If you're one of the people who get Facebook's new Home software, your social-media life will be front and center whenever you pick up your phone. It's literally putting Facebook in your face.
While that may have appeal to heavy-duty Facebook users who want to be in constant touch with their social graph, it raises some issues about "presence." People have their phones with them almost all the time, including when they're interacting with friends, family, and work colleagues, and many of us (myself included) have a habit of paying attention to our phones when, perhaps, we should be paying attention to the people around us.
Facebook isn't creating any new problems with this software, but it is making it even easier to be distracted. For some that's not a problem. For others it's a small problem, and for some -- including people who may have some some deeper issues like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it can be a major issue. And though it has yet to be officially recognized in the United States, there are Asian countries that recognize a condition that's being called "Internet Addiction Disorder."
To find out more, I spoke with three experts: Dr. Jeff Szymanski, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the International OCD Foundation, Robin Maier, a Tampa-based Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who has blogged about ADD and texting, and Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital (scroll down for podcast interview).
I asked each of them to help me understand where to draw the line between normal, though perhaps sometimes annoying, use of technology and when it becomes a serious problem. All three used the traditional definition of addiction: when it interferes with family life, work, or achieving your goals. Szymanski made the distinction of when constant attention to a phone might be necessary versus when it's not. "If a sports editor checks scores several times a day, it might make sense," he said. But if it's not a job requirement and you do it so often that it "interferes with your work, your relationships, and your day-to-day functioning," it could be an unhealthy compulsive behavior. Maier worries that people "on the ADD spectrum who find it harder to stay focused" could easily be distracted by their phones to the point that "it affects their personal relationships."
Dr. Rich asks people to think about whether they're using their device "more and more all the time in order to get the same level of satisfaction," whether they "start to experience negative symptoms" when they're away from it, and whether they're willing "to take on negative consequences such as your wife being angry with you or your colleagues being annoyed with you in order to maintain that habit."
Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet-safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook.
Subscribe now: iTunes (audio) | RSS (audio)