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Fighting Infobesity


An American friend was telling me he was at a dinner having a fascinating conversation with some very influential people. But one of the dinner guests a senator, had his head down the whole time.  “I thought he was falling asleep.  But, lo and behold, after dinner he discovered he had actually been reading his Blackberry!”

I have another friend who all his wife wanted on Valentine’s day was a no iPhone dinner with her husband!

Susan Maushart, author of the new book, ‘The Winter of Our Disconnect’, describes this kind of addiction to media with the marvellous term "infobesity."

Just as some people have a growing reputation-if you'll pardon the pun-for physical obesity, we also have an expanding commitment to staying "connected" through social media such as Facebook and devices such as smart phones.

And just as too much of a good thing-such as food- can be unhealthy for us, so also can too much social and electronic networking. And I mean that literally!

In January some security cameras in Reading, Pennsylvania, recorded a shopper who was so busy texting as she was walking along in a mall that she didn't see a fountain in front of her-and fell right into the pool.

The video went viral, and millions had a laugh at the poor woman's expense. 

Far more serious is thousands of New Zealanders send text messages or use their mobile phones while driving. No wonder "distracted driving" fatalities are on the rise. 

In her new book, ‘Alone Together’, MIT professor Sherry Turkle writes that technology-despite its many obvious benefits-is also threatening to increase our isolation and make us less human. Experts say e-mail, online games, social networking, and blogs are addicting in part because they are portable, provide instant gratification, and allow us an easy escape from relationships that may be difficult and require a lot more work.

Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a marriage and family therapist in New York, suggests that "Technology should be on the list of the top reasons why people divorce, along with money, sex and parenting."

Of course, technology can be a blessing. Many people rightly point out that Facebook, rather than forcing them into isolation, has helped them find old friends and neighbours.

So how do we know whether as a family we are suffering from infobesity? Why not try a tech-fast, maybe for a day. Don't use your iPhone, don't sign in to Facebook, whatever your tech weakness is, just withdraw for a while, and see what happens.

If that seems too radical or impossible to attempt, then I'm afraid you probably do have an advanced case of infobesity. And, please, watch out for those mall fountains.