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Part I:
Understanding the
Island Syndrome

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Part 1: Understanding the Island Syndrome

(August 12, 2010)

What's in the News?

Why is it that so much of our life — matters both great and small — seems to be beyond our control?

At work, we are overwhelmed by too much email, too much information, and far too many tasks that require our immediate attention. No matter how much time we devote to our work, no matter how hard we work, we know we will never catch up. In this way, we are denied the old-fashioned feeling of having completed a job well done. What is both sad and astonishing is that, for most of us, the situation is so normal as to be expected.

At home, our children spend hour after hour talking on their private phones and text messaging their friends. They have a never-ending need to use their laptops and wireless Internet connections to check out Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites, where they have a set of virtual "friends": people whom they will never actually meet in person. In some sense, the teenage experience has always been about fitting in socially. Today, however, socializing is not about getting together to ride bikes, dance, listen to music, or walk in a park. Today's teenage experience is defined by phone calls, text messaging, Facebook, email, and Twitter.

Everywhere we go, our smartphones interrupt us, nag us, and disrupt our lives in ways that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

Our modern communication system treats us with the impunity of an impersonal master who knows that his slaves have no choice but to follow his every command. It starts by conquering our free will, enticing us, often at a young age. Then, slowly, but inexorably, the system habituates and addicts us, until we would no more think of going out of the house without a personal communication device than we would consider appearing in public without clothes.

One Third of Americans Say They Are Under Extreme Stress

October 24, 2007 (Reuters Life)

"In an online survey for the American Psychological Association nearly half of the 1,848 people questioned believe their stress levels have shot up in the past five years, taking a toll on their personal relationships, work productivity and health. Nearly three-quarters suffered from physical and psychological symptoms ranging from headaches, fatigue and muscle tension to anxiety, irritability and lack of sleep..."

One in Four Americans Happy to Skip Love

October 24, 2007 (Reuters Life)

"Rather than looking for their perfect match, one in four Americans say the Internet can serve as a substitute for a significant other, according to a poll released on Wednesday..."

Cell Phones Tied to Family Tension

January 6, 2006 (Reuters)

"The round-the-clock availability that cell phones and pagers have brought to people's lives may be taking a toll on family life, a new study suggests. The study, which followed more than 1,300 adults over 2 years, found that those who consistently used a mobile phone or pager throughout the study period were more likely to report negative 'spillover' between work and home life and, in turn, less satisfaction with family life..."

California Bans Texting by Operators of Trains

September 19, 2008 (New York Times)

"A day after federal investigators said an engineer in last week's deadly train collision outside Los Angeles had been text-messaging on the job, California's railroad regulators temporarily banned the use of all cellular devices by anyone at the controls of a moving train... Investigators had determined from phone records that the engineer sent and received text messages while at the controls of the Metrolink commuter train that collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train on September 12..."

Facebook Ban Could Lead to Staff Exodus

June 5, 2008 (

"A survey of 1,000 office staff has found that nearly a third of younger employees would consider quitting their job if Facebook was banned in the workplace. The survey by IT services firm Telindus found that 39 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds would consider leaving if they were not allowed to access applications like Facebook and YouTube. A further 21 per cent indicated that they would feel 'annoyed' by such a ban..."

"Blackberry Blackouts" Aim For Life/Work Balance

February 2, 2008 (Reuters)

"It may be wishful thinking, but a Canadian government ministry has sent out a directive to its employees urging them to relax and not to use their BlackBerry smartphones at night or on weekends and holidays. Trying to re-establish a proper balance between work and life, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is starting by trying to cut the chains to what some have called CrackBerries. The department's deputy minister, Richard Fadden, sent out a memo asking employees to implement a BlackBerry 'blackout' between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and on weekends and holidays..."

Technology Troubles Set Off Tantrums, Tears, and Tirades

November 6, 2006 (USA Today)

"With many tech options, getting gadgets to work together isn't easy. Consumers are fumbling through thick manuals, holding on customer-support phone lines, searching for tech experts or driving themselves mad. They're also losing patience, sleep and tempers, says a survey of 2,551 Americans... About 85% of those polled said they've become so flustered, they've ended up swearing, shouting, experiencing chest pains, crying or smashing things. Slightly more than half said not being able to get a live person on the phone was their greatest frustration..."

In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop

April 6, 2008 (New York Times)

"They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop. You may know it by a different name: home. A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment..."

Checklist for Camp: Bug Spray, Sunscreen, Pills.

July 16, 2006 (New York Times)

"Burlingham, N.Y - The breakfast buffet at Camp Echo starts at a picnic table covered in gingham-patterned oil cloth. Here, children jostle for their morning medications: Zoloft for depression, Abilify for bipolar disorder, Guanfacine for twitchy eyes, and a host of medications for attention deficit disorder. The medication lines like the one at Camp Echo were unheard of a generation ago but have become fixtures at residential camps across the country. Between a quarter and half of the youngsters at any given summer camp take daily prescription medications, experts say... Behavior management and psychiatric medications are now so common that nurses who dispense them no longer try to avoid stigma by pretending they are vitamins..."

Jump to top of page


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