“ What we really want is a natural life “
– Charlotte Joko Beck, Author of “Now Zen”
Since the advent of screens in our lives, starting with television and including personal computers, humanity has been on a steady climb of access to information and sharing of knowledge due to increased time with electronic screen devices. Starting in the mid 90’s and finally with the invention of the iPhone in 2007, it became possible to hold an Internet enabled device in the palm of our hands. This steady increase in access to information has allowed us to reach great heights in knowledge, communication and the ability to record and examine many facets of our lives. The view from these technological heights is profound! We can see where we came from, know exactly where we are now, and even forecast into the future.
Yet current evidence leads us to ask the question: have we reached a peak or plateau with this technological climb, where we now are faced with the unintended consequences of our infatuation with screens? Research shows a dramatic increase in anxiety, ADHD and depression rates with kids, and suicide rates are at their highest in 50 years. So called ‘social’ media connects us to many people, yet numerous studies show use of these platforms actually make us feel more socially isolated and depressed due to social comparison. Finally, whereas screens and technology can connect us more than ever before, we have somehow found ourselves encountering less physical interactions on a day by day basis, and as stock portfolios climb the destruction of the natural resources we depend on for survival becomes even more rampant.
What stands between the past uphill climb of our technological prowess and the unknown continuation of the plateau in front of us? How will we remember what it means to be socially connected and in touch with nature as devices become more alluring and we lose touch with the physical world just outside our doors? We need reminders and experiences to show that empathy, connection and shared physical experiences are the only clinically and scientifically proven methods of creating well being among human beings.
We believe technology isn’t itself the problem- rather, technology and the prevalent overuse that tends to happen on platforms such as social media, online forums, shopping and information sites are pointing to a larger disconnect at the societal level. Mainly, humans in the developing world are finding themselves more depressed and socially isolated than ever. This is due to a combination of a background narrative of political upheaval, environmental destruction and nuclear chaos, long work hours, fragmented families, never ending to-do lists and activities to keep up with, and most importantly the decrease in participation at the major social centers of our age: churches, parks, malls and community centers. Rather than ‘re-create’ the physical social fabric that maintains our health and emotional sanity, we have turned instead to digital devices and the convenience of electronic connection to those people and things that in the past brought us joy, meaning and connection.
The digital screen, with its offerings of face time with loved ones, push notifications from a friend, and promise of immediate delivery of an email has instead been co-opted by software developers and tech companies to fight for the one thing we can give them: our attention. For this reason, any activity online that involves an Internet enabled site or service such as social media, email or messaging also comes with it the promise of sharing our data and being inundated by ‘cookies’ that quite literally tempt us into clicking on the next article, buying the featured product or going down a rabbit hole of commentary stretching back the last 10 years.
Our goal is simple: continue to use digital screen technology as a tool for communication, information gathering and access to key goods and services. Avoid using screens for social interaction and creating a sense of Self or connection to the world. Be proactive about calling out abuse, bullying and negativity. Teach youth to become leaders in the ways of finding truth amongst ‘fake news’ and culling content for quality and not quantity. Re-create the social fabric of family and community connection to demonstrate that shared in person activity, eye contact, and physical touch are the ingredients to a resilient and happy life.
Our task is extremely difficult given the research that shows many are already subconsciously addicted to their digital devices. Neural pathways in the brain have been created and conditioned to want more screen time to continue the mirage of connection and meaning. Our journey therefore must take the form of a mythic odyssey- one that can snap our attention away from the on screen story of someone else’s life and allow us to fully realize we must go down our own path to authentic being.
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