Man (Dis)Connected: How Technology Has Sabotaged What it Means to be Male, Philip Zimbardo

I first heard of this book from Dr. Albert Mohler’s daily podcast called The Briefing. Speaking of the book, he says, “[Phillip Zimbardo] answers that in a way that comes from a secular worldview but is embedded with a great deal of wisdom.” That’s basically how I feel about this book.

Dr. Zimbardo is a psychologist who asks the basic question: why are men failing in the 21st century? We live in an era with unprecedented advances, equal rights unseen for most of world history, and technological superiority that has never been seen before. With all of this however, young boys are failing. They are consistently getting worse grades in school compared to females, they are more prone to be ADHD, in light of the recent recession they are not working as much, and are basically on the verge of not being relevant any more.

Dr. Zimbardo breaks his book up into 3 sections: symptoms, causes, and solutions. I think the most interesting is the first part: symptoms, with causes coming in a close second. Dr. Zimbardo attributes the decline of the male species with essentially three roots: pornography, video games, and drugs. The first two are the source of literally millions of wasted hours in young men’s life around the world. Dr. Zimbardo states that both are incredibly addictive, are used as a way to escape the real world, and when done in isolation, cripple the social skills of men.

He demonstrates how young men use videos as an escapist fantasy that purposely uses a system of goals and rewards to help addict the user. While in the fantasy world, a young man can feel like he is accomplishing things he never has done in the real world, thus perpetuating the addiction. He talks a lot about dopamine and how video games make the user feel good about their accomplishments, even if they are detached from the real world.

Similarly, pornography is a giant waste of time, addictive, and generally bad for your brain. He states how there has never been a time in history where men could view such a distorted view of reality in the world of sex until the 21st century, and it’s having vast repercussions on men. In general, pornography creates a fantasy world on how men perceive sex. While in real life, sex is meant to be within the confines of a relationship (and I would argue a marital relationship) that is suppose to cultivate emotion and interconnectedness with another person. Pornography largely detaches this last element from the equation: he explains pornography is incredibly selfish and the acts done in porn are in no way how a real woman wants to be treated or would find appealing if a man did it to her. What happens when young men view pornography apart from a sexual relationship is an unrealistic expectation of what sex is. They go into the bedroom expecting their wife to do certain things that are grotesque and even frightening because they have been conditioned by a fantasy world. It also is really addicting: similar to video games, porn affects the dopamine receptors in your brain to make you feel good about what you are seeing. The problem is that each time you view porn it takes a little bit more the next time in order to achieve the same “high.”

Lastly, he looks at how medicated young boys are. Often times, boys are more susceptible to ADHD than girls. He shows how quite often boys don’t like school because of one reason or another and there after, are really difficult to keep engaged. The solution? Medicate them.

He also makes great points on what this all means for women. If men are: 1) in isolation; 2) playing countless hours of video games (some people he interviewed played 14-16 hours.. a day); 3) and watching pornography, they are not being social. They are cooped up in their fortified castles of anonymity and solitude. The end result? Men are increasingly becoming socially inept. They don’t have girlfriends, they live with their parents, they don’t have jobs, and they don’t know how to talk to people. The thought of a girl may even make them nervous. So while technology has worked to connected us in a way that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, this is all going to the detriment of men in particular.

Zimbardo makes some great points. The book is full of statistics that, as a millennial, are really frightening. Take a look at just one that he cites:

“… imagine the kind of force gamers would become if every gamer dedicated just 1 per cent of his gaming time – 30 million collective hours a week – to make a real-world impact… Considering Wikipedia represents roughly 100 million hours of human thought, hypothetically 15.6 Wikipedia size projects could be accomplished every year if each gamer invested that 1 per cent into a crowdsourcing project” (Zimbardo, 250).

Other statistics are saddening beyond measure. The average age a boy see’s pornography for the first time is 11 years old.

But while I largely enjoyed reading the first two parts of his book, I could not agree with most of his “solutions.” From a Christian worldview, here are some things I think we need to do to curb this epidemic:

  1. Parents need to be more involved. I appreciate Dr. Zimbaro’s emphasis on father figures and their role in their kids lives. I really do. That’s coming from a secular perspective that is desperately needed. However, I think he downplays the significance of the parents role in the lives of kids. And by downplay, I mean he talks about it extensively, but I think this is the first step in solutions: parents need to be more involved in their kids lives. The computer age has been a great blessing to humanity, but it also has been a great weakness. Parents need to be involved in what their kids are watching and doing on the internet. They need to have tough conversations with them about sex and pornography that advocates boundaries within relationships, monogamy, abstinence, and the glory of God in their relationships (for my secular friends, I did say this was looking at this book from a Christian worldview perspective, so if you don’t agree with some of these things we can agree to disagree). Parents need to curb the excessive amount of media their kids intake and they need to reinforce the practice of reading. Lastly, I would encourage parents (and this is just my opinion) to totally cut out video games from their kids life. There is literally no bigger waste of time in this world than that, I think. And it really hurts the social development of kids (Dr. Zimbardo would probably disagree with me; he talks a lot about how the kind of problems associated with video games are when they are done in excess, so obviously that’s just my personal view on the subject).
  2. For those who are addicted to pornography or video games or both, there needs to be a greater urgency in the Church to address such issues. Obviously pornography is already being heavily opposed in the Church, but video games are seen largely as harmless. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone in the Church advocate for boys to cease playing video games, other than personal opinion. The problem with the latter is that I believe video games take away from the glory of God. When all of your affections are spent in a virtual world, how can you be an effective Christian? The answer simply is, you can’t.
  3. Lastly, I think that the Church needs to adopt programs of mutual accountability to address such addictions. Both of these issues are highly addictive and are very hard to quit. But quitting can be liberating and actually helpful. Once a coalition has been established, programs need to come alongside it to help young men retain their humanity and their unique maleness. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from women in the Church is that there are no longer quality men. Dr. Zimbardo addresses this in the book, but the question is why? Particularly in the Church where men are suppose to be renewed people by the grace of God. It my own opinion (through listening and watching), men in the Church are equally dysfunctional when it comes to relationships and dating. Is this due to the causes of video games and pornography? Perhaps. We need to bring together other males, particularly in the formative years of high school and college, to keep one another accountable to stopping such practices.

The future is a little terrifying when reading this book. More and more kids are being exposed to ipads, iphones, computers, and video games at a crazy early age. How will they grow up? Will they be socially dysfunctional? Only the future will tell.

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