Over the last couple of decades, the rise of the internet, smartphones, and related gadgets has significantly changed human culture.
The internet is such a deeply ingrained part of our lives that I sometimes struggle to remember how we accessed information in the ‘old days’. How did we learn things before we could simply reach into our pocket and tap a few words into google?
Just about every piece of information known to man is now available at the press of a button. We have the ability to connect with people all across the world and share all kinds of information — from our most fervent political views to what we had for breakfast.
These days we can be all be smart thanks to Wikipedia. We can all be comedians vying for retweets on Twitter. We can all be models posting a dozen selfies a day on Instagram. And we can all be popular, amassing hundreds or even thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook.
But, as can happen with any technology — the servant can all too easily become the master.
What started out as a tool to enhance our lives often becomes an addictive compulsion devouring our time and actually deadening us to life.
Experts are now voicing concerns about the effect too much internet and social media can have on us, not only culturally and socially, but even in terms of our own basic physiology.
That’s just one of the reasons I advocate being a digital rebel.
I use technology. In fact, I need it to work. However, I’ve found it essential to regularly take time out, whether a day, week or a month, to unplug and get back in touch with the real world; the world that isn’t simply pixels on a screen.
However, I’ve found it essential to regularly take time out, whether a day, week or a month, to unplug and get back in touch with the real world — the world that isn’t just pixels on a screen.
Digital Natives — A New Type of Human?
Scientists have revealed some interesting discoveries about the emergence of a new type of human being — the digital native.
Digital native is a term used to describe the most recent generations who have grown up using the internet, emails, social networking, mobile phones, video games and ipods.
While it’s true that video games, computers and portable music players have been around for decades, it’s only in the past fifteen years or so that the internet has become such an immensely integrated aspect of all our lives.
Its effect on us as a species is both fascinating and a little worrying.
It would seem that Generation Snapchat is growing up somewhat differently to preceding generations.
This can be seen in brain scans of digital natives. The use of digital technology is literally changing the structure of the human brain. Digital natives are shown to have highly developed regions of the left hemisphere relating to multitasking, decision-making and manipulating and processing data.
But those who spend vast amounts of time on their computers, smartphones and xBoxes, tend to be underdeveloped in other regions of the brain, specifically those centres related to empathy, emotional development and social bonding.
The brain is like a muscle — the areas that get exercised regularly develop, and those that don’t, atrophy.
Culture of Addiction
Is it possible the internet revolution and our era of social networking have come at the cost of true human intimacy? What if the more we think we’re ‘connected’, the more we’re actually becoming disconnected?
Excessive use of the internet, and in particular social media, has basically turned us all into dopamine addicts. This is an addiction on a mass scale — a cultural addiction — and we’re even behaving like addicts now.
It’s not uncommon to find smartphone addicts (and, yes, it’s a thing!) who are unable to put their phone down for more than a couple of minutes. Instead of being present where they are and engaging with the world around them, they’d rather be scrolling through timelines and newsfeeds. This is essentially because each little burst of information and every new ‘like’ gives their brain a hit of dopamine.
I hold my hand up and say that I use the internet like everyone else (although I do limit my time on it). I own a smartphone and have been known to use it in public.
That’s why I’m aware how addictive it can be to zone out, spending hours aimlessly surfing the net, watching stupid videos, refreshing my mailfeed and Instagram feed every two minutes; hooked into a steady information stream like a junkie on a heroin IV.
A Weapon of Mass Distraction
Compulsive internet usage is one of what I call the Weapons of Mass Distraction.
But what are we trying to distract ourselves from?
We’re trying to distract ourselves from ourselves basically — and whatever it is we’re feeling inside.
In our demented, dysfunctional culture, virtually everyone is ill at ease with themselves in some way. This is perhaps unsurprising given the stress of modern life and how fraught relationships can be.
Many people find it difficult to process and assimilate their experiences, lacking the tools and understanding they need to be able to deal with their own thoughts and emotions.
It’s therefore little wonder that so many people find it difficult to be with themselves; to just relax and do nothing. We’ve trained our minds to constantly seek new input and distraction.
A couple of years ago, one eye-opening study demonstrated how just bad the problem is. It was found that participants would rather inflict pain on themselves in the form of self-administered electric shocks, than simply being alone with their thoughts and feelings.
As Blaise Pascal noted, man’s problems largely stem from his inability to sit still in a room alone.
It’s as though we’re somehow scared there’s a big black hole at the centre of our being ready to devour us unless we keep ourselves busy and distracted.
And in a sense, there is. This black hole, which manifests as a basic sense of unease, is the repository and backlog of all our unprocessed stress and emotion. We’re not taught how to deal with stress and our feelings of lack, loss and inadequacy, so we do whatever we can to simply stuff it down and ignore it.
Distraction does has its place, and can be a good tool for relieving stress. It’s not, however, a legitimate tool for dealing with our problems. In many cases, it simply exacerbates them.
It’s far better to actually deal with what’s eating away at us and to find ways to process, integrate and move on from it.
To actually face our emotional problems head-on requires a degree of courage and emotional intelligence.
It’s admittedly easier to simply plough our minds into a narcotic haze of distraction. But this is hardly a long-term solution and, sooner or later, we have to deal with whatever it is that’s eating away at us. This necessitates confronting our own thoughts, beliefs and fears and may require finding different and healthier ways to live.
Finding A Balance
I’m not suggesting that we all throw our laptops and smartphones in the trash. The key, as with everything in life, is moderation.
I’ve learned to know when I need to unplug. Generally, I tend to feel a little numb and deadened when I spent too much time staring at a computer screen or even watching television.
When I find myself zoning out for too long, it’s often because I’m tired and actually need rest, or I might be procrastinating and trying to distract myself from some issue that needs my attention. If I’m tired, then I rest. If I’m avoiding dealing with some issue, I get on that as soon as I can.
Life is a participatory experience, not a passive one.
It’s meant to be a celebration. Every moment can be a wondrous experience when we immerse ourselves in the life around us. Taking a good look around, we come to see each second contains the fullness of life and is bursting to the brim with sights, sounds, colours, smells, taste and movement.
I believe we’re here to be fully engaged with the world around us, and we’re here to do stuff — amazing, fun, epic stuff!
Practical Tips For Unplugging
I work in front of a computer screen most the day. As I’m working on a project, I find I have to take regular breaks in order to replenish my body and keep my mind fresh. Often these breaks are only five minutes, but it really helps to go ‘offline’ for a moment or two. I might take a short walk, do some qigong, have a nap or simply a cup of tea.
I make sure that I spend some time in nature every day, free from mental distractions and unplugged from technology. This seems essential in helping cultivate a peaceful and harmonious state of mind.
We’ve lost this balance in our culture, and we really need to get it back again, for our own sanity on both an individual and collective level.
Technology has its place in life, but it won’t make us happy. It can’t. Happiness comes from within.
Sitting glued to computer screens and gadgets is fine in moderate doses, but, like anything, in excess can negatively affect our well-being and sense of aliveness.
I’ve noticed that in spite of today’s unprecedented access to knowledge, people are quite frankly no smarter than they were fifteen or twenty years ago. I sometimes fear the opposite may be true. Technology can only be as smart as the person using it.
That’s why I believe it’s essential to ensure that we’re using technology, the internet, and social media wisely. Taking time out to unplug helps us disconnect from the sheer noise of the world and gives us a chance to plug back into ourselves. This might be an enormous challenge for some people — and if it is, that’s a sure sign it’s necessary!
It’s a wonderful habit to regularly power down, take a walk, look around, observe the sky and clouds, take some deep breaths and actually engage with life. There’s no better way to energise the body, refresh the mind, and inspire the soul.
Rest assured, your emails and social media feeds will still be there for you when you get back.