iDisorder, by Dr. Larry Rosen, PhD., (Hardcover, 2012). With Dr. Nancy
A. Cheever, PhD and Dr. L. Mark Carrier, PhD.|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This is the best book I've read in a while. When I say "best," I mean in
terms of its execution rather than by some subjective measure such as whether I
"liked" it or how I feel about the subject. Rosen takes on an increasingly
important subject and clearly communicates the issues involved. He puts those
issues into a context that allows the reader to make sense of them and see the
implications. Rosen also provides some guidance for readers in stepping back
from the precipice. This last part was an unexpected bonus; I had expected
merely an analysis of the problem.
Many authors tackle subjects that are important, timely, interesting, or some
combination thereof. Typically, the work doesn't deliver on the promise of its
title, its subtitle, the potential of the subject, or some combination thereof.
And typically, the work needs copy-editing. Rosen's work didn't suffer from
So that's my commentary on the quality of the work. What about its substance?
What is Rosen talking about, and why should you care?
First, it may help frame the discussion with a comment on my own phone usage.
A few years back, I made the decision to stop carrying a cell phone with me. It
dawned on me that if I'm out doing something (especially driving a car), then
answering the phone simply diminishes what I'm doing. I also made the decision
not to answer the phone just because it rings.
It simply is not true that I am of so little value and my activities have so
little meaning that I should go through the whole stop/restart cycle just
because someone else decides to use a synchronous communication method without
seeking permission in advance. My e-mail system isn't set up to let me know when
there's new e-mail, either. I find that out when I decide to check e-mail. And
that is only when I'm between tasks. Texting? I do not do it. Period.
This is a bit of insight into my whole approach to media. I stopped watching
television in 1990. I don't do "news," which is IMO mind pollution (look at the
content of what passes for news). I don't do Facebook or other (anti)social
media. The reason is mainly because life is too short to consume it with
activities that essentially make me a zombie.
Now with this framework established, let's look at why Rosen's work is
important. Very few people take my approach to media. And that's OK; most people
manage media and don't need to shut it off. But "most" is increasingly changing
to "few" and it will soon be normal to let media control you instead of the
other way around. For millions of people already, that's the situation. It means
giving up what makes you human. And that's a terrible loss.
It's not the technology that's the problem. It's how people increasingly
misallocate time to using it that's the problem. The extent of the misallocation
crosses the threshold into presenting the symptoms of mental disorders as
defined by the mental health standards. The main standard Rosen refers to is the
merican Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM).
As this misallocation spreads, so does the disorder problem. And it's
becoming the new normal. That is the reason you should care about this book. You
may not be able to save others (but then again, you may save those closest to
you), but you can save yourself by understanding the causes and adjusting for
So, what is Rosen talking about? Let's go back about a decade, when the term
"Crackberry" first came into vogue. That term came about because of the way
Blackberry users were so addicted to their devices. This addiction, like an
addiction to crack, also had severe implications for the mental acuity of the
addicted. With the advent of smart phone texting, this same set of problems
began to appear in users of other devices. Desktop users are not immune, either.
Computer usage behaviors classified as obsessive, compulsive, or addictive were
once limited mainly to gamers. The rest of us used computers to accomplish
tasks. But along came social media and other interactive uses that can easily
feed an addiction.
Today, the iDisorder problem is no longer limited to a few groups such as
Crackberry users and gamers. It's gone mainstream and is especially pernicious
among youth. Those are tomorrow's leaders, thinkers (maybe), and doers (maybe).
The majority of them are exhibit symptoms of mental illness (more about that in
a moment), and many have full-blown conditions that wreak havoc in their lives.
The addiction to digital produces certain behaviors. Rosen compares the
behaviors to those described in the DSM for particular disorders. The first
disorder he looks at is narcissism. This disorder gets disproportionate
coverage, to the extent that his coverage initially gives the impression that
this is the only disorder related to the media addiction. It should be noted
that there's a big difference between the layman's use of "narcissist" and the
clinical usage. It doesn't mean the person is merely vain; there's far more
going on in the clinical view that Rosen uses.
As he goes through his discussion of how the symptoms are presented and what
this means, he also offers help in determining if you exhibit these symptoms.
For example, he provides the neurotic personality inventory (NPI) for that
purpose. Of course, one problem with self-diagnosing these conditions is denial
typically contributes to their emergence. So a self-test that comes out negative
(for the condition) isn't conclusive. I would suggest asking a friend to grade
you, on the condition that you won't argue with the results.
While Rosen and his contributors are mostly objective, they do insert an
opinion I disagree with. Where the book covers the problem of people who obsess
over their physical condition, Rosen seems to indicate that people should
consider this unimportant. That's taking things to the other extreme. Making
your physical fitness a priority that receives ongoing attention (every meal can
move you forward or backwards) is not a sign of a disorder. It's a sign of
As I write this, there's a big hooplah over the Supreme Court's decision on
Obamacare (which has a medical services payment focus). An actual health care
plan would focus on health care, something very different from medical care. The
vast majority of the illnesses the medical system treats would have been
prevented with actual health care, thus slashing demand dramatically. People
make poor choices; look at the cereal aisle in the grocery store for evidence of
that (most of what's sold contains HFC and other toxins). In a book that covers
media addiction so well, this point is relatively insignificant. Still, it
seemed worth raising.
iDisorder provides a badly needed analysis of what's going horribly wrong
with our society today. It doesn't present any "government solutions" (typically
an oxymoron) or a grand plan that would instantly solve the problem if we would
just execute it. The truth is there isn't a simple solution. Individuals need to
learn how to manage the way they interact with technology, and they need to be
continually vigilant about it. There will always be people who suffer because
they can't do this.
But long before smart phones came along, we had couch potatoes, newspaper
addicts, television addicts, and music addicts. When I was a teen, a youth
minister asked everyone to go on an "electronic fast." I thought he was nuts.
And this was in the days of the 8-track tape. He was, however, a voice of
sanity. His advice has occurred to me many times over the years and has caused
me to look at my behavior in relation to media. Regardless of the technology
Today, as Rosen points out, the temptations are stronger than they have ever
been. The sounds and colors and other "flames" we moths detect can lure us in
My neighbors have pre-teen daughters who are demanding cell phones and their
own computers in their bedrooms. The answer has always been no. This kind of
parenting is what's needed to break the addiction. Kids may say "Everyone
else...." but the reality is it's not everyone else putting their brains into a
freefall. It's only those kids whose parents are unaware of the damage being
done. The solution is exactly this kind of book being circulated among parents.
It occurred to me that if every school district budgeted for purchase of this
book for each child's parent(s) and the parents had to pass a quiz on it before
the child could move on to the next grade, public education would be far more
effective. The effectiveness would jump because the teachers would no longer be
competing for their students' attention.
What about adults? We spend big bucks getting an education. Why throw that
away with a media addiction? Rosen didn't go into the IQ studies, but there have
been several. I've seen numbers along the lines of a 20 point IQ drop. My
personal experience tells me this is an average; quite often the IQ drops to
zero. Having the mental acuity of a carrot isn't conducive to a successful
career, especially if that condition manifests at a critical time.
As a martial artist and a climber, I value focus. Walk into any martial arts
school, and you'll notice nobody is multitasking during training. Ever wonder
why? Similarly, if you pull out a cell phone while climbing that could literally
be your downfall. Do this while belaying, and you'll have a tough time finding
anyone willing to go climbing with you ever again. It's not that these extreme
sports are the only activities that require a person to be fully present. Any
social activity does, also. As does anything that you want to do well, rather
than do poorly.
Unfortunately, the typical multitasker is in denial about his/her poor
performance (testing has repeatedly shown that multitasking reduces performance
quality). If you've had job problems and can't understand why, it's probably
because you've been trying to do it all instead of asking your boss to choose
what needs to be done so that you can do it well. Have a friend or coworker read
this book, and then have a few frank discussions about it. With your gadgets
turned off, of course.
This book consists of 12 chapters and runs 212 pages. The bibliography/notes
section, in fine print, runs 21 pages. It's worth noting that Rosen and his
contributors drew on primary and secondary sources, all of which appear to be
highly authoritative. What you read here is an expertly researched scholarly
work with comments and insight from an author who is a subject matter expert.
Amazingly enough, this work, which "should" be dense and difficult to read,
is not. It's highly accessible and extremely interesting. Of course, its real
value lies in the fact it could be life-changing for many readers.