Battling an iDisorder

This is a guest post. Yousuf is an undergraduate student at a large public university in America. You can follow him on Twitter and on WordPress.

It’s no understatement: technology has revolutionized our daily lives. Everything from chatting with friends to looking up recipes to learning our religion takes place on the internet nowadays. Naturally, this much change at such a fast pace can have negative consequences too. I recently read a book that talks about technology’s impact on our mental health called iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold On Us by Dr. Larry Rosen. It was helpful because in addition to diagnosing the problems, Dr. Rosen gives tips and techniques on how to use technology in a positive, healthy manner. I’ll be sharing some of those tips in this article.

According to Dr. Rosen, an “iDisorder” (a term he invented) is similar to a normal mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, addiction or OCD. But rather than being caused by problems in one’s body that require medical attention, it’s caused by the incorrect use of technology and the effect that it can have on our mental health. The bad news is that iDisorders are increasingly common in society and getting worse. The good news: they’re not too difficult to identify and fix, if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Here are some examples of iDisorders.

Narcissism, an unhealthy obsession with oneself. On social media, narcissism is caused by a desire to be recognized and appreciated by the world. Likes, retweets, comments, follows and friend requests can all contribute to feelings of narcissism.

Obsessively/compulsively checking in on technology all the time. This can include in bed or bathroom, in the car, during class or at work, during a khutbah or lecture, or while a loved one is trying to have a conversation with you. There’s nothing wrong with checking in with technology, but if it starts to interfere in your life (or your loved ones’ lives) it can become a problem – especially if it interferes with religion.

Addiction. We get bored very easily nowadays, and a lot of people need to be staring at a screen just to be able to stay awake. Not to mention the fact that everyone’s attention span has been reduced to approximately 5 seconds.

Anxiety. For example: one strange but prevalent phenomenon is people Googling random aches and pains they’re getting and then convincing themselves they have some deadly illness, even if their doctor repeatedly tells them they’re fine.

How do you cure yourself of an “iDisorder”?

Unplug. If you’re able to take a break from technology for a little bit, do so. Visit nature, for example – it has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Just make sure to leave your phone in the car if possible. To clarify: I am not saying you should abandon technology altogether. That simply isn’t possible for most people anyway. But for particularly bad cases it might be needed to take a short break.

Don’t post selfies. Studies have shown that excessively posting photos of oneself on the internet is correlated with narcissism. Obviously, a profile photo for identification purposes is fine but some people really go overboard with these. From a religious perspective, posting a photo of yourself publicly creates problems for “lowering the gaze.” This applies to both men and women, by the way!

Check your intentions. If you’re posting something about religion, make sure you do so for the sake of Allah alone. Tell yourself not to worry about how many likes or retweets it gets. The Prophet ﷺ was told he had “only the duty of notification” many times in the Qur’an. You should try to adopt a similar attitude, In Sha Allah.

Don’t multitask! In reality, there is no such thing as true “multitasking” – the brain is only able to switch rapidly between tasks. Multitasking hurts your performance in all the tasks you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re studying, make sure to turn off your smartphone and close all the other browser tabs so you can focus on what needs to get done. In my experience, 1 hour of focused studying is always better than 2 hours of multitasking, and even 15 minutes of focused Qur’an revision is more productive than an hour of distracted revision.

Use “tech breaks” to reward yourself. For example: for every hour spent reading Qur’an or doing dhikr, allow yourself to spend ½ an hour browsing the web. Or after every 50 minutes of focused studying, take a 10 minute break to catch up with texting and social media. Just make sure you keep these activities discrete and separate so you don’t end up multitasking and hurting your performance. In between tech breaks, make sure to keep the next tip in mind:

Turn off notifications. Engage with social media on your time, when you want to. Don’t allow it to intrude into your life and start taking up all of your time. Those chat groups your random second cousins from halfway around the world added you too? There’s always the mute button. Twitter, Facebook? In the settings, you can turn off mobile notifications.

Use technology in only the appropriate circumstances. Put away devices during lectures or khutbahs, before getting into bed (which has been linked to insomnia), while driving, at the dinner table, in the bathroom, and while someone is trying to have a conversation with you. This way, your attention will not be divided and you can focus on the task at hand. This ties into what I said earlier about multitasking as well.

Don’t let the internet replace face-to-face communication. If you’re sick, you should probably see a doctor. If you have an Islam-related question, talk to an imam in your area if you’re able to. The internet is great for general learning, but it doesn’t know the specifics of your situation. It should be used as a backup if face-to-face help is not available.

Remember: whether it’s online or offline, the same shar’i rules apply to your life. Unfortunately, many people think that if they’re behind a screen, they can backbite or talk in an inappropriate manner. What’s worse is when people assume bad intentions in other people in emails, texts or other messages. I’ve personally seen chat groups on WhatsApp and the like descend quickly into arguments, only for everything to be OK again as soon as the participants met face-to-face.

Obviously, not everyone can meet face-to-face, and sometimes the hard feelings from online leak into “real life” as well, so a more permanent solution is needed. Periodically remind yourself and others to assume good intentions; the Islamic tradition of husn al-dhann is especially relevant here. If you read something you don’t like, try to assume it’s because it just came across the wrong way and not because of malice on the part of whoever wrote it.

At the end of the day, it’s about being in control of your technology, rather than letting your technology be in control of you. The solution is not to get rid of it entirely. Instead, monitor yourself and develop healthy habits for using technology.

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