Have you ever been singled out in a lecture and picked on? Or maybe at a comedy club? It’s somehow awkward when everyone is looking at you, and you can’t really defend yourself. That happened to me yesterday in a lecture about how email can transform medical practices. My friend Joe Scherger was talking about the beauty of asynchronous communication, and how much time it saves – when out of the blue, he said that Blackberries defeated the whole purpose of emailing, and that people who used them lead unbalanced lives. He then pointed at me and said, “See my friend Val Jones, there? She uses a Blackberry all the time!”
All eyes fixed on me with a sort of half pity, half “tisk, tisk” expression.
“She answers all her emails within minutes… She never unplugs.”
I shrugged and smiled sheepishly. Soon the conversation turned to other subjects, and I resisted the urge to pull my Blackberry out of my bag to check my emails.
Today I heard that Intel instituted email-free Fridays as a means to force their engineers to talk to others face-to-face. Apparently, the company was worried that interpersonal skills were being lost, and that people were not developing normal working relationships because of the artificial distance created by email-only communication.
“Well, at least I’m not alone,” I thought as I read the news story. “This is a serious problem across the country.”
There has been recent debate in the psychiatric community about whether or not video games could be considered an addiction (just as drugs and alcohol can be). Some have proposed that it be added to the DSM-V due out in 2012, others have said that compulsive video game playing is a sign of other underlying pathology (such as depression or social anxiety) but not a true addiction.
But the bottom line is that overuse of the Internet can disrupt a person’s time available for meaningful interpersonal relationships, be they with a spouse, a parent, a relative, or a friend. When your husband is sitting in the same room with you and has to get your attention by IM-ing or emailing you, you know there’s a problem.
And there doesn’t seem to be much of a break in sight – with Facebook, MySpace, Linked-In, YouTube, Pownce, Twitter, GTalk, blogs, podcasts, discussion boards, chat rooms, forums, etc. available as 24-7 forms of entertainment and communication, and companies like Intel trying to forbid this kind of stuff at least 1 day per week, Blackberries are the least of our worries. I wonder if these programs are like junk food for the brain? Will we soon suffer from cerebral obesity?
I’m afraid that I recognize that there is a problem, but I’m not sure what the solution is. “Just say no” to email doesn’t work for me… I like the fast-paced interactivity and connection I get from these activities. Maybe there’s a positive feedback loop at work, though – we spend a lot of time involved in online activities and become more isolated and lonely in our personal lives. In the end we become more and more engaged with the Internet to fill the emotional gap that we’re actually creating by overusing it.
I’ll ask my husband what he thinks… perhaps I’ll send him an email about it tonight.
What do you think?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.