'Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse'
I wanted to kick off this blog with a balanced, brief and holistic overview of the effects technology have on us as individuals and as a collective.
I am however, starting with 'the bad news', this being the motivation behind my retreats. As author, Jaron Lanier says, in the popular Netflix documentary 'Social Dilemma', ‘the critics are the real optimists of the world’. Realising that we can do better, that something is wrong and needs to change, is my kind of optimistic activism.
My intrigue of the detrimental effects of technology began back when the first series of Black Mirror was released- again on Netflix- the Mecca of influence and entertainment. Watching the dystopian projective storylines of the darker sides of tech created a visceral experience and left most of us questioning what was indeed next for these black mirrors in our lives? (black mirrors being anything with a screen- tv, phone, tablet, computer). Upon watching shows such as this or The Social Dilemma, a feeling of 'we're too late' arises, and an notion of helplessness. I, however, do like to err on the side of it's never 'too late' to make positive change, to damage control, to make better decisions.
For some age and social groups the influence of the black mirror is minimal. Take my parents for example: they are definitely not consumed by their phones, they joined the smart phone band wagon a little later than the initial boom, and still see it in the same way they have always viewed phones- a means of 1-1 communication, usually to check in with family, and perhaps send a picture of their weekend away on WhatsApp. They have spent most of their life free from smart phone entwinement, and though their generation's reliance on television for entertainment and addiction to the nightly news may be rife with it’s own negative effects, they are, the most part, much freer than the younger generations, that being Generation X (Born 1965-1980), Millennials (Born 1981-1996), and of course our influenced influencers, Generation Z (Born 1997-2012).
Most of us in those younger generations, are, in short, addicted to our devices. Our mass consumerism of digital content has turned us into products. Huge tech companies are paying billions of dollars to buy our attention, to buy our clicks and likes and time. We are social beings with a need for connection, born out of thousands of years of evolution in which, connection= survival, and isolation= death. The ways in which the creators of these addictive interfaces attract and keep our attention are incredibly sophisticated and complex. We are not gullible fools falling to an invisible villain - we are humans seeking connection, convenience, and dopamine.
But has connection actually become much more thinly spread, with less depth? Has overt convenience lead to laziness? Is the spread of misinformation another pandemic?
The average screen time for teens is 7-8 hours a day. I presume teens are still eating, bathing and walking the dog- so there lies the ingredients of their entire day presumably. It looks like for the most part teens are potentially bereft of many experiences they could be having if it wasn't for their timely arrival in the age of the smart phone. Time outside simply must be compromised for this statistic to exist, as well as actual in-person time with friends and physical exercise. Not to mention the effects of what they are consuming on their screens all day. The rate of adolescents reporting symptoms of major depression in a given year increased by 52% from 2005 to 2017. From 2009 to 2017, it grew by 63% in adults ages 18 to 25 (statistics from the National centre for Health Research).
This growing mental health crisis directly correlates with the rise in social media use. There is evidence to suggest that social media creating a culture of self obsession. Which in itself can lead to self hate and perpetuate narcissistic tendencies.
People talk about themselves around 30-40% of the time in person. On social media, people talk about themselves 80% of the time (via Pew Research Centre).
So when we receive a notification of positive feedback, we feel a positive sensation from dopamine. We like this and so we keep doing it. However, more often than not, as we go seeking this dopamine hit every 10 minutes, we are also receiving an overload of information (often conflicting), mass communication we cannot keep up with and/or that is distracting us from any real meaningful work, and we are also potentially caught up in the comparison trap. We see endless possibilities of what one could do with one's life through a very procured and carefully curated lens, and are left feeling inadequate and with the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).
The internet has also become an hotbed of misheard and contorted whispers. I have decided to save my thoughts and findings on the spread of misinformation and the dangers of this for another post, so if this is what truly gets your blood boiling, then please keep tabs on this blog, as it's coming up.
We need to take back control:
On a personal note, I like to think of myself as an aware, social being, who is constantly self developing and growing. Along my personal development journey which consists of practicing yoga, reading books, consuming podcasts, attending therapy and learning from my mistakes- basically living as consciously and well as I can- I realised that my relationship with my phone was a hinderance to my growth, that it had to change. I had attended Yoga Retreats in the past that were free from alcohol, plant-based and full of beautiful practices and rituals, but still plagued with the participants glued to their phones as soon as Savasana was over. Students still arriving to practice on a downer from receiving a stressful work email. Students harbouring anxiety over not having replied to their friends in 2 days. Enough is enough. We need to take back control of our daily technology, create boundaries, create freedom, and a digital detox is a great place to start.
Please read the counterpart to this article- The Good News- to hear just that- the good news! What I believe is the answer to this digitally overloaded world we live in, and some acknowledgement to the good our modern teach can still bring.