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Damage Control

My son is an Internet troll, how do I pull him away from the computer? Add to ...

The question

My son is an Internet troll, really! It is very sad and he is wasting his life with conspiracy theories and bizarre news sites (“false news” is the recently minted name). He has a very short fuse which is aggravated by what he reads and he is socially isolated. I know he suffers from high levels of anxiety but won’t get help. He researches any medication that his doctor recommends and finds an unpleasant side effect as justification for not moving forward with the treatment. I’ve tried to mentor and guide him, but as soon as I say something that challenges him, he disappears into his apartment for weeks or months. Help!

The answer

It really is a rabbit hole down which it seems a lot of people are disappearing.

I think of so-called “Pizzagate,” in which the entirely false rumour was disseminated of a warren of tunnels underneath a pizza place in Washington which supposedly contained a child-sex ring or something – classic “fake news.”

To the point where a guy marched in with an AR-15 and started firing off rounds.

You need to get your kid out of the “virtual” world and into the real one, where there is fresh air, sunshine, people interact happily with one another, and all the rest of it.

Technology is great, obviously. Like many people I spend my whole day on my computer and could not imagine life, anymore, without it. It is my livelihood and also the primary way I communicate with my fellow humans.

Which, turns out, might not be so wonderful for my health, mental or psychological. This may sound irrelevant but please bear with me as I attempt to build an argument:

A Montreal shrink named Dr. Susan Pinker has written what I consider to be an important book for our times, and I urge everyone to read. It’s called The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier.

Basically, and very colloquially, she went to a Sardinian town where all the men were living longer lives than normal.

(And you know there’s a fashion for this: researchers go to Okinawa where everyone’s living long lives – and it’s the fish! Or a village in the Ural Mountains – it’s the yogurt! Etc.)

She tried to get these men alone to interview them about their diet, exercise habits, and so forth, but found it difficult because they were never alone. Always with a bunch of people.

Slowly it started to dawn on her: maybe it’s the fact they’re never alone that is responsible for their protracted longevity.

She came to the conclusion actual face-to-face contact may ward off all kinds of disease, and so on.

She convinced herself of her own theory to the point where she joined a women’s swimming group not only for the health benefits but also the kibitzing.

Intuitively, I believe it. (My wife is part of a similar group, too, of women who exercise in the park: I know it’s good for her not only physically but also mentally and I will even say without, I hope, sounding pretentious: spiritually.) I look around the streets and I feel like it’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or maybe The Walking Dead. Everyone staring at their phones … And I always want to say to them: “It may not seem like it, but you’re still alone.” That’s the downside of technology, I think: giving the illusion that you’re not alone.

And don’t even get me started on people who peek at their phones while they’re talking to an actual face-to-face person.

Face to face, people. It’s important. It’s in our DNA from tens of thousands of years. You come out of your cave, you see your little tribe. You sit in a “duck blind” with your face-to-face friends. You’re in a foxhole … Well, you get the idea. Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you: Put your phone down and talk to the person sitting across from you!

Anyway: enough editorializing.You don’t say how old your son is, but you mention his “apartment,” so in any case he’s at least somewhat autonomous, which makes it tough. You can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

But I feel strongly you should get him out of that apartment. Don’t confront him. Stop (sounds like) sending him to doctors.

Get him out and about, mixing and mingling, inhaling some fresh air, and talking to people. Away from his computer screen.

I mean, I don’t know what you do for fun, but how about including him in it? Biking, hiking, Ping-Pong, Ultimate Frisbee, a game of poker with your friends.

Watch a game of basketball on TV. Also a screen, I realize, but point being: you are still spending quality time together.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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