By Jenn Sturiale
"Oh -- I'm sorry, what did you say?"
It happens to the best of us while engaged in a conversation (even an interesting one): We suddenly snap back to the present, then realize we have no idea what was just said. Our mind wandered away and went... where? Most likely it skipped off to the past or the future. It doesn't just happen during conversations. While watching a movie, we'll start compiling a mental grocery list. Or while walking the dog, we'll replay a conversation we had...
"You have a confluence of forces coming together in technology and the media to make it happen and it's worldwide and it's multiplying like lice," says Stuart Fischoff, PhD, spokesman for the American Psychological Association and professor emeritus of media psychology at the California State University at Los Angeles.
Indeed, from the international mania of the New York Post's Page Six, to increasing circulation of celebrity-driven publications like People, US, OK, and In Style, to the cult star status of gossip reporters like Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart and the New York Daily News' Rush & Malloy, there is no question that all-things-celebrity have captured -- and are keeping -- our attention like never before.
But what drives our endless fascination with celebrity worship? And more importantly, can its enticing seduction ever be harmful to our health?
The answer, it seems, depends a lot on who is doing the worshipping -- and the reasons why.
"Like most things there's a dimensional approach here; there are some people who are fascinated by celebrities lives, but also involved in meaningful activities and relationships in their own lives, and for these people star watching is usually a harmless diversion," says Eric Hollander, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorders program at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
For others, however, things don't go quite that way.
Hollander says there are an increasing number of us for whom the fascination with celebrities is a substitution for real life -- with the focus on a celebrity replacing the focus that should be on our own lives. And that, he says, is the point at which some folks begin to get into trouble.
Depression, anxiety, and a decrease in self-esteem are just some of the documented problems that can result when we take the focus off our own lives and instead focus all our energy on the life of a celebrity.