The "Plugged In" Syndrome
There is a serious neurological condition called the "locked in syndrome," whose victims are unable to communicate with the outside world. Today more and more of us are seeing our loved ones succumb to a voluntary (but apparently highly addictive) condition that I call the "plugged in" syndrome: these folks prevent the outside world from communicating with them.
There are a number of tell-tale symptoms. First, the victim sprouts "ear buds" - those with long hair may go undetected for a while, but if you look closely, you'll see thin cables running from under the hair to disappear into a pocket or under the jacket to a belt-mounted audio device such as an iPod, RIO or other MP3 player, a Pocket PC or Palm computer or a mobile phone.
The disease seems to be progressive. It often starts with a single earphone. If you catch it at this stage, you may still be able to communicate with the victim, although he/she is likely to already be distracted, often humming or singing softly under the breath as you try to carry on a conversation. You'll probably have to repeat yourself several times before your loved one is able to respond.
If not nipped in the bud, the condition is very likely to progress to the stereophonic stage. With both ears constantly plugged, the victim is always subjected to a steady stream of music or conversation and the only way to get his/her attention is through visual or kinesthetic means. You may find yourself waving your arms a lot, writing notes, or even lightly (and perhaps not so lightly, as your frustration grows) striking the victim.
Unfortunately, it gets even worse. As the "plugged in" person becomes more and more absorbed in the sound input bombarding his brain every waking moment, he begins to shut his friends and family out to an increasing degree. In the beginning, he may have only plugged in for a few hours per day, but in the later stages, he'll spend entire weeks with the earphones in, nodding and snapping his fingers as he goes about his daily tasks, totally oblivious to your comments and questions. And he'll start sitting for long periods of time with his eyes closed, so that you can't even contact him with visual stimuli. He may even begin sleeping with the earbuds in.
As the condition degrades further, family members are affected. They begin to feel as if they're all alone, and may eventually give up in despair and move away to start new lives (fortunately, the victim usually doesn't notice). The saddest part is: it doesn't have to be this way. This is a completely preventable disease. Education is the key.
Do your part: refuse to buy your kid that first MP3 player. The government, which thus far has been exacerbating the problem by passing laws requiring "hands free" cell phones while driving, must get into the act and ban earbuds altogether. Spouses and parents who mistakenly encouraged their loved ones to plug in, to spare themselves the pain of hearing the music, must recognize the dangers of this pseudosolution. Most difficult of all, the victims themselves must admit that they have a problem, and "just say no" to portable music players and related devices. In advanced cases, intervention may be necessary. Surgery may be required to remove earphones that have become permanently embedded.
Finally, be careful about downloading music. Listening to MP3s through your computer or home or car sound system can lead to the desire to "go portable." Could it be that the RIAA only had our best interests in mind all along?
Seriously, folks, how do you feel about the ubiquitous nature of portable devices and the number of people who seem to be constantly plugged into them? Are you an iPod addict (or a lonely family member)? Is the next step an implanted chip to which we can download our favorite songs and have them with us all the time? Will we one day be routinely plugged into powerful portable computers in the same way we're plugging into simpler devices now? Are we becoming a nation of plugged in zombies, using electronics instead of drugs to escape from the real world? Or are those who worry about such things as silly as the ones who predicted that the automobile and the television set would be downfall of civilization (hmmm ... come to think of it, maybe we should revisit that one, too).
Tell me what you think? I am just curious as to how we as a people are utilizing the technology out there.