There is no doubt that most of us have become hooked on our electronic devices and that some people are gravely harmed by what develops into an unhealthy and uncontrollable attachment to them. The question is how best to understand, define, and deal with this. What does the term “addiction” mean and when is it a useful way of describing our passions and needs? We don’t consider ourselves addicted to our cars, TV’s, refrigerators, or air conditioners. Is attachment to the Internet fundamentally different?"
The whole concept of behavioral addictions is highly controversial and has never heretofore been given any official status. There is a good reason for this. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the relatively few people who are really enslaved by shopping, sex, work, golf (or the Internet) from the huge army of those who are attached to these as pleasurable recreation. It should not be counted as a mental disorder and be called an “addiction” just because you really love an activity, get a lot of pleasure from it, and spend a lot of time doing it. To be considered “addicted,” you should be compulsively stuck doing something that is no longer fun, feels out of control, serves no useful purpose, and is certainly not worth the pain, costs, and harms. The unfavorable cost/benefit ratio should be pretty lopsided before mental disorder is considered.
We all do dumb things that offer short-term pleasures but cause bad long term consequences. It is not “addiction” whenever someone gets into trouble because of over-spending, golfing too much, or having repeated sexual indiscretions. That’s our human nature—derived from many millions of years of evolutionary experience where life was short, opportunities for pleasure rare, and the long term didn’t count for nearly as much as it does now. There is a risky slippery slope if we medicalize our pleasure seeking, irresponsible selves.
In 1970, Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to NASA scientist Dr. Stuhlinger about his research into a piloted mission to Mars asking him how he could suggest to spend money on such a project when there are children starving on Earth. Stuhlinger wrote back to her a thoughtful reply that’s worth reading, especially today.
Comforting news for anyone over the age of 35, scientists have worked out that modern pop music really is louder and does all sound the same.
Imagine you decide to take a casual trip to Mexico, walking across the border for a day of shopping or even cheap dental care that’s not available in the United States. Upon your return, an officer from Customs and Border Protection directs you to a kiosk that looks like an ATM.
You’re instructed to press start and answer any question the machine asks. A cartoon-looking face, or avatar, appears onscreen and begins making queries in a polite, automated voice.
Are you carrying anything destructive in your bag? Has anyone given you contraband to bring into the United States? What should happen to someone who does smuggle contraband?
This Max Headroom interrogation sounds far-fetched, but just such an experiment is occurring on the border in Nogales, Ariz., using a variation of technology the Department of Homeland Security has been pursuing for years.
The avatar records the answers and forwards them to a tablet handled by one of the blue-uniformed officers. They see not just what you said but how you said it, along with a green, yellow or red “risk color,” based on your responses. Maybe you spoke faster, louder and with a higher pitch than normal for most people. Maybe you hesitated when you answered.
It’s sort of like a lie-detector test – except the government dislikes calling it that.
“We instruct the officers that nowhere is deception ever indicated,” says Aaron Elkins, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona involved with the project. “But it gives them some of that feedback, things they would have observed if they had done the interview themselves.”
For now, the kiosk is being tested with applicants seeking “trusted traveler” status; these are people who agree to a background check in exchange for avoiding long daily waits at the border.
But the future could hold something different: a cluster of high-tech monitoring devices, such as special infrared cameras and microphones, attached to the ATM-like machines. As you answer the avatar’s questions, the devices assess an array of physiological reactions, including body temperature, facial expressions, the tempo and frequency of your voice, breathing patterns and more.
The technology is part of a field of research known as “credibility assessment” that seeks to capture physiological cues we give off emotionally and cognitively: the facial temperature of someone carrying false papers, the anxious posturing of a drug courier, the racing heart of a would-be terrorist.
Recently we heard about this test that could determine if someone was a psychopath. So, naturally, our staff decided to take it.
The Psychopathy Checklist Revised is a psychodiagnostic tool designed by psychologist Robert Hare to assess psychopathy. The PCL-R asks questions designed to see if a person have the personality traits that scientists had consistently found in psychopaths. Here’s Hare’s list of traits of psychopaths:
- Glib and superficial charm;
- Grandiose self-worth;
- Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom;
- Pathological lying;
- Conning and manipulativeness;
- Lack of remorse or guilt;
- Shallow affect;
- Callousness and lack of empathy;
- Parasitic lifestyle;
- Poor behavioral controls;
- Promiscuous sexual behavior;
- Early behavior problems;
- Lack of realistic, long-term goals;
- Failure to accept responsibility for own actions;
- Many short-term marital relationships;
- Juvenile delinquency;
- Revocation of condition release;
- Criminal versatility.