Are We All Acquiring ADD?

Last week I ran across a status update by a facebook friend who wrote “I think I won’t be able to complete this blog post without a dose of Ritalin”.
This floated at the same week I read some comments about the rising rates of ADD and ADHD among children and adults and how you can blame the web for everything wrong.
I don’t take Ritalin and it took me a lot longer then I had expected to finish this blog. My facebook friend had already completed and uploaded her great post titled -free translation from Hebrew: Attention Deficit Surprise. (Read it in Hebrew).

ADD is “Attention Deficit Disorder”. Ritalin is one of the more common drugs used to treat people who suffer from ADD. As one explained it to me once “Ritalin is like oiling the brain’s wheels so they won’t make a noise when they spin”. At the same time, if I use the same image, those Ritalin-oiled wheels slow down a lot, and go only straight, no sharp turns.

Which could be a problem.

But going back to the reality and the statistics – I won a “wow! You have serious ADD!” last week, as I was working with my partner on our startup’s verbal branding, while I gave him some advice regarding his wedding arrangements, took care of the kids’ lunch, schedule some doctor’s appointment and well, I don’t remember which other action items jumped in the list that morning.

His remark took me by surprise. I don’t think I have ADD. I think people often find it difficult to concentrate – that does not automatically award them with a disorder. I know I speak for many working mothers when I say we have many, many action items on our daily lists – and that also doesn’t amount to ADD or entitles us with a dose of Ritalin. It’s just a simple overload with no special order or dis.

I’ve been thinking about the ADD – the disorder, the definition and the perception – for a long time now. I have two boys diagnosed with ADD, who do not take Ritalin. And I have a brother and a sister diagnosed with it too. We assume that our parents have it, and science claims it’s hereditary. I still don’t think I have ADD.

But going back to the definition of ADD and recent statistics showing a rise in ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) as a percentage of the general population, especially, but not only, among children:

Some might attack the actual statistics, some might argue that the rise is due to better knowledge and understanding of this phenomena, but often people blame the world we live in, specifically digital communications age. Because, really, think about it: life has gone from being simple 1-2 channel activity to being multi-channel activity all the time!

Consider only the communications channels that we have accumulated over the past 120 years. Started with face to face conversation added letter writing, telegraph, then phones, email, then mobile phones, then instant messaging, SMS, forums, chat rooms, social networks and twitter. Who knows what lies ahead!

This means that we’d better start thinking how to wean the world of Ritalin, because – yes: we are all acquiring ADD and it’s going to be the next generation’s normal.
Or is it?

I feel that sometimes ADD does not present itself as an attention DEFICIT but rather as an attention EXCESS (and let’s leave the disorder for now). Consider how we divided our time only 30 years ago between face to face conversations and phone conversations, each would be a single channel activity. Now think of today’s teenager’s time divided between face to face conversation, phone conversation, SMS, chat, email all together with web browsing and TV, all at the same time. The reality requires the Attention Excess – and the result could become “disorder”, a mess, a chaos.

But is it really a mess or is it a phase in evolution?
I read today that “according to Fortune Magazine people with ADD/ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own company”. I also found this simple explanation: “The ADD/ADHD gene affects the brain’s relationship with dopamine. This difference causes one to crave stimulation just to feel alive…” and “while only about 10% of the general population has this gene, most of self-made rich & famous have the ADD/ADHD gene. This group includes most entrepreneurs, artists, inventors, geniuses, rock stars and billionaires.”

The real problem with ADD is the labeling system that’s attempting to treat this evolution as a disease that needs a cure – drugs, to be specific.

Of course some ADD people, who may use Ritalin successfully might disagree with what I write here. And to be fair I must make it clear: there are various levels of ADD. In most cases ADD people do not see their problem as an attention “Excess” because even though they can split their attention between multiple stimulations, they never get to maximize their attention to any of those channels, leaving them with a feeling of “missed something”. But that’s not the same in all ADD cases. Not even in all ADD days.

In the meantime I’ve been watching this 2 year old who’s playing with her iPad, first encounter. Looks like she’s born into the digital age. She can instantly do stuff with her iPad that her grandparents might take hours to grasp. She’s born into a world where she can work around multi channels of stimulation and once accustomed to it at this early age, her brain is beginning to constantly crave stimulation, just like the brain of an ADD child.

In 4 years she’ll go to school and be asked to sit still in a classroom, listen to a teacher talking for 45 minutes at a time, write with a pencil in her notebook, a paper notebook. Before you know it she’ll be labeled ADD. It’s like sending a kid to the moon then dropping them down from there to earth – to a hundred years ago earth.

Time to make a reality check:
I am sick and tired of all those magazine articles warning humanity against the horrible things technology, especially the Internet – is doing to our brains. Technology is NOT JUST here to stay, it keeps EVOLVING. It’s not going to go away and I suspect the middle ages will never come back. The question is not “how to prevent humanity from changing” but rather how to get humanity to embrace the change, work with it and start to benefit from it.