The Sociopath in Your Pocket: Your iPhone is Basically Like Your Bi-Polar Ex

The Unhealthy Relationship We All Have With Technology

There are no shortage of books, articles, blog posts, and Instagram stories about “how to spot a sociopath,” or “how to know if you’re dating a sociopath.” The topic seems to be in vogue these days likely because traditional empathy and human conscience seems to be lacking in many parts of our digital world. It’s not surprising, in large part because many of our core human responses to each other rely on social cues and emotional intelligence.

In the technology world, these elements continue to remain elusive–hidden behind screens.

What happens when our technology devices (not just the online ecosystem) attempt to act more human, but instead begin to pick up and amplify the worst of the human behaviors? Has our relationship with the digital world turned us all into irrational humans without conscience? This series will explore the relationship we have with technology through the lens of a digital psychologist studying human-computer interaction.

With an increasing desire to make machines more human, have our technology devices and tools inherited some of the worst traits of humanity, rather than the best? Have we all voluntarily submitted to carrying around a toxic relationship wherever we go? Have we allowed technology companies to use digital tools to control us the same way we may end up in a toxic relationship with someone with psychopathic or sociopath tendencies?

For those not familiar, “sociopath” is a term used to describe someone who has antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with ASPD can’t understand others’ feelings.  Sociopaths lack conscience and empathy.

The Sociopath Checklist

Here is a brief checklist of what psychologists use to determine if someone has sociopath traits.

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning
  • Grandiose Sense of Self
  • Pathological Lying
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
  • Shallow Emotions
  • Incapacity for Love
  • Need for Stimulation
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
  • Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability
  • Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
  • Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility

The Technology Sociopath Checklist

We’ve developed our own version of the Sociopath Trait Checklist and applied to to technology companies: social networks, email companies, search firms, cell manufacturers, etc.  Translation: Facebook, Apple, and Google.  Are they, or the devices they sell, acting without conscience?

Superficial Charm: The technology release is exciting and new, demanding your attention as the company attempts to convince you that the previous version, which worked just fine, is not as good as the latest offering offering. Excitingly “new” announcements that appear to be minor superficial enhancements or upgrades, simply to encourage you to spend more money.

Manipulative: Does the technology ecosystem lock you into a particular platform or login system.  Does it encourage you to sign extensive privacy policy agreements to gain access to the product you purchased. Does the device or platform hold your highly sensitive information in a way that keeps you locked into their offering?

Grandiose Sense of Self: They send constant alerts and announcements about new features and important updates. They constantly send messages to invite you back to the platform. They make it difficult to change or modify your personal preferences. Content filtering has the best interest of the company in mind and not the users.

Pathological Lying: Have they kept secrets from their user base, lied about data breaches, and otherwise acted in a way that’s misleading about their ultimate purpose?

Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt: If they behave in a way that’s not 100% honest and pure do they correct the behavior and make a public apology? Do they issue refunds, credits, or otherwise show remorse?

Shallow Emotions: Do their platforms and devices encourage deep personal relationships or foster shallow engagement and impulsive interactions (likes, double taps, swipes, etc.).

Incapacity for Love: Does your phone or social network platform recognize human emotions? Do they recognize when you have a heartbreak? Can they foster a bond that is unbreakable? Do people who “love” their phones/devices actually “love” them?  If so, can the device love back?

Need for Stimulation: How often does your phone, social network, or technology product demand your attention?  Does the business model depend on constant screen time and interaction? Could the company exist if the user base were only occasional users?  Does the purchase end the transaction, or is there a constant need for further engagement by users to allow the company to flourish?

Callousness/Lack of Empathy: Do online communities have any empathy?  Do the providers of the technology actively help protect the user base from harm (without excessive outside demands)?

Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature: Has the technology platform ever encouraged you to reach impulsively for your phone?  Phantom vibrations and alerts?

Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency: Do young kids and teens misuse the technology and platforms? Do they throw tantrums when cut off from their digital devices?  Are there behavioral problems due their need to be plugged in?

Irresponsibility/Unreliability: Crashes. Network outages. Comcast. Enough said.

Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity: Tinder.

Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle: Has your screen time limited your real-life interactions and social time? Does your device, screen, or app take the place of offline activities. Have you ever found yourself scrolling, clicking, browsing with no real goal in mind?

Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility: Hacking.

Summary of Thoughts:

Our technology platforms: social networks, phones, emails, apps, etc. all demand our attention. Fear of missing out has become a real thing for many in the latest generation.  Their devices are they key to their social networks and interaction with other people. Having access to a digital gateway can make you feel good at some moments in time and horrible at other points. They cost us time and money, offering nothing more than a superficial relationship with the outside world. We retreat to our devices in public spaces, even when activities are happening around us. We rely on our social networks to stay “connected” with friends and family, but often times avoid true contact with them outside of our technology universe. Phones have become more and more addicting, demanding our attention, distracting us from reality, and keeping us from our family obligations. Do our phones have an anti-social personality disorder?

How do you feel about the use of technology in a human world? Does it make us act more or less human?



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