Is the Internet driving us mad?

Afterward Russell was diagnosed with “reactive psychosis,” a form of temporary insanity. It had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, his wife, Danica, stressed in a blog post, and everything to do with the machine that kept Russell connected even as he was breaking apart. “Though new to us,” Danica continued, “doctors say this is a common experience,” given Russell’s “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention—both raves and ridicules.” More than four months later, Jason is out of the hospital, his company says, but he is still in recovery. His wife took a “month of silence” on Twitter. Jason’s social-media accounts remain dark…

The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways…

Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”