I was both fascinated and depressed by an article in this weeks’ Newsweek about the increasing mental and physical problems imposed upon us by our use of the internet. According to the author Tony Dokoupil, “the current incarnation of the Internet-portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive-may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.” This statement might feel a little over the top to you, since most of us have integrated our computers, cell phones and other tech gadgets into our lives without concern to how they might be effecting our minds, bodies and spirits. Yes, they have given us access to a multitude of ways to connect to family, friends and the world. However there is a dark side and the first good peer-reviewed research is emerging, and it is showing a much gloomier picture. You might see it in the faces of those around you who may be incessantly checking their iPhone to see if they have any messages. Have you noticed how many individuals walk around holding their phone as if it was their lifeline. And when someone can’t find their phone they behave as if there has been a death in the family. I’ve been with people who are so attached that having a conversation with them is impossible because they have lost their ability to focus on looking at someone whose actually present. They appear to be almost Zombie-esque until they hear the ring or the buzz of their phone, and then they come alive. I was astounded by the fact that the average teen processes 3,700 texts a month, and the average person, regardless of age sends or receives 400 texts a month. What disturbs me the most is that it is indeed changing how the brain is wired and not necessarily for the good. The internet is seductive as is all social media. The brain actually emits dopamine which is a feel good chemical. But like any drug it can be our undoing. Isn’t it time we started to take notice of the downsides. Our real need as human beings is to connect to one another in settings where we are able to see each other face to face. To see emotions and feel them so they can guide us in how to relate appropriately. You might want to take notice of your internet habits and your families. It just might be time to log off the net and log into life.
Yesterday my partner and I went to a nearby restaurant for a leisurely lunch. Directly across from us were two men waiting to be served. The waitress brought their food but was clearly having difficulty trying to put it in front of one of her customers since he was totally consumed with his cell phone. He finally put it aside long enough to take a couple of bites of food. However, after a few minutes he returned to what appeared to be an obsessive need to make sure he had not gotten any new messages. Now you might be thinking “why am I not engaged in eating my own food and paying attention to my mate, instead of preoccupied with another diner with a cell phone addiction”? Well, more than likely it’s because I am still at the place where it is hard for me to understand how we arrived at the place where some people believe it is alright to ignore who you’re with in deference to being with someone whose somewhere else. I am still in awe of how and when it became acceptable to ignore the people we’re with so that we can scroll, and troll the tech highway for voicemail or texts. Perhaps he was an emergency room physician or a CIA operative waiting for news on a possible plot to take over the restaurant. But then there must be thousands of individuals with similar job descriptions because the behavior I witnessed is rampant. I felt badly for his companion who kept trying to engage in conversation but could not seem to get through his friends need to be connected to his Smartphone, which in this case made him appear stupid. He finally gave up and simply focused on his food which I’m sure was more exciting than his lunch mate. I really think that eventually people will be making reservations at restaurants for themselves and their cell phones. Maybe they’ll be a small high chair designed just for the phone so that it doesn’t get any food on it, or perhaps they’ll be booths that are soundproofed so that you can talk as loudly as you want and chew your food at the same time. There are so many possibilities! Who knows perhaps we’re in the middle of the “Twilight Zone” and cell phones will reproduce themselves and kill us off. But then, who would be left to say “Can you hear me?”. Now I’d miss that, wouldn’t you?