Walking along the cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean yesterday, I saw a pair of teens too busy texting to bother with the spectacular view. I was reminded of a scene toward the end of A Visit From the Goon Squad in which a young woman tells the man she’s sitting across from that she’s tired of talking. “Can I just T [text] you?” she asks, and they complete the conversation on their mobile devices. This scene supposedly takes place in the future. I guess it arrived while we were updating our profiles.
Most of us know all about the time-sucking nature of Internet and mobile activity. We may even tacitly acknowledge the toll it can take on our relationships. But recent research suggests it may pose a threat to our sanity as well. In his “iCrazy” cover story for Newsweek (July 16), Tony Dokoupil references research at Tel Aviv University documenting what are believed to be the first cases of “Internet-related psychosis.” Authors of the study concluded: “The spiraling use of the Internet and its potential involvement in psychopathology are new consequences of our times.”
Short of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) like the one that shuts everything down in J. J. Abrams’ new series “Revolution,” the Internet and our mobile devices are here to stay. So how do we safeguard our sanity? I’m familiar with suggestions for controlling online and mobile activity; I even practice a few of them. But the group most at risk—adolescents—is the same group that generally exhibits neither the motivation nor the discipline to just say no to the digital world.
Dokoupil writes that efforts are underway in some parts of the world to protect young people. The Korean government is funding treatment centers and coordinating Web shutdowns. In China, mothers are crusading for safe Web habits. We need to take a page from our Asian neighbors and figure out how to make sure American teens don’t overlook the ocean—and a whole lot more.
My novel, Yard Sale, is available in print and e-book versions from Amazon.