Who are you?

Question: Who are you?

 

Ezekiel Emanuel: Ezekiel Emanuel.

 

Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?

 

Ezekiel Emanuel: That’s a very difficult question to ask. I work in Washington and I live in Chicago.

Between 1967 and 1970, and literally spend all day out on the beach as three brothers. And so being there did shape us – actually considerably. And they were very important years between the age of 10 and 13. So I would say that it turned out to be a very important shaping experience. And a large part of that shaping was simply being in a country that was . . . had terrorist attacks and struggling but was very vibrant; but also having no agenda and just spending two months at a stretch on the beach playing with your brothers, and talking with your brothers, and doing all sorts of stuff.

 

Question: Who was your greatest influence when you were young?

 

Ezekiel Emanuel: As a young person? A very dominant influence on my life was my maternal grandfather, Herman Small. He came here in the early 20th century. Escaped from Russia, actually a smuggled-in illegal immigrant. He worked in the meat packing industry in and around Chicago. He was a union organizer very early on. Built a synagogue. A very big man. Very heavy. Very big hands of a manual laborer. Very committed to trying to make everyone’s life better.

We used to spend a lot of days riding in the back of his station wagon as he delivered; he eventually got into specialty food stuffs; food imports from Switzerland, and Sweden, and Denmark. And he used to deliver them to specialty food stores way before the sort of gourmet food craze. This was in the 60s. No one had heard of gourmet cheeses. He was doing that. And we used to sit in the back of his car for hours just driving all over Illinois, all over Wisconsin, all over Indiana and talking to him. And he was a very, very caring person. And then for a couple of years he moved into our house. He sold everything.

And then at the age of, I think, 72 he was going to immigrate to Israel; but it turned out he was an illegal immigrant in the United States, so he had no passport to leave the country. And he had sold everything, so he moved into our house. And he used to wake up at, you know, 4 o’clock in the morning. And when you got up, he would make you this breakfast that was unbelievable; of double-yoked eggs. You could get double-yoked eggs from these specialty farms. And all sorts of fresh squeezed orange juice, all this stuff. And what he did for other people; the fact that it was very important for him to care for other people and make sure everyone else was being cared for was a very, very important thing.

Second important thing was my mother was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s, way before; and we were a family that had a lot of black friends. We spent a lot of time on the West side of Chicago with African-American people. And probably one of the most formative experiences there too, one my mom – I wouldn’t say every day, but not infrequently – got arrested and would not end up being back home at night. And so that was a very interesting experience.

And the other was that we marched; when Martin Luther King came to Chicago and marched to Cisaro, we were on that march as kids. And we were pelted with rotten tomatoes and eggs. A very searing experience. You never forget that kind of stuff. And we were able to her Martin Luther King as well in person. And those are, I would say, among the many formative experiences; or at least people who were formative to me.

 

Question: What explains the success of you and your brothers, Rahm and Ari?

 

Ezekiel Emanuel: I love this question because everyone asks things like, “What did your mother feed you?” You know,” What is it about the family?”

No one – even though that we’re in the age of molecular biology – says, “Gosh, there must be something in the genetics of that family.” Which I always find interesting being a doctor and a sort of scientist myself why people think it’s environment and not naturally genetics. It’s a really good question.

I think that there are lots and lots of things. I think we did have very committed – socially committed – parents, socially committed grandfather. That was one element. Very important. We had a verbal family, you know. If you didn’t talk and if you didn’t get in there with your opinion, you were nobody. We had a very competitive, but loving; and this is, I think, is one of those very complicated things to arrange in the family. Anyone who’s been a parent understands.

So my brothers and I were very competitive, but we were also loving. For example, as I mentioned, in Israel we spent all summers together. And it was really us three. And so we had to get along, and we had to struggle with each other, and we had to “out prove” each other. And so I think that also creates a bond. I think one of the interesting things that defines all of us is people who work with us and for us are very loyal and feel like we’re very, very committed to them and to their success. And so I think that’s something that we have . . . the sort of very interested in promoting people; very interested in having people work hard, but also recognizing their contribution is very important. And I would . . . I would think that in our family, public affairs was very important. My father was born in Israel. American sports meant zilch to him, absolutely nothing. He never took us to a baseball game, basketball game. We never, I would say, wasted our time in a lot of energy that was directed ________.

I would say the other thing is success is unpredictable in the following sense. I was a very successful student in school; the eldest and all that crap that goes along with being the eldest. But my other two brothers were not so successful in school. And it’s not because they ain’t smart; but they were in my shadow and they needed, you know, their own platform and their own stage. And it really wasn’t until I left college that that became possible.

 

Recorded: July 5, 2007

 

Emmanuel's grandfather was an illegal immigrant.

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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Michael C. Crair et al, Science, 2021.
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