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“People who have so much of their personality invested in the Internet can’t really survive as whole individuals without it.”  Mark A. Rayner - The Fridgularity

Good technology is assimilated effortlessly into our daily tasks.  This is why automobile turn signals are always controlled by a lever mounted on the steering column, and never by a touchpad on the center console.   Just as our physical world evolves to a smooth symbiosis of human and device, so does our mental being bond with the offerings of modern technology.  In the latter case, the stakes are higher. 

The way mental disorders become official these days is by getting an entry in the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a product of the American Psychiatric Association.  The manual is a valuable tool for healthcare professionals to standardize diagnoses, collect public health statistics, and produce the codes which are essential for getting money from insurance companies. 

With the possible exception of “Internet Gaming Disorder”, technology currently intersects the DSM through traditional channels.  A slow Internet connection can aggravate anxiety disorder, and introversion (which narrowly escaped the DSM-V) can find plenty of comfort online.  Recently, Margaret Duffy and her colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia have linked depression to Facebook. 

US anti-depressant sales top $10 billion annually, and Facebook (launched with the tech class of ‘04) now has well over a billion regular users - these two facts may or may not be related.  Thanks to the DSM-V, we know that depression can result from situations, thoughts, emotions, physical changes, or specific actions.  Dr. Duffy and team narrowed the list, showing that envy was the bridge between Facebook and the blues. 

If you’ve ever been to a high school reunion, you have a pretty good idea of how Facebook works.  I‘ve opted out of these decennial gatherings of my own high school class, but I have great fun going with my wife to hers.  There have been four of them now, and each one featured more pounds, more wrinkles, and fewer people.  Also noteworthy is a very clear shift in the social vibe.

At the 10 year party, official prizes were given for least-changed, furthest travelled, and most kids.  The unofficial winners were the ones with the most impressive jobs, the best-looking spouses, and the nicest cars.  Thirty years later, we were content to swap stories about grandchildren and express our gratitude that we were still above ground. 

Good Facebook is like the 40 year reunion; it is a pleasant place to keep up on the activities of family and old friends, to post cute pet-pics, and to bask in gratitude for a good life.  Bad Facebook, on the other hand, is like a recurring 10-year reunion, a clearinghouse for inflated self-promotion with minimal accountability. 

It’s hard to view the relentless onslaught of awesome vacations, major job promotions and life-altering accomplishments and not feel a little jealous.  Measuring yourself against the lifestyles and achievements of others and always coming up short is an innocent step onto the slippery slope of envy, beginning a downhill slide that Dr. Duffy found often leads to depression

Technology is penetrating our psyche and social media is but one example.  The mind-meld it forms with our own little brains is defining our culture and our lives.  None of this will go away any time soon.  We love the Internet.  It completes us.


Author Profile - Paul W. Smith, a Founder and Director of Engineering with INVENtPM LLC, has more than 35 years of experience in research and advanced product development. 

Prior to founding INVENtPM, Dr. Smith spent 10 years with Seagate Technology in Longmont, Colorado. At Seagate, he was primarily responsible for evaluating new data storage technologies under development throughout the company, and utilizing six-sigma processes to stage them for implementation in early engineering models. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, and currently manages the website “Technology for the Journey”.  

Paul holds a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology, as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara.