“We’ve been speaking in the bibliography of distraction and focus–And the sorrows of the digital age…”

Rosen, Larry D. iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012 (256pp.$25)

No matter where we go—to a restaurant, a movie, a public restroom, and yes, even a funeral, people are seen clutching and using a slim device that allows them to do just about anything they can do from an Internet-enabled computer at home. Who hasn’t attended a so-called business meeting during which every person is staring at a Mac Book Pro and talking on a cell phone simultaneously (while someone else plays a Power-Point).  Called a “wireless mobile device” (WMD—how ironic is that?), this object has for many become an obsession, something they check endlessly regardless of where they are or who they are with.

These obsessed zombies think nothing of fondling their device (like a rosary or Arabic worry beads) or sending a text while “conversing” with another person. Not only have the hitherto common rules of etiquette and privacy gone out the window, but WMDs have become a danger to individual psychical and emotional health. Even more than that, these devices threaten the safety of roads, intrude into the focus of study, destroy meetings at work and dominate home life.

Rosen, a noted research psychologist and author of “Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way they Learn” brings together a wealth of new research (some of which he’s done himself with colleagues) to examine the over-reliance on gadgets and websites that can produce or mimic common psychological maladies like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, narcissistic personality disorder, body dysmorphism, voyeurism and addiction.

Who can’t be impressed by the objective similarity of Facebook rants and constant message checking (and the concomitant feelings of anxiety) that go with perpetual enslavement to WMDs? In sa study Rosen conducted of more than 750 WMD-obsessed individuals in 2011, he found clear links between the screen technology and a person’s poor emotional health.   For example, cognitive psychologists have derived theoretical explanations for the link between media and depression, a link somehow related (though the cause is in dispute) to continual “relationships” with disembodied people who exist only behind a screen.  And the similarity of ADHD symptoms to those of a person who tries to “multi-task” while clutching a mini-screen is obvious—careless mistakes in homework, work and driving, trouble with attention, failing to follow instructions, being easily distracted, forgetting hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

Studies on focused attention show that even experienced computer users are distracted while trying to read online or in hypertext documents. Other detriments: poor sleep patterns, information overload, lack of depth in materials read, and overuse of caffeine. Result: WMDS are changing the neuron circuits in our brains and making us crazy.

This useful book compares screen-technology overuse with classic symptoms of mental illness and gives practical tips on how to reduce one’s reliance, addiction or obsession. It also makes practical suggestions on improving sleep, physical fitness, mindfulness and quality of life, most of which have to do with re-connecting to nature and other people. But really, one doesn’t have to be a Ph.D. to know that talking on a cellphone during a funeral (or while in a public restroom) is sick.

Our job is clear—revere the natural world and clear our heads, walk outside a lot, turn off all the screens around you, read a book, meditate, have dinner with friends, drive quietly with the windows down, meditate like a Zen monk, make love frequently and groom the dog. Go hear a string quartet. Get out of town and study the night sky. Take the iPod out of your ears and listen to the wind in the trees. Look people in the eye when they’re talking to you.