Technology Addiction Will Lead to Our Evolution—or Enslavement

Our minds, bodies, and senses have evolved to live in one world at a time, but we're all trying to live in two--a physical world and a virtual one.

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In a post last month, I cited mounting evidence that electronic devices are hijacking the pleasure-creating circuits in our brains, giving rise to compulsive behavior in many users. This has created a growing number of people who become prisoners to virtual worlds while they engage in dangerous activities in the physical world. The results are disturbing.

For the past 150,000 generations, evolution has designed our minds, brains, and body to live in only one world at a time. When we attempt to live in two simultaneously -- the physical and the virtual -- the consequences can be very serious.

It can be great to pop in the ear buds, turn on the music, and answer emails or study for an exam. But there are times when we should eschew that duality/simultaneous experience -- even avoid it at all costs.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that in the past year more than 3,000 people lost their lives in accidents related to distracted driving. As a point of reference, in 2009 there were 10,839 fatalities attributed to driving while intoxicated. Texting was cited as the probable cause in the 2010 Gray Summit, Missouri, school bus accident that killed two and injured 37. Texting was also the probable cause of the Metrolink train crash that killed 25 and injured another 135. And hospitals are having trouble controlling the inappropriate use of electronic devices in operating rooms. In one case, a neurosurgeon who made ten phone calls during an operation caused partial paralysis in a patient.

For the past 150,000 generations, evolution has designed our minds, brains, and body to live in only one world at a time.

As with any addiction, there are no simple solutions to Internet Compulsion Disorder, or ICD.  Electronic devices certainly have their place in "dangerous" physical environments. For example, the FAA recently approved the cockpit use of iPads for American Airlines pilots to serve as electronic flight bags, replacing nearly 40 pounds of operating manuals, checklists, navigation charts, etc. (Angry Birds, of course, comes along for the ride.) On the other hand, the National Transportation Safety Board justifiably believes that the use of all portable electronic devices while operating automobiles should be banned.

In the health care environment, there are clearly times when having iPads and computers in operating rooms can save lives by providing access to important medical records and controlling critical processes, and other times when ICD can threaten those same lives.

Banning the use of these devices in life-threatening situations would be logical. And enforcing the ban with, say, the equivalent of drunk driving checkpoints on New Year's Eve would not be technologically difficult.

Presented by

Bill Davidow is an adviser to Mohr Davidow Ventures and the author of Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet.

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