The official diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association is known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, known as the DSM-IV-TR. It catalogues those signs and symptoms psychiatrists observe in patients and groups them into recognizable disorders, like major depression, panic disorder and borderline personality disorder.
I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a new disorder that organized psychiatry will ultimately recognize as very debilitating and very widespread. I call it Technology-Based Personality Disorder (TBPD). This disorder is the result of new technology and media impacting the personality structure of those who expose themselves to it with frequency, leading them to experience a high degree of narcissism (excessive self-focus and lack of empathy for others), a tendency toward escapism through dependency on the Web or alcohol or sexual pleasure or illicit drugs or food, and lower capacity to tolerate stress or any other discomfort (i.e. reality).
I think the root causes of TBPD will be shown to include the now common practice of people deploying mini-reality show versions of themselves on the Internet via sites like Facebook and Twitter, the use of sites that encourage children to connect emotionally with animated, fake creatures (like ClubPenguin and Webkinz,) the use of sites that require users to adopt fictional personas (like SecondLife) and the exposure to contrived reality TV shows of the kind that stage life events, rather than following them in documentary fashion (e.g. The Bachelor.)
What are some of the signs and symptoms of TBPD? I propose these possibilities: * Posting more than 100 photos or videos of oneself on a social networking site.
* Making more than 50 videos of oneself in any one year, regardless of whether they are posted online.
* Thinking of oneself as a character on TV or emulating the speech patterns and style of dress of a character on TV, e.g. "I'm exactlylike Carly in iCarly."
* Decreased tolerance for conflict in real relationships, including those at home and in the workplace.
* Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, food, sex or illicit drugs to reduce anxiety or boost mood.
* Mood swings or symptoms of anxiety.
* Diminished interest in education, work and achievement.
* Increased interest in fame, beauty and adoration (especially by those one has never met.)
MeMedicine, including psychiatry, is methodical. Much research is obviously needed before any codifying of a new disorder in our official diagnostic manual. But I am seeing this condition in my psychiatry practice. And I believe we will learn it is very real, indeed.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team.