A sinister disease is quietly, with shockingly little media attention, ravaging humanity. Among the affected, its progression may be either slow or rapid, but it is generally inexorable. The consequences are dire. Victims retreat into themselves, eventually blocking all personal contact with others. They then build high, impenetrable walls between themselves and reality.
Unlike other ailments, which often inflict more pain and hardship on the poor than the rich, this one is limited primarily to the affluent, a consequence of some of their material pursuits.
The disease is treatable, although likely not curable. Unfortunately, because this scourge overtakes its victims so stealthily and insidiously, many of them are not aware until it is too late that they have become infected. Even when its symptoms are obvious to all around them, its sufferers often will not admit they have a problem.
I am, of course, talking about technology addiction. As a public service, here are some of the warning signs indicating that you may be hopelessly addicted to your technologies:
- After a long, leisurely session of browsing the Web on your smart phone, you come across a news item about legislation that the government is trying to pass. If the bill is enacted, it will be illegal for drivers to use handheld cell phones in a moving vehicle. Furious, you dash off a long, angry note to your local politician protesting her support of the bill. Unfortunately, you aren't able to complete your brilliant missive because your thumb-typing is cut short when you accidentally ram your car, at highway speeds, into a bridge abutment.
- You think the likelihood of avian flu mutating into something that is more easily communicable among humans is not as serious a threat as the media and some medical researchers are making it out to be because most people have already installed anti-virus software.
- Your dog dies because you misunderstood The Humane Society's stern admonitions against closing your windows when leaving your pet in your car. The upside is that, not having turned off your computer or closed any of the application windows running in Windows, you don't have to wait for software to load when you get back to your computer.
- You believe that computer dating services are a wonderful idea until you find out that it isn't actually a computer that you will be taking out to dinner and a movie.
- You are convinced that millions of Web surfers really will enthusiastically devour every word of the verbal diarrhea that you spew in your personal blog.
- You think that computer memory upgrade chips make the perfect gift for all occasions--weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine's Day, whatever.
- Engaging in a conversation without a cell phone in your hand invariably triggers an immediate, severe anxiety attack.
- You can't, for the life of you, imagine any possible purpose for a ballpoint pen other than as an emergency stylus that you can use when you lose the one that came with your PDA or smart phone. After all, you ask, why else would they go to the trouble of providing a mechanism that lets you retract the pen's decorative ball? That's so it won't damage your PDA's screen, isn't it?
- Your idea of a really great film is one in which the lead character uses the same make and model of laptop and cell phone as you. Character development, plot, acting, soundtrack, cinematography, and editing are secondary, at best. The only credits that are of any interest to you are the ones for special effects.
- You refuse to book a vacation until you first call up the luxurious resort hotel to ensure that its rooms come with a desk where you can work at your laptop computer, a high-speed Internet connection, and at least 25 electrical outlets so you can recharge all of your gear simultaneously. A bed is not one of your requirements.
- You won't travel to any country that has different electrical standards than the ones used in your home because you'd need an extra suitcase to carry all of the necessary adapters. You feel it's not worth the bother.
- You think that a "leisurely drive" is a new kind of data storage device.
- You labor tirelessly, sacrificing all of your personal time for months on end, to collect signatures on a petition demanding a constitutional amendment that will protect your inalienable right to have uninterrupted access to government-provided WiFi hotspots while visiting national wilderness areas.
- You take a six-month, unpaid leave from work so you can develop an online database and the supporting programming needed solely to keep track of all your personal computers.
- You spend hours hunting for the On switch on a new paperback novel you were given as a gift and, not finding one, eventually decide that the novel is defective and throw it away.
- After years of progressive, associative synaptic programming, your brain is no longer capable of remembering the correct sequence of signals to send to your muscles in order to initiate and continue walking unless it is prompted by an iPod pumping music into your ears.
- Your spouse complains that, as a result of your spending so much time at your computer, you never spend any quality time together as a couple. He or she insists that the two of you get help from a marriage counselor. You agree, but only if the counselor is willing to conduct the sessions over the Web and accept payment online through PayPal.
- Your boss tells you that she's giving you the boot. You think she means that she's going to switch your computer on for you.
- When it comes down to a choice between paying your cell phone and Internet access bills or buying groceries, you sacrifice food.
- You can remember all of your myriad logon IDs and passwords, but not your children's names or even their existence. (I hope I'm not suffering from this, but how can I be sure? I think I don't have any children.)
- Despite the fact that they get great grades and spend at least a few hours every night studying and doing their homework, you worry that your gregarious, soccer-playing kids are spending too much time outdoors with their friends and not enough time alone in front of their computers and video game machines.
- You look forward to retirement because then you'll be able to spend less time working at your computer and more time surfing the Web.
- Your last will and testament specifies who is to receive your computers and other electronic gizmos upon your demise, but you inadvertently forget to include instructions about your house, furniture, jewelry, and financial assets.
If you value your health and sanity, be ever vigilant for the presence of these warning signs. If you recognize one in yourself, take immediate action. Turn off your computer. Hand your cell phone, pager, and messaging device to a trusted friend with the request that they not give them back to you for at least two hours, no matter how hard you beg, not even if you resort to violence. Then go for a walk in a park. Try to find one that doesn't have a WiFi hotspot because you wouldn't want to accidentally run into any codependent enablers.