Are We a Nation of Tech Addicts?


By Samuel Greengard

Every day, the evidence piles up that we're becoming a nation of tech addicts. We're unable to pull ourselves away from Facebook, we text during meals, and we can't stop checking our mobile devices for messages at all hours of the day and night.

Watch your child's soccer or basketball game, and you'll witness parents feverishly flipping and scrolling through messages. I've seen hapless moms and dads miss their son kicking a goal or their daughter scoring a basket because they're fidgeting with their phone at 2 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. Unless you're President Obama or Adele, I'm not sure what mission-critical activity occurs at that time.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, calls this "iDisorder." (He recently wrote a book with the same name.) Remarkably, Rosen found that virtually every person with a mobile phone has, at some point, patted his pocket because he thought he felt the phone vibrate. But here's the catch: There wasn't a call, text or voice mail.

Turns out that there's a name for this: phantom vibration syndrome. We've all seen it: People, usually men, obsessively checking for messages--sometimes every minute or two. Can you say, a-n-x-i-e-t-y?

But it doesn't stop there. We all know people who live on Facebook or Twitter and seemingly spend hours a day sharing inane status lines and posting cute animal pictures. One psychologist has gone so far as to describe this as FAD: Facebook Addiction Disorder. Meanwhile, a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study reported that American kids spend about 7.5 hours a day using electronic devices.

Technology isn't the villain, but it is the enabler. Irritable, aggressive and antisocial behaviors are clearly on the rise. At the same time, our ability to listen and concentrate is waning. How many times have you found yourself telling someone something while they're peering down at their phone, only to be greeted by a "huh?" My teenage kids have perfected this.

At some point, we all need to shut down and switch off. Take a hike, have face-to-face conversations and reset your brain. Here's a suggestion: try to do all things well--whether it's watching your child's sports event or talking with friends--rather than doing everything poorly. We definitely don't need more dysfunctionality in an already dysfunctional world.