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Part I:
Understanding the
Island Syndrome

Part II:
Biology and

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Part 1: Understanding the Island Syndrome

(August 12, 2010)

What Is the Island Syndrome?

Consider the following experience. I live in the United States in a state where, by law, people who want to talk on the phone while they are driving must use a hands-free system. At the time this law was going into effect, vast numbers of people, who insist on talking while driving, were forced to buy hands-free phone equipment.

One day I was in an electronics store, where I noticed a woman standing near her young daughter. They were checking out wireless headsets. The woman was complaining, "Starting next month," she said, "we all have to use headphones or wireless headsets in the car. We have no choice."

"But you do have a choice," I pointed out. "You could simply not talk on the phone while you drive."

The woman looked at me as if I was from another planet. "No, you can't," she said.

She was deadly serious. In her world — which is the world in which most of us live these days — the possibility of not using a phone in her car was not an option.

Nor is it an option for almost every parent I know to not be able to contact their children at any time. It is not an option for high school or college students to not be able to contact any friend (or a parent) at any time. Indeed, I challenge you to find even one person under 30 years old, who, willingly, does not take their mobile phone with them everywhere they go. If that's too difficult, see if you can find anyone under 60 who doesn't own a mobile phone. (In case you are wondering, I am under 60, and I don't own a mobile phone.)

My sister runs a school for international students who come to the U.S. to learn English as a second language. All her students arrive with their own mobile smartphone, laptop computer, and music (MP3) player. Most of these students come from countries that have fast, ubiquitous, completely reliable wireless Internet access wherever they go. My sister tells me that if the Internet connection ever goes down — something that never happens in their home countries — the students literally start to develop nervous symptoms.

She also tells me that a student who leaves the classroom for, say, a short restroom break, can't simply walk down the hall in peaceful silence. When the student leaves the room, he or she must turn on their music player and plug in their earphones. Similarly, I know people who can't fall asleep without a TV playing in the same room; who can't study without music or TV or instant messaging (or all three); and who feel very uncomfortable when asked to turn off their phone, even at the dinner table.

What is happening here? Let me give you an analogy. It is now recognized that, over the last several decades, the widespread adoption of a diet based on the industrial food supply — the so-called Western diet — has created a vast number of overweight, unhealthy people of all ages over much of the world. (Did you know that 16.4 percent of all diabetics live in India?) As such, we talk about the "obesity epidemic", created by an over-abundance of "junk food" and "bad eating habits".

It is time to recognize that we have a mental health epidemic of overwhelming proportions, created by an over-abundance of junk communication and bad technology habits.

It is time to recognize that, when it comes to global health, we have more than one epidemic on our hands. We have a ubiquitous condition that is even more damaging than obesity: a mental health epidemic of overwhelming proportions, created by an over-abundance of junk communication and bad technology habits. The symptoms caused by this epidemic — what I call the "Island Syndrome" — are endemic to the developed world. As such, like obesity, they spread wherever Western culture is adopted indiscriminately.

What you are reading is my attempt to recognize and explain what is happening and why. Although this second epidemic is not, as yet, as widely recognized as the obesity epidemic, it is just as important and far more insidious. Moreover, the two epidemics are actually related to one another. (This is because what you eat affects how you think.)

The material you are about to read is grouped into three main sections, each of which discusses one of the major topics that form the core of my thinking:

  • The Island Syndrome itself.
  • What it means to live in the "Bubble".
  • How what we eat affects our thinking, our emotions, and our ability to adapt.

At the beginning of each section, you will find illustrations of the most important ideas, taken from news articles I have collected over the past few years as part of my research. These short excerpts will show you the patterns and the issues I feel it is important that we discuss.

One of my principal goals in writing about the Island Syndrome is to encourage my readers to understand particular aspects of our culture, develop new ways to view the world, and use their intelligence to make their own life work better. However, what you are about to read is not only about other people: it is also about you and me. As such, I have a suggestion.

As you read about the Island Syndrome, take a moment from time to time and ask yourself if what you are reading relates in some way to your own life. My guess is it will.

I also anticipate that, as you begin to see yourself — as well as your friends, family, and coworkers — in what you are reading, you will start to wonder if there are solutions to the problems I am describing. That is, is there an antidote to mitigate the effects of The Island Syndrome?

The answer is yes, although the detailed discussion will have to wait for the actual book. However, if you would like the summary in advance, here it is in seven words:

Embrace what's real. Think well. Eat well.

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The Island Syndrome
1. What Is the Island Syndrome?
2. What's in the News?
3. Difficult Questions
4. Why the Nature of Communication...
5. No Man Is an Island
6. Putting a Name to the Malaise
7. The Lady and the Psychiatrist
Living in the Bubble
8. What's in the News?
9. The Three Mandatory Machines
10. Life in the Bubble
11. Why We Keep On Keeping On
12. The Lady and the Psychiatrist
The Importance of the Brain's Biochemical Environment
13. What's in the News?
14. The Story of Dave
15. Importance of Neurotransmitters
16. The Stuff of Moods, Feelings and...
17. What Does Dave Need?
18. The Lady and the Psychiatrist
19. Introduction to Part II
20. The Island Syndrome
21. Excessive Text Messaging
22. Excessive Pornography Use
23. Understanding the Biology
24. Hormones and Neurotransmitters
25. The Pleasure Center
26. Too Much, Too Fast: Craving and...
27. The Female and Male Brains
28. Biology of Excessive Text Messaging
29. Biology of Excessive Pornography...
30. Conclusion: The Island Syndrome...
31. References