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The New ED: Electronic Dysfunction
Is there a Cure for the Holiday Season?

"Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn't have to experience it."
--Max Frisch, Swiss Writer

The new ED is Electronic Dysfunction. The Surgeon General should put a warning on all electronic screens: The use of electronic devices can be hazardous to your emotional and social health. And, like second-hand smoke, this Electronic Dysfunction can be hazardous to the emotional and social health of those family and friends and co-workers around you, especially around the holidays when there are even more opportunities and expectations around sharing family times.

This new virus is causing worldwide contagion. And there are serious side effects. People who are perpetually focused on their electronic devices experience an advanced type of ED: Electronic Distancing. In advanced cases, people with ED stay so connected via electronics to those that are far away, they become distanced from those family, friends and things that are closest at hand. They may be listening to their iPod rather than listening to the gratitudes spoken around their Thanksgiving table; they may be watching their iPhones light up with text rather than watching the lighting of the eight candles of Hannukah; they may be focusing on the miraculous apps on their iPad rather than on the miracles of Christmas.

People with ED are on their Blackberries, but they don't see the real beauty of the blackberries in front of them in their holiday fruit basket. And a text takes people with ED out of their context-they are on the phone rather than in the present. When they twitter, they are so busy with the hear and know that they are removed from the here and now. People with ED are so busy with Facebook that they don't see the faces that are the closest to them. They are so busy with a blog that they are caught in an electronic fog. They interrupt a real-life conversation to answer their phone-a DumbPerson using a SmartPhone. They have the TV turned on 24/7, substituting what could be new in their life for what passes for news on TV. In these advanced cases, electronic devices--which can connect people with so many others--can disconnect sufferers of Electronic Dysfunction from the most important others.

Electronic Dysfunction is hard to cure. There are no drugs so that a person can instantly be ready if the mood strikes you to interact with your family or friends. There is the possibility of something more exciting than the present every time a text or Facebook post or call or twitter appears. Electronic devices are compelling, perhaps on a very basic neurological level-people's brains seem to crave the movement of the electrons and the excitement of the electronic message itself-almost like an electronic rush. Sometimes it seems as if the electronic devices are controlling people rather than people controlling the electronic devices.

So what is the cure for the new ED? An Electronic Diet: pull the plug. We try to limit the sugar and fat of holiday meals-why not limit the sugar and fat of the Electronic Dysfunction by turning the devices off this holiday season? Declare the eight nights of Hanukah and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be device-free. Of course there are withdrawal effects at first--anxiety over free space and silence in our brains and in our emotions and in our social relationships-but eventually these vacuums will be filled with activities and conversations of our own choice, at our own initiation, not driven by our electronic devices. Eventually the magic of togetherness will fill the electronic vacuum. Give your friends and family that special holiday gift that only you can give: your undivided attention.

Overcoming Electronic Dysfunction is not easy, especially at holiday time. Give the gift of the Unplug. In curing ED, the object is not to get turned on, but to get turned off.

©Irene Shere, LLC