While the epidemic of opioid addiction gets lots of coverage, our increasing obsession with media technology seems to fly under the radar. The advent of cellphones began innocently enough. Remember those “bag phones”? Now 68 percent of adults carry hand-held electronic devices called “smartphones” that are portals to more games, gambling and pornography than were ever found at an old-fashioned amusement park.

Want proof there is such a thing as too much fun? How about this quote from the July 2014 Washington Post story regarding cellphones: “In the past couple years, a mountain of studies have demonstrated that cellphone use makes us more selfish, more easily distracted and more stressed.” The same story noted that: “… nearly 9 in 10 people feel that their loved ones neglect them in favor of technology on a weekly basis.”

A “mountain of studies” suggests these findings are at least worth serious consideration and, most certainly, the findings aren’t too amusing. Three years later our addiction to the instant amusement provided by the internet has gone from bad to worse. Consider these stats:

  • Multiple studies show the total screen time for adults is now at least nine hours a day. Some surveys (CNN, Nielsen) place the total as high as 11 hours a day! Of this, TV time is less than three hours. That means adults are online or “gaming” over six hours a day! No wonder your loved ones feel neglected!
  • Children aged 5 to 16 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen, compared with around three hours in 1995. While the obvious concerns are the solitary and sedentary nature of screen time, plus the very dumb things kids do online, consider the implications of this quote: “Taken together, (studies show) internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in (the) brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.” There is nothing amusing about brain damage.
  • In case the first two statistics do not have you looking at that smartphone as if it were the devil incarnate, how about this: During 2015, the most recent data I could find, 38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads, and another 4.4 million were seriously injured. Fatalities are up 8 percent from 2014. This despite significant improvements in vehicle safety. Why the increasing carnage? The National Safety Council says 25 percent of these “accidents” involved cell phones — calling or texting or surfing. But, and this is a big but, the real percentage is likely to be much higher. Understandably, drivers involved in “accidents” are not inclined to admit to cellphone use and, in most cases, there is neither the time nor money required for law enforcement to obtain the driver’s cellphone records and correlate the facts with the driver’s story.

The stats speak for themselves. Our society is increasingly addicted to media technology in all its flavors. Excessive screen time is bad for you, and there is no Narcan for this disease. Case in point — it may well be that much of what we call ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is caused, or at least exacerbated, by too much screen time. It seems to me the vast increase in this childhood behavior problem we call ADHD might actually be Internet Addiction Disorder. I am not making this up. IAD, sometimes called Problematic Internet Use (PIU) is a real term for a very real problem.

Try these symptoms of IAD on for size. At least some children who indulge in seven hours of screen time a day suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention. That sure sounds like ADHD to me.

It is one thing for consenting adults to indulge in risky behaviors, but when we condone our children’s risky behavior, it is, at best, poor parenting. Child abuse also comes to mind.

Here is the summary from one of the reports I read while researching this column: In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-20s. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life — from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.

And, there is another negative outcome related to excessive screen time. We are fat and getting fatter. It may be hard to tell if the person you pass on the street, nose to screen with their “smartphone,” is brain-damaged, but diagnosing obesity is another matter. We all see this problem every day. Statistically, more than 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are dangerously over weight, i.e., obese. Yikes!

A trip to an arcade or amusement park used to be a special event that involved planning, travel and at least a modicum of exercise. Now, virtually every day, we spend hours and hours online; sitting around amusing ourselves (to death?).

I suggest you do your own research and decide how much screen time is healthy for you and your family. Yes, you can do this research online!

This month’s “Did You Know”

A reader of my “What Holiday” column wrote me to clarify that Patriots Day was not a holiday to celebrate the New England Patriots but a day to honor Paul Revere’s “exploits.” I love fan mail! Unfortunately, our schools teach a sanitized and revisionist version of history and every story needs a hero.

When it comes to the American Revolution, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin and Benedict Arnold get most of the ink (every story is better with a traitor in the midst of the good guys). Here is the problem. The realities of long-ago events are foggy at best, there were no smartphones to record the action, and even first-person accounts were written in a manner most flattering to the author. That Paul Revere was one of a group of people who spread the word that the “British are Coming” is almost certainly true. That the warning message was probably whispered, and not shouted, is a detail lost in the fog!

Also true, is that four years later, in 1779, Lt. Col. Paul Revere was in command of the artillery for the Penobscot Expedition. This infamous attempt to recapture Fort George in Castine resulted in one of the worst naval disasters in American history. Not only did the superior “American” forces fail to retake the fort from the British; our entire 44-ship fleet was destroyed during a chaotic retreat up the Penobscot River. We know this for certain because many relics have been recovered from the river bottom.

In one version of events, Revere disobeys a direct order from Gen. Peleg Wadsworth to rescue some of his men who are pinned down by British fire. If true, that would be cowardice in the face of the enemy, aka treason.

While exactly what took place that day in Castine remains disputed, the fact is when Revere finally returned home from the battle (it’s a long walk from Bangor to Boston), he was arrested.

But the reader makes a good case for Patriots Day being added to my list of holidays. So here is my compromise. Much like we now celebrate Washington and Lincoln on the same day, my new calendar will include Patriots Day, a day to honor the Patriots of 1775 and the Patriots of 2017!