed by life, and now their problems become much more complicated by all these new devices and nonstop data coming at them.”
We’ve all seen it. We’ve all felt it ourselves. The skipping heartbeat when your Android phone beeps with an alert. The nagging need to ceaselessly check for incoming texts and e-mails, even at the movies or while having dinner with friends or your family. And then there’s “phantom vibration syndrome,” that creepy sensation that your smartphone is buzzing in your purse or pocket when, in fact, it isn’t.
Santa Clara University psychology professor Thomas Plante said solid clinical research on tech-induced anxiety is in its early stages. Still, he said, all you have to do is look over at that texting driver next to you at the red light to see firsthand “how we’re all constantly using our phones to deal with boredom or to get an immediate answer to some trivial question. We’ve reached a point where it’s increasingly hard for people to have the mind at quiet.”