The New Social Disorder

Maybe the hermits in Wyoming cabins are right. Technology is antisocial.

Maybe the hermits in Wyoming cabins are right. Technology is antisocial.

The advent of the television changed the nature of neighborhood interaction. Families spent more time indoors, glued to the set. Sitting on porches and talking became passé.

The personal computer came along and further separated us. Theres a reason it didnt get called the "interpersonal" computer. For the first couple of decades, it isolated individuals, absorbing them in work or games, too often oblivious to their surroundings.

Then came the Internet, and interaction was in. But the lure of infinite resources and faraway friends created a new affliction: a certain sort of geeky misfit who spent all his or her life online. Internet addiction was born, classified and studied.

In Houston, an apartment complex called — with apologies to Henry David Thoreau — Walden catered to this crowd. Its big selling point to renters: access to a 43-megabit-per-second connection in every apartment. The result: a sort of commune of computer communicators. Inhabitants might have little more than a sleeping bag on the floor, but tens of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment to take advantage of the speed.

But just when you thought it couldnt get worse, of course, it has. Now technology is so seducing the male population that quite literally the future of mankind — procreation — is affected.

A recent Playboy Mantrack survey found that 8 percent of men polled were having sex less often because of the time they spent not with the conventional definition of adult toys, but the new version — consumer electronics.

For these men, the personal computer, the cell phone, the personal digital assistant and the DVD player are proving increasingly more alluring than a wife or lover. Who has time to head for the bedroom when there are keyboards, styli and software programs to play with?

Yes, this is a thankfully small slice of manhood — so far. "Those guys are not coming to my parties," quips Michael Carr, Playboys publisher.

However, the effects of electronics are not limited to what happens behind closed doors. The survey, conducted among 750 men — and 250 women — showed men were spending less time watching TV, going to the movies, exercising, enjoying the outdoors or sleeping.

"What this says is more time is being spent with the small screen than with live people," Carr said.

This isnt great cause for worry just yet. Recent drops in online usage noted by market research firms show that the Internet itself doesnt hold the same allure for Americans that it did a year ago. Indeed, now people are looking for a break from their computers.

So maybe thats how it will be with the rest of the personal electronics that are the new ball-and-chain for the male of the species. There are only so many times you can forge through the static of a wireless call to talk with a distant friend before you decide to become friends with someone standing in the same room as you. There are only so many appointments and addresses you can enter into your silicon assistant before you decide your time is better spent talking with your wife — maybe even touching her — or playing with your kids.

The battle is far from over. The Playboy survey by Youth Intelligence of men age 18 to 49 showed that 79 percent of men took at least one consumer electronics device with them on vacation. And it could get worse. On average, men now own seven consumer electronics devices.

But dont give up hope. If these guys find themselves on a deserted island, theyll come to their senses. Three out of four men say if they were stranded a la Tom Hanks they would forgo any consumer electronics devices in favor of the company of a beautiful woman.

If you really want to worry, though, look the other way. Almost twice as high a percentage of women — 15 percent — say they were having less sex as a result of their interests in electronics.