“I Love Ya, New York”

Question: You were born in Brooklyn, raised in Limerick, and moved back to New York as an adult. What do you identify with most?

Malachy McCourt: We went to Ireland because the death of my little sister and there were my brother, Frank, and myself, and twin boys, Oliver and Eugene, and when we got to Ireland, within two years, the two boys, Eugene and Oliver died when they were about four and four and a-half of various ailments.  At the time, nobody cared too much what was going on with poor people.  There were no autopsies or anything.  You just died, and good riddance.  But when we got there, I was three-and-a-half, Frank was four-and-a-half, we were known as Yanks.  And you feel outside the tribe when you are speaking differently, acting differently, behaving differently, so as quickly as possible, you made the attempt to get in with the gang; talk like them and be like them and dress like them.  So, no matter what we did, we were still Yanks. 

So, then we grew up there and we come to America, back to America, back to here.  And they say, “Oh, you’re Irish.”  Over there we’re Yanks, over here we’re Irish.  So, my brother Frank and myself decided a long time ago, that what we are very simply is, we are New Yorkers.  This is our country; this is my land.  This is the place for me where every single dream I ever had came to fruition and I love it dearly.  I love ya, New York. 

Question: What does it mean to be Irish in 2010? What about 40 years from now? 

Malachy McCourt: To be Irish in 2010, 2010.  There is a pride that’s happened in our intellectual accomplishments in our literary accomplishments and our technological accomplishments where heretofore, after oh, 800 years of occupation and the function of the oppressor is to assure you that you are nothing, that you are nobody, that you’re less than deserving of nothing, that you are a piece of shit.  And don’t aspire to anything.  And they infuse you with shame, which has to do with the past because all shame is based firmly in the past. It has to do with what you have done, what you thought you had done, and sometimes shame has been induced by what has been done to you, and by allowing things to be done to you, you are ashamed of not resisting.  So, that’s one part of oppression is to make sure you are a shameful, shamed human being.  That takes care of the past. 

And then the future has to do with fear.  Don’t attempt to come up here.  Don’t attempt to go forward, you were nobody, you are nobody, and you’ll always be nothing, so don’t even think about coming here because if you do, something awful will happen to you.  So we were caught between the two demons, two devils: shame and fear.  And we couldn’t deal with the present, which was that we are, indeed, as accomplished in our minds as spiritual as any other people, as good as any other people, but we could not look in the mirror and ever say that’s what we are. 

So, to be Irish today is the abandonment of that shame and the younger people are moving it out and they’re moving the fear away.  They’re not afraid, they’re adventurous.  They’re going about the world as carefree, with confidence and with the knowledge of the language, with the education, linguistically capable, poetic and fun-loving with the love of song and of life itself.  So, that for the younger people to me is a wonderful thing that is happening.  The older ones of my generation, they still have the fear and various ethnic groups have diseases that are peculiar to their group.  For example, Jewish people have Tay Sachs, and African-Americans have Sickle Cell Anemia, and the Irish disease is respectability.  And that infects them a lot and somebody said, “What would they say?  What would the English say if you wore that, said that, be that?”  So consequently, as the Irish poet said, he said, “You eventually become the thing you hate the most.”  That’s why so many of these yahoos, particularly the ones that run the St. Patrick’s Day parade, are conservatives.  And that conservatism is not a political ideology, it is a severe form of brain damage for which there’s hardly any cure.  I don’t know what we can do with them is all.  But they are gradually moving out and the younger folks are taking over.  And some day there may be some culture in this St. Patrick’s Day. 

But I prefer if it were an Irish parade like Israel has a parade that’s Israel, not devoted to Moses, or Abraham, St. Moses or St. Abraham, and so I’d like to see the day when this was an Irish parade, because you can’t be Grand Marshall of this charade if you’re not a Catholic.  And they say, a practicing Catholic.  Now, a lot of these guys are hypocrites.  I mean, they’re about as practicing as I am and I abjure the whole thing myself, but it’s hypocritical anyway, and I hope that one day it will be an Irish parade, then I would march. 

Future?  If you have one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you’re pissin on the present.  So, I stay in the present, so I don’t know about the future.

Recorded on March 10, 2010

Over there we’re Yanks, over here we’re Irish. My brother Frank and myself decided a long time ago that what we are is New Yorkers.

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
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