Tuesday, November 24, 2015         


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Technology's usefulness comes with hidden risks

By Ira Zunin


My 13-year-old son goes to the living room, jumps on his Sony PlayStation and enjoys an interactive battle of "Modern Warfare" simultaneously with cousins both in Ireland and Southern California, and classmates here on Oahu. He tells me that there is no need to schedule these global competitions because his cousins and classmates play so long and often that despite differing time zones, they are almost always there when he logs in. He remarks, "Dad, this is nuts."

My brother-in-law, father of the California cousins, maintains that "25 is the new 18."

"When I was growing up," he says, "you had to make an effort to get together with your friends. Now you can sit on the couch and use a tech device to relate."

But what do we mean by "relate"? It seems pretty clear that while such contact may be convenient, the quality of natural, human relationship suffers. Growing up surrounded by information technology (IT), social development takes longer, often lacks depth, and the outcome might not be healthy.

The breadth and scope of the Information Age is literally mind-boggling. It is certainly reflected in the markets. One of my patients, a fund manager at Fidelity, remarked, grinning from ear to ear, "I made a killing last year. How about Apple? That brand has a real sheen!"

Apple is just one example of maturing tech stocks with increased cash flows, liquid assets and reduced capital needs. According to Bloomberg, IT companies "eclipsed financials in total dividend payouts for the first time in the third quarter."

S&P data indicate that prior to the recession, IT comprised 5.7 percent of dividend payments with financials covering 30 percent. Now the financials have cut back to 8.9 percent of the total, and IT has jumped to 9.2 percent.

The expansion of IT is not only mind-boggling, it is also mind-altering. For years I have been waiting for the DSM V, the new edition of the standard guide that defines mental health disorders. It dictates how psychiatrists, psychologists and primary care providers must code their diagnoses in order to get paid by insurers.

Surely, I thought, it will address maladies of tech run amok: info-obsessive disorder, major-techno-depression, hacking-conduct disorder, tech-arrested social development, tech-news addiction, Googlemania, eBay habituation syndrome, tween-tweet social withdrawal, cyber-aggressive personality disorder, Craigslist exhibitionism, Facebook multiple personality disorder, tech-dependent personality disorder, attention deficit tech activity disorder, Poly Tech abuse disorder, tech-related sleep disorder.

Sadly, instead mental health has been globalized by big pharma. Pharmaceutical companies have lobbied for modifications to DSM V that justify prescriptions for new brand drugs based precisely upon indications approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Instead of tailoring medications to diagnoses, diagnoses are being tailored to medications for fiscal reasons. What a great way to expand sales!

Still, the Information Age has borne tremendous fruit. It has enhanced productivity, but it has changed more than the way we work. It has transformed the way we meet and relate to our friends and loved ones. It has changed how we socialize, the way we think and the way in which our brain processes information. Sure, we can multitask better, but our attention span is shorter. We forget to breathe and don't even notice the aina beneath our feet or the brilliant night sky.

Shortly after beginning a new job pouring concrete, while still in my 20s, I turned up to work with a new set of trowels. My boss looked at me and said, "Tools don't make the man but they sure as heck help."

IT helps us in many ways, but these devices that fill our lives are just tools, however wonderful. Put these fine tools to good use, but resist the urge to be consumed. Tonight, make an effort, instead, to watch the sunset or look into the eyes of someone you care about and have real conversation.

Ira Zunin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is medical director of Manakai o Malama Integrative Healthcare Group and Rehabilitation Center and CEO of Global Advisory Services Inc. Please submit questions to info@manakaiomalama.com.

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