A common, recurring theme of the Distraction podcast is host Dr. Ned Hallowell’s belief that “screen-sucking,” our obsession with smartphones and computer screens, is draining the life out of us and making it harder to experience the joys of true relationships and connections. Last month, New York Magazine ran a cover story entitled “I Used to be a Human Being,” in which the author explains how the internet broke him and led him down a path of chronic distraction. Here are some of Dr. Hallowell’s thoughts after reading the article.
Andrew Sullivan’s Sept. 16 New York Magazine article, “I Used to be a Human Being,” blasts a social warning as urgent as the environmental warning of climate change. The latter could cost us our planet; the former our souls.
As a psychiatrist who specializes in attention deficit disorder (and has A.D.D. himself), I’ve seen a dramatic change over the past decade. We’ve ushered in what I call The Age of Distraction, a world in which just about everyone acts and feels as if they have true ADD when, in fact, only a small fraction actually do.
When a new patient comes to see me suspecting he or she might have ADD, the most common differential diagnosis I entertain is between actual ADD and what I call “a severe case of modern life.” Modern life is ADD-o-genic. If you wake up without ADD, you feel as if you’ve come down with a fulminant case of it by the time you go to bed.
What began as a joke, the “CrackBerry” and the like, has mushroomed into anything but a joke. Electronic devices have triggered our newest addiction, as potentially destructive as all addictions can be.
The issue is complicated by the fact that the standard remedy for an addiction–abstinence–does not apply here. For most people, electronic devices are necessary in everyday life. The most apt comparison is to food. No one can abstain from food. Each of us must struggle to learn the skill of moderation around food and now around electronic devices.
Unlike global warming, solving this problem does not depend upon sweeping governmental policies. But it does depend upon sweeping personal policies and policies in families, businesses, and all other organizations.
T.I.O. Turn it off. Learn moderation before you lose the qualities that elevate life beyond mere data-processing, before you lose your soul and your ability to notice what you’ve lost.