One of the greatest addictions that’s ever struck a nation has engulfed the United States, and it’s making great inroads elsewhere in the world. It’s an addiction so powerful that it’s caused mothers to ignore and or neglect infants and small children, as well as fathers, if to a lesser degree, resulting in thousands of deaths, if not more. It costs businesses billions of dollars annually in lost work and pyramiding inefficiencies. It’s responsible for thousands of pedestrian and automobile accidents, and thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries.
What is the cause of this addiction? The common everyday cellphone. In its addictive powers, it’s very similar to alcohol. Just as many people can do without alcohol or limit themselves to a few drinks, so can many cellphone users. But a significant proportion of American cellphone users can’t. They’re on the cellphone every moment that they can manage, either talking or texting.
You don’t think it’s an addiction? Just look at the faces of those are addicts. There are two kinds. One kind gets a rush when the cellphone rings or indicates a text. You can see their faces light up in pleasure, and they can’t wait. The other kind is the hard-core addict. Their faces don’t light up in pleasure when their cell rings because it so seldom rings or buzzes or tweets or barks – because they’re never off it. The worst cases clutch their electronic heroin in a death-grip, never letting go of it. They text all the time, in meetings, in concerts, in the car, on the bus, on the sidewalk or in hallways, so wrapped up in their electronic world that the real world around them ceases to exist, except as an inconvenience through which they must negotiate in order to experience their electronic communications fix. They’re not all that far from inhabiting the virtual world postulated by James Gunn in The Hedonist – first published back in 1955.
Not only does this addiction cause deaths, but it’s also eroding the structure of human society, or at the very least, changing it drastically as electronic connections take precedence over physical and familial connections. College students no longer talk to classmates they see in classes or on campus. They don’t even see them because they’re so wrapped up in their cellphones. Last year, my wife directed the western U.S. premiere of an opera by Michael Chang [Speed Dating Tonight] which featured a scene in which a dating couple never talk to each other, but communicate by texting even when they’re sitting across the table from each other. The older members of the audience were amused and appalled. The younger members were amused, but scarcely surprised. But when electronic addiction makes it into an opera, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s anything but rare.
And yet, for all of the evidence and all of the addictive behaviors produced by the cellphone, very few people seem to recognize or want to acknowledge that cellphones do create addictive behavior in a significant percentage of users. And that’s denial on a societal scale.