Most studies of technology refer to the population of users as a whole, without regard to individual personalities. Yet we’re all aware that there are many types and varieties of “Us.”
So, what are the motivations that drive our fascination with electronic games, social sites, and online applications?
Let’s start with two personality types outlined in The Digital Pandemic, (Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic Age).
The first is the Left-Hemisphere Personality. People with left-hemisphere tendencies enjoy working with facts, details and sequential material. Naturally, they are attracted to all kinds of computer applications, because this process mirrors their thinking and personality style.
Right-Hemisphere individuals, on the other hand, are consumed with creative and imaginative processes and tend to ignore detail. They lack left-hemisphere processing skills. These folks are not really impressed with technological applications, but computer programs help them with detail and organizational skills. Right-brain executives used to rely on secretaries to handle writing and scheduling, but computer applications are now replacing executive secretaries. Let’s take a look at other types of personalities, including people with various degrees of mental disorder:
The Avoidant Personality exhibits social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluations. They share some of the characteristics of Schizoid disorders where we find a pattern of detachment from social relationships.
These individuals are often lonely and sometimes depressed. Studies show they feel better when they use social sites such as Facebook — where they can sign up lots of “friends”– and don’t need to relate on a face-to-face basis. Unfortunately, research also shows they don’t establish new friendships. It’s a “rich get richer” phenomenon where already popular people successfully use social sites to enrich and broaden their social contacts.
Paranoid individuals are also edgy about disclosure of information on social sites. They are distrustful and suspicious of others’ motives.
The Histrionic Personality is marked by excess emotionality and attention-seeking. These are the folks who may strip bare and send photos of themselves to friends — and into the great digital beyond! Of course, teenagers and sexting come to mind, but this adolescent behavior sometimes reflects the normal insecurities of teen life rather than a set personality pattern.
The Narcissistic Personality demonstrates grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Facebook replaced the cosmetic mirror for these narcissistic types. Instead of enjoying the reflection of their face in a mirror, they establish online “friends” by the hundreds.
Obsessive-compulsive types are preoccupied with control, orderliness and perfectionism. They love everything about computers, are prone to addictive behaviors, and may spend much of the day in front of their computers. These computer-like people don’t mind the banalities of electronic interaction where social expression is constrained by gadgets and platforms. As Sherry Turkel says in her book, Alone Together, (Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other), “We aren’t happy anymore: we’re simply a semicolon followed by a parenthesis.”
Antisocial Personalities show disregard for and violation of the rights of others. They enjoy single-shooter games and other combat games where killing and mayhem prevail. They may participate in fraudulent activities and cyber bullying. We can thank some of these folks for sending us deadly computer viruses. However, because most male children and adolescents love combat games, as do a good percentage of young adult males, we can hardly put all of this down to a personality pattern.
Folks suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and concentration problems are multitaskers. This category also includes persons without an advanced academic education; individuals who have not learned how to prioritize, concentrate and seek authentic wisdom — but instead rely on shallow information snacking.
The Overanxious Personality type needs to stay busy in order to suppress and repress worries and anxieties. These are the people who become anxious and upset on Sundays. This “Sunday slow down” in activities allows submerged feelings and anxieties to emerge. What better way to self-distract than to stay busy communicating through Twitter, E-mail and Facebook?
The above personality types were taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I’m not suggesting that people who are fascinated with technology have mental problems, but many of us live with milder forms of these personality types. Hopefully, this review gives us insight into motivational factors and calls on us to design research that recognizes our unique personalities.
Do so-called “normal” people, who are not saddled with preoccupations and excessive behavior and emotionality, also enjoy technology? Of course they do. One major component is CURIOSITY. The establishment of curiosity as a basic drive goes back to Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s. Harlow’s chimpanzees preferred pushing a lever which opened a door and allowed them to watch a toy train run on a track, rather than eating — even when hungry. Animals chose technology combined with curiosity over the basic need of ingesting food and satisfying their hunger, a need necessary for life itself.
This research demonstrates the power of curiosity, and we can now see how technology opens the door to satisfying this curiosity.
Yes, we human animals are a curious lot, too, and have unlimited intellectual curiosity. Let’s face it, how long do we communicate with someone in a social situation before boredom sets in? Can the person we’re conversing with keep us interested and amused with a constant flow of interesting information? No, we need to check with our other friends to get breaking news and chitchat. We might miss something in the next few seconds or minutes — the train going around the track, for example. Yes, we all have narcissistic traits and believe our immediate satisfaction comes first.
So our only recourse is rudeness. Our need for sustained entertainment encourages us to redefine good manners to include breaking eye contact and dumping whoever is speaking to us face-to-face, and perhaps not even eating all of our food. We don’t dare miss a thing. Maybe the toy train will run off the track one of these times and we’ll miss the fun!
There are lots of other reasons healthy people use technology. In some cases it makes work easier and it’s required for most jobs. We hoped technology would free us from the restraints and commitments of the workplace by allowing us to do our work from home. Unfortunately, this has backfired, and we feel trapped because the boss can and will find us — day or night.
Women love social sites because they are, by and large, more social than men and want to stay in touch on a regular basis with real friends. Healthy kids can’t resist the appeal of electronic games even though it may be stunting their brains in ways that will show up years from now.
What is the point of this exercise? We humans have lots of different reasons for doing things — and use of technology is no exception. Enjoy.