Mostly I love the digital revolution. I have tools at my fingertips that make life easier, give me instant access to almost infinite data, and keep me close to loved ones. But there are many downsides.
Impaired driving is an obvious one, as people negotiate turns in traffic with their hand pressed to an ear, eyes focused on infinity. And we’ve been hearing lately about “impaired doctoring,” as physicians check smartphones in the middle of patient encounters.
As a psychiatrist who has conducted psychotherapy for over 40 years, I also think about how people make crucial life decisions and how that process is impacted by electronics now. A good decision (Shall I move? Leave a relationship? Change jobs? Change careers?) requires acquisition of knowledge (due diligence, seeking opinions). And then the person needs to look within, to reflect, to mull the next step. This demands nondistracted quiet: a walk in the woods or a long bath, for example. Many young people in particular seem to spend all their waking moments multi-tasking, with constant stimulation via eyes and ears. Some experts think constant online access is “addicting,” with withdrawal anxiety when someone is forced to turn everything off. Finding time for quiet reflection may demand discipline, but I believe it’s worth the price.
-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry