One of the lifelong struggles we, as human beings, do – or should be doing – battle with is being consistently honest both with ourselves (I submit this may be the hardest part of this battle because our capacity for self-deception seems to have no limits) and with others.
As with The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr has brought the role of technology in our lives into focus with another aspect that I doubt many of us really understand in its pervasiveness in our everyday lives and what it is costing us, not just in obvious ways, but in ways that are fundamental to being human and be uniquely skilled to productively and expertly interact in and with the world of opportunity and possibilities we’ve been given.
The subtitle of this book is “Automation and Us,” and how automation has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and what we’re losing in the process is Carr’s subject in this book.
Automation, of and by itself, is not bad. It is the things we’ve automated and our relationship to automation (serving it instead of letting it serve us) that turns what could be a good thing into something that is destined to destroy us – our unique human abilities, skills, and talents – unless we take control and do something different.
One of the points that Carr makes in this book is that we have offloaded critical thinking skills, technical acumen, analysis, and creativity to technology. By doing this, we gradually lose the ability to operate successfully manually (without the technology) and use judgement, intuition, experience, and knowledge to navigate our lives and our professions.
Carr looks at the impact of automatic in the airline industry (specifically looking at how autopilot has degraded the skills of pilots to successfully deal with emergencies and crises when flying), in business (stock market, accounting, business decisions, human resources, hiring, etc., which have all been relegated to software to handle, with no human factors involved, resulting in the global financials messes we now deal with and with a loss of talent because there’s no human contact or intervention to recognize the talent), in medicine (with the advent of electronic medical records in most medical facilities, software is now making the decisions that doctors used to make and because the software adds procedures and tests, the costs, which were supposed to go lower, have actually increased exponentially) and in manufacturing.
He also looks at us and how we’ve turned over our brains to automation. We depend on social media to decide who and what we like (or don’t) and who we’re friends with (and who we’re not – anyone who chooses to limit this exposure disappears and becomes invisible because they simply don’t exist outside the virtual world) and we have chosen willing to live in this virtual world more than we actually interact with the real word.
We’ve given control of our lives to our electronic devices: to do lists, calendars, phone numbers, etc. We let our software do things we should be doing ourselves: spell-checking, grammar-checking, basic math functions, etc. We have fallen for the myth that automation gives us more power, when instead it erodes our power and our humanness.
As we don’t use our brains, we lose our brains, leading to the brain itself atrophying and dying. This sadly, is a lifestyle factor that will lead to dementia, unless we make the choice to stop it and reverse it. We already are more impacted than we realize.
But it is not too late for us to put our lives and our brains back on manual and let automation serve us in ways that don’t jeopardize the health of this wonderful brain we’ve been blessed with.
People are much more extreme in their polarization of love and hate (nothing in between) in an automated world. It often seems that empathy, compassion, care, concern and love – all unique human abilities – is absent in the presence of a world that is automated. We lose our ability to relate to each other in any kind of real way and, as a result, we lose our humanness, and we become programmed to polarized points of view that we simply pick up and accept by what and who we choose to listen to, follow, and expouse in the landscape of technology (cable, streaming, internet, etc.).
We are losing our life blood – our hearts, our souls, and our minds, because we serve the god of automation that lacks emotional richness, deep understanding, and caring concern. I hope we reverse this trend, but I also am realistic enough to realize that we probably won’t and it will probably get much worse before it gets better.
Prescription addiction is a national problem in the United States. Although there has been some public acknowledgement of its existence in general terms recently, the real scope of how deep and pervasive prescription addiction is in this country is still mostly hidden from public view.
Because of this, Big Pharma and the medical profession still pushes the two classes of drugs – central nervous system (CNS) depressants (“downers”) and central nervous system (CNS) stimulants (“uppers”) – at the core of prescription addiction insistently and without restraint. Continue reading →
Anything that alters brain chemistry (legal or illegal) introduces the risk of dementia down the road. We must understand that. It seems, however, that we – both the medical community who blithely prescribes these legal brain-altering chemical compositions and we the people, who decide for ourselves and choose to take both legal and illegal brain-altering chemical compositions because they seem to promise a short-term benefit (or because we want to numb our brains and not deal with life as it is and comes) – don’t understand that. Continue reading →
In my book review of The End of Absence by Michael Harris, we see how an increasingly constant interaction with, reliance on, and addiction to technology is creating devastating effects on us neurologically.
Among these effects are dementia-like symptoms: loss of short-term memory, easy distraction, lack of focus, loss of critical thinking skills, and loss of executive functions.
These effects are happening to people all around us just like you and me. The effects don’t discriminate: even the very young are affected just as profoundly as others of varying ages.
The research and the science is sobering, especially in light of how it points to the emergence of another lifestyle dementia that is already beginning to affect people, and will increasingly affect vast numbers of people at earlier and earlier ages.
Lifestyle dementias are dementias we choose because we adopt or don’t control or eliminate the lifestyle factors that cause the dementias.
And our relationship with technology presents even one more lifestyle choice. A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that 20% of Americans report that they are online almost constantly.
That is 1 in every 5 people here in the United States. It is not surprising to me, but it is disturbing to me for many reasons.
Because my whole career has been intricately involved with technology, I’m uniquely qualified to discuss this since I’ve always made choices to limit my exposure, instinctively, I suppose, realizing the dangers, and I continue to do so because my brain, for better or worse, is the best asset I have and I don’t want my choices to be the reason I lose any functionality it has.
Overexposure to technology completely rewires our brains (neuroplasticity) and not in positive ways. It literally changes our neural pathways, eliminating the ones we don’t use and creating new ones.
Different parts of the brain are stimulated with how we receive information.
Images light up a different area of the brain than words do. Technology lights up a totally different area of the brain than either images or words do.
Which area of our brains get lit up the most often is the part of the brain that becomes dominant and we use the other parts less and less.
With disuse, those parts we don’t use begin to die at the cellular level, eventually creating the same kinds of synaptic gaps that are common among dementias.
The brain is the only organ in which there is no cellular regenation. Once the cells in the brain die, they’re gone for good. With time, this cellular death becomes widespread and we experience dementia.
The problem with our increasing interaction exclusively with technology (smart phones and tablets have definitely made this easier) is that technology is purposefully designed to stimulate the part of the brain that deals with emotions.
Because of the emotional stimulation that technology elicits, it consistently bypasses logical, analytic processing of information and the desire and ability to discern between what’s true and false, what’s right and wrong, and what’s valuable and what’s not.
The effect on us is that we are unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes to our brains as we’re tethered to technology, so we don’t realize we’re not logically and analytically processing information coming in and that we’re rapidly losing the desire and ability to discern between what is true and false, what is right and wrong, and what is valuable and what is not.
It is simply disappearing without our awareness that we’re losing the very things that make us unique as humans and which are the most precious gifts we have been given.
The end result is that in the short term we become shallow (gullible, unthinking, ignorant, and imprisoned in a shrinking world that is simply a mirrored reflection of our narcissistic selves) and in the long term that we lose our cognitive abilities altogether.
It’s not to late for most of us to turn this around and do everything in our power to make choices that will stave off this lifestyle dementia.
But each of us has to make the choice for ourselves. Some of us won’t. Some of us don’t believe this is happening. Some of us don’t care.
However, for those that will, that do believe this is happening, and that do care, here are a few ways to get started:
Unplug from everything at a set time every day and stick to it. Replace the time that you would have spent with technology with an activity that involves the other parts of your brain. These can include hobbies, reading, putting together jigsaw puzzles, playing board games or cards with other people, crossword puzzles, sudoku, and other types of brain-intensive puzzles.
Don’t stay plugged in all day. Do what you need to do (check social media, email, texts, etc.) at set time-delimited times each day (I generally check mine early morning, noon, and 6 pm, giving myself 15 minutes each time and no more). Otherwise, I’m off the grid and working on other productive things.
Unplug completely for 24 hours each week. No phone, no internet, no social media, no nothing. And do something else entirely away from it all. This may, especially if we’re addicted to technology, be quite uncomfortable and unsettling at first (generations before us lived this way and they not only survived just fine, but I suspect they were happier and better off), but eventually you will absolutely crave your unplugged 24 hours and it may lead you to more complete unplugging than that in time.
We only get one brain in our lives. Everything we do supports it or destroys it. Once destruction happens, it’s permanent and it can’t be undone.
Let’s make sure we’re doing everything in our power with our choices to support our brains and not destroy them.
Dementias of all kinds are on the rise, despite pernicious and false claims that the rate of dementia diagnoses is stabilizing.
With an increasingly toxic planet – air, water, food, soil – our bodies and our brains are suffering irreparable damage over time, and dementias are the neurological manifestation of that damage.
Additionally, we have developed lifestyles – processed and fast foods with chemicals, too much salt, and too much sugar, neurologically-altering drugs (prescription and illegal) that have become the rule, not the exception, and increased alcohol consumption and abuse – that are harmful to our bodies and our brains, resulting in the dramatic rise in both physiological diseases and neurological degeneration.
And to top it off, the general population is getting older – Baby Boomers are about to bust all the rest of us in their old age – and medicine continues its march toward quantity of life (age) instead of quality of life (health).
With all of these factors in play, the reality is that most of us don’t stand a chance of not developing some sort of neurological impairment. It may not be full-blown dementia, but most of us are at high risk.
In some of these things – lifestyle, technology addiction, sleep habits, quality of life versus quantity of life – we have complete control. Our previous habits may have already done irreparable damage, but we have the choice today to say “Enough already!” and change.
But will we?
The pessimist/pragmatist/realist in me says most of us won’t.
I watch myself making every change I can and I watch most of the world around me continuing – even increasing speed and intensity – headlong into the very practices and behaviors we have complete control over that will lead to cognitive impairment.
I have sounded the warning here many times. But I realize that I’m just talking to myself. Nobody else cares, it seems.
At times, I wonder why I care if nobody else does. Talking to yourself is a waste of time, so I often wonder if I’m just wasting my time with this blog. Maybe I am.
But I keep doing the blog because if it helps just one other person on the planet, then that’s one person out of 7.5 billion people that I’ve been able to serve and if I stop, then I stop serving. My conscience and who I am won’t let me do that.
And even if nobody wants to hear it now, maybe in a few years, when I’m dead and gone, and their families are watching them go through the journey of dementias, their families will find this blog and it will help them.
If I leave a legacy, this might be it. I don’t have high hopes for any legacy. People are so hedonistic and narcissistic now that they don’t pay any attention to anything serious or important. I can only imagine that will get worse in the future too.
But even if there’s no use for this information, at least I know I’m doing the best I can to pay what I’ve learned forward and try to help others. The choice of whether they want to learn or ignore is theirs, not mine.
This post will take a look at how chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism affects the brain and what the behaviors and symptoms of the dementia looks like.
We all know that drinking enough alcohol at one time impairs the brain. Common symptoms include slurring words, exhibiting general motor impairment, including stumbling and walking off-balance, making poor decisions (like driving, for example), being less able to hear sound at a normal volume, experiencing vision problems, and being unable to think clearly.
These behaviors occur because alcohol depresses the central nervous system , causing it to slow down its responses and reactions. The brain stem (made up of the Pons, Medulla, and Midbrain), which regulates breathing, heart rate, and consciousness, as well all other areas of the brain are affected by alcohol:
Frontal – involved in movement, problem-solving, concentrating, thinking, mood, behavior, and personality
Temporal – involved in hearing, language, and memory
Parietal – involved in sensation awareness, language, perception, attention, and body awareness
Occipital – involved in vision and perception
Cerebellum – involved in posture, balance, and coordination of movement
Chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism have even more devastating – and permanent – effects on the brain, eventually leading to alcohol-related dementia.
Usually the first noticeable symptoms of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism are cognitive. Memory loss is common, but a unique feature of memory loss with people who are chronic, long-term alcohol abusers or alcoholics is confabulation.
Confabulation occurs when, instead of recalling accurate memories because of the damage to the brain, the person distorts, makes up, and misinterprets memories about themselves, others, and the world around them.
As difficult as it is to believe for those on the receiving end of confabulation, there is no conscious intent to be dishonest. It is simply the result of extensive neurological damage.
One of the most challenging aspects of people who confabulate is that although they are giving blatantly false information, the information can appear to be coherent, internally consistent, and relatively normal.
People who confabulate have incorrect memories that run the gambit from slight, almost imperceptible changes to the most outlandish made-up stories you can imagine.
The maddening thing about this is that they generally very confident – to the point of arguing down anyone (because they know the memory is fabricated) who tries to correct or challenge them – about their recollections, despite overwhelming concrete evidence that contradicts them.
Other signs of alcohol-related dementia emerge as:
Inappropriate behavior, including words and actions
Loss of executive function, including organizing and planning
Slowed thinking, reactions, and speaking
Trouble executing basic skills functions like adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
Decreased ability to concentrate
Decreased ability to complete tasks
Trouble with balance
With alcohol-related dementia, as with all other dementias, the person who has alcohol-related dementia loses the self-awareness that anything is wrong, both neurologically and behaviorally.
Most cases of alcohol-related dementia involve global neurological deterioration. Everything is affected.
However, two very specific types of alcohol-related dementia, Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome (known together as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome), which are the result of a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, have key features specific to them. There can be some reversal of symptoms with B1 (thiamine) therapy, but there is still permanent neurological damage and concurrent alcohol-related dementia.
Wernicke encephalopathy (commonly known as “wet brain”) causes damage in the thalamus and hypothalamus. Its symptoms include:
Severe confusion and decreased mental activity that can lead to comas and death
Loss of muscle coordination (ataxia) that can cause tremors in the legs
Vision deterioration including abnormal eye movements, drooping eyelids, and persistent double vision
As symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy disappear, Korsakoff syndrome symptoms appear. These include:
Young’s addiction to alcohol is well-known. Although he sought rehabilitation treatment for alcoholism during the band’s tour in 1988, it appears that he relapsed (the statistics on the efficacy of alcohol rehab are grim: from 50 to 90% of people who’ve been through treatment relapse, often, over a period of time, habitually consuming even more alcohol than they did before entering treatment) and never sought treatment again.
There are systemic physiological effects of chronic, long-term alcohol abuse and alcoholism, including nerve damage in the arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy), liver damage (cirrhosis), heart damage, and kidney damage.
Concurrent with all of that is the irreversible neurological damage to the brain that results in alcohol-related dementia, which can emerge as early as 30 years of age, but more commonly begins emerging after the age of 50 in chronic, long-term alcohol abusers and alcoholics.
Drinking alcohol in moderation is fine. But I urge you to take an honest look at your drinking patterns and behavior. If you find that you are a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, then it’s time today to find a way to stop drinking alcohol for good.
But no one else can do that for you. Only you can make the choice to stop drinking alcohol and then follow through with actually doing it for the rest of your life.
And here’s the key: until the rest of your life becomes more important than alcohol, you will be unsuccessful at choosing and taking action to stop drinking alcohol.
Because you are the only one who can take the action, every time you drink alcohol, as a chronic, long-term alcohol abuser or an alcoholic, you show yourself and the rest of the world the choice you’re making and you show yourself and the rest of the world what the most important thing in your life is.
We also discussed how constant connection to technology is eliminating absence from our lives, and in the process, rewiring our brains with dementia-like characteristics. It is a lifestyle dementia that we are consciously creating by choosing to live in a world of constant connection.
We also discussed how the disappearance of absence is also causing the disappearance of our ability to think, to to reason, to plan, to dream, to create, and to innovate. In short, we’re trading the depth of real life, with all its hills and valleys, simplicities and complexities, and triumphs and failures (all of which make us better people, in the end), for a fake, virtual, shallow life that, in the end, means absolutely nothing.
We also discussed how our virtual worlds, with our ability to easily eliminate anyone and anything that doesn’t look us, ends up just being a mirror we look into, which first stagnates, then eliminates growth, change, maturity, and thinking.
We also discussed how we’ve surrendered our critical thinking to the internet world of public opinion, which is often ignorant, uninformed, and devoid of expertise. As a result, we get a lot of wrong, bad, and possibly even dangerous information that we are increasingly accepting as valuable and good, without any control mechanisms in place to follow through and make sure that we’re not being led down the primrose path.
And, finally, we discussed how a constant connection to technology erodes the selfless part of us (empathy, caring, serving, looking for all others) and cultivates the self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish part of us.
The reward factor of being the center of attention all the time, even when we’re just typing nonsense or run-of-the-mill things, motivates and grows this self-absorption until all we look for is adulation and affirmation.
The impact of this is that truth – as hard as it can be to stomach sometimes – goes by the wayside and a completely false sense of self, worth, and value, albeit virtual and not real, becomes our view of ourselves.
We are also going to look at ways to bring absence back into our lives, if we’re brave enough, daring enough, and strong enough to quit following the masses into intellectual oblivion by enslaving ourselves to the machines.
My experience says that humanity in general just doesn’t have the willpower nor the intense desire to free itself from what’s destroying it. Once we get comfortable, we don’t want to move.
I hope that I’m wrong in this case, but the pragmatist in me says I’m probably not.
One of the ways in which our constant connection to technology is robbing us of meaning, experience, and richness in our lives is that our focus has become broadcasting life instead of living life. We, in effect, live in an augmented reality that we stage, produce, and filter through the lenses of our smart phones or digital cameras, but which we don’t experience in the moment or spontaneously participate in.
Harris gives a perfect example of augmented reality from L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Although in the 1939 movie, Emerald City is actually green (the movie starts out in black and white and then suddenly changes to full color as soon as Dorothy leaves Kansas and is on her way to Oz), in the book it was not.
The reason that Dorothy and Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Man believe that Emerald City is green in the book is because the Wizard of Oz tells them to put on safety glasses to protect their eyes. The safety glasses are tinted green, so everything these four see is green.
In other words, they’re not seeing anything as it actually is, but instead they seeing it through a filter that makes what they are seeing seem real, but in fact, it’s not.
Just like most of us don’t normally style our food every day like the chefs on the Food Network and most of us don’t naturally stage our lives and homes to be photo-perfect. That’s just not reality, if we’re actually living our lives.
However, the trend toward this as our normal way of treating life is growing, and we are increasingly spending more time making our lives social-media-friendly than we are actually living them as they naturally occur and not even worrying about whether all our virtual world even knows anything about them.
Examples of this abound on social media with pictures of food we eat and events that we go to such as weddings, family reunions, social gatherings, etc.
How many times – and for how much time – have we stepped out of the reality of a messy kitchen while we’re cooking and plates of food that aren’t perfectly arranged and garnished to stage our breakfast or dinner meals for social media?
How many times at social gatherings do we spend all our time documenting activities and sharing them on social media instead of actually participating in what’s going on?
When we start living an augmented reality, then we lose authenticity and genuineness. The more and the longer we do this, the less able we will be able to know the difference between what’s real and what’s staged, and the less we exercise our natural and tint-free sight, the more easily we will be manipulated and controlled by other people and other things.
If you haven’t seen the movie, Wag the Dog, you should watch it soon. This movie was prescient with regard to the augmented reality of all media, politics, and “news” and how it would manipulate the United State public into believing whatever they saw or heard, without questioning and without verifying. Digital technology has just exponentially enhanced this manipulation.
It is always with this movie in the back of my mind that I take most of the stuff I read or hear from any media outlet with a grain of salt, because I know it’s not true (spinning, angling, omissions, innuendo, gossip, etc.) and I also know it’s not genuine or authentic, but instead staged and produced to have a desired effect on the general population.
Augmented reality destroys truth. For those of us – and it seems there aren’t many of us left who aren’t all caught up in it, hook, line, and sinker as if it is true – who know it’s not true, it has also destroyed our trust.
Another example of augmented reality is with US citizens and their participation in political processes.
Here’s the reality. All politicians are liars and the process of politics is dishonest and dishonesty (the first two seasons were so hard for me to stomach that I refuse to watch any more of it, but Netflix’s original series House of Cards, with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, gets this in every disgusting and gut-wrenching detail).
And yet a lot of American citizens want to participate in a process that ultimately (here’s the other augmented reality: money and electoral colleges do the down and dirty decision-making, not the American public – the voting thing is just a ruse to make people believe they are instrumental in the process, but they’re not) chooses somebody who is thoroughly dishonest and can’t be trusted.
And when Americans are asked why they participate when confronted with the corruption, the dishonesty, and the lies of politicians and politics, nine times out of ten, one of the answers is “I’m choosing the lesser of two evils.”
That’s augmented reality, folks. Evil is evil. Why would any of us choose it at all?
And augmented reality is not limited to the media, to politics, and to politicians. It is everywhere in our society today. Education, entertainment, religion, social activism, nonprofits, business – if you can name it, augmented reality rules.
And technology has fueled this infiltration into everything we see and we hear.
But that alone is not enough to dupe us, to manipulate us, and to control us.
What makes us entirely susceptible to being duped, manipulated, and controlled is our constant connection to technology. It is analogous to the certainty of radiation contamination – and death – with prolonged exposure to radioactive materials.
Where and with what we spend most of our time is what we come to believe is true and reality.
Because we have, over time, chosen to spend our time constantly connected to digital technology and have gradually eliminated absence in our lives, our ability to objectively think, logically think, and critically think, as well as to prove or disprove information and things as true or untrue by analysis and research, we have also put ourselves into the position of completely accepting lies as truth and fake as real.
How many times have we seen some internet hoax automatically recycled on the internet as truth (and then tons of people start sharing it and broadcasting it), when a simple (and fast) check of Snopesbefore we share it all over the internet would tell us it’s a hoax?
Our constant connection to digital technology has made us vulnerable and gullible. We are much more willing to accept augmented reality than we are actual reality.
Here’s why. Actual reality contains inherent risks. It’s also messy at times. It’s hard at times. It’s ugly at times. And it’s negative at times. That’s part of breathing for a living.
But digital technology, with its filtering capabilities that let us choose to unfriend, unfollow, unlike anything that is risky, messy, hard, ugly, and negative, has essentially created an augmented reality made up of rainbows, lollipops, and unicorns that completely disconnects us from the realities of life, growth, change, and maturity, as well as developing our uniquely human capacity to care, to empathize, to comfort, to encourage, to be patient, and to be kind and merciful toward other people.
Of course, we expect all those things from other people – and we get an inauthentic and superficial version from our virtual world (I mean, really, how hard is to type a few letters saying “sorry,” and then just go on with life because it is not right in front of you and it’s not impacting you in real time?) – because our constant connection to digital technology has led us to believe that everything really is “all about me.”
So now you know the bad news that all of us are facing with regard to a constant connection to technology.
Are we doomed to this fate with no recourse?
Have we irreversibly surrendered all our power to this invisible monster that is gorging itself on all the things that make you you and me me until we’re all just hollow shells of nothingness on the outside attached to technology’s puppetmaster strings?
The good news is that we are not doomed with no recourse nor is this current trajectory irreversible.
However, like any addiction or entrenched habit, we will first have to consciously choose, then commit, and then act, making those actions a permanent replacement for what we are doing now, to reverse it.
And it will be hard until it becomes our new (and for those of born before 1985, our old) habit. And it will take a huge amount of self-control and discipline to actually accomplish it.
Are we up to the challenge? I hope so.
So, then, what steps can we implement right now to start the reversal?
The first step is to limit our exposure to constant connection.
Instead of checking email every hour, commit to checking it no more than three times a day (morning, noon, and, this is my usual cutoff, the end of the day…meaning the end of daylight hours).
Instead of wearing your smart phone like underwear, leave it on a desk or a cabinet out of your immediate reach. You really don’t have to pick it up and answer every text or every call as soon as they come in. If someone really wants to talk to you, they’ll leave a voicemail (most people don’t).
Limit checking texts and voicemails to three times a day. Set aside, within each of those times, a certain amount of time to deal with them, and stop when time runs out. And put the phone away again until the next time you’re scheduled to check it.
Here’s the funny thing. People will adjust to this schedule and they will learn when you’re available and when you’re not and eventually that’ll be the only time they contact you.
Emergencies, of course, are still emergencies and they are always exceptions to this rule.
However, we need to make sure that we understand what a real emergency is. Being out of milk for coffee, for example, is not an emergency. Our brains are going have to be retrained in a lot of different ways.
Allocate a certain amount of time each day (no more than two hours total) that you will spend on social media sites. The reality is that social media sites are the biggest time-wasters, for the most part, within digital technology.
This is time that we can easily recover for absence – solitude, peace, and quiet to reflect, to think, to dream, to plan, to innovate, to create, to learn – to be a part of our daily lives.
Instead of immediately going to Google when you don’t know something or you can’t remember something, write the question down and go to the library or a bookstore when you’re able and find a book and look it up.
This will be hard, because our constant connection to technology has produced impatience and a need for immediate gratification in us.
But delayed gratification will do two things. First, it will build patience. Second, we will begin to sort through things and regain a balance of what’s important and what isn’t.
If the effort of going to library or a bookstore to answer a question we have isn’t worth the time and energy, we’ll know that’s unimportant – and we can get rid of it.
However, if we can’t wait to get to the library or the bookstore to research our question, and we make that an urgent to-do item, then we’ll know that’s important – and we will keep it.
With a constant connection to technology, everything’s important, while in real life, there are some things that are important and some things that aren’t. This will help us regain that balance and perspective.
Turn your devices and all the noise (including music) off. On weekdays, set a time and turn them off with no exceptions.
Replace that time you would have spent on them with interacting with a good book (yeah, the ones with the pages and the real covers) or interacting with real people, like family and friends, by having dinner together or playing a board game or cards (not video games) together. This will naturally lead to conversation and connection with real people and real life. Do not turn the devices back on until the next day.
Choose one or two days a week to disconnect altogether from technology. Turn it all off. The weekend is an excellent time to do this and will give you plenty of absence in which to rest, recharge, and regroup with no extraneous interference impeding you.
I personally find it very difficult to jump back into the world of connection each week when I do this myself. I love not even thinking about and I don’t miss it at all.
With all the absence it builds into my weekends, I often find myself wishing I never had to reconnect ever again because I realize how disruptive it is in my life, even though I have strict limits on it and I’ve cut my exposure time down to the bare minimum.
In the end, even a little is still too much, at least for me.
When you have all the time back that doing these few things will give you, use it wisely.
If you have a neglected hobby, take it up again. If you don’t have a hobby, find one.
Read books. Take walks.
If you’ve got snow on the ground, bundle up and go outside to play in it. Build a snow fort or build a snowman. Admire the beauty and cleanness of a freshly-fallen snow.
Watch how the sun reflects off of it. Watch the clouds in the sky. Watch a sunset from beginning to end.
When spring comes, go find a lush, grassy hill or meadow and lie down on the ground and look at the sky.
Ride a bike. In the summer, go outside at night and look at the sky and the stars and the planets and dream.
In the fall, walk through the unparalleled beauty of the vast array of colors of the trees as they change.
Get outside and do something, not just for your body, but also for your mind.
The bottom line is there is no substitute for absence.
We aren’t missing it because we let it go gradually along the way over time and we didn’t even notice.
But when we start bringing absence back into our lives, we will be surprised, after we get used to it again, how much we missed it and how much we almost lost it for good, and, my hope, is that we will be determined never to let it go again.
We discussed how absence gives rise to critical thinking, problem-solving, short-term and long-term planning, concentrated focus, and creativity.
We also discussed the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of absence.
And, finally, we discussed how absence has been eroded by our constant connection to technology to the point that it is virtually extinct in our current society.
We discussed how this has dumbed down society as a whole and how susceptible that makes us to being controlled, manipulated, and deceived by technology.
And, finally, we looked at how much technology and our constant connection to it mirrors the society that George Orwell described in 1984, coming to the conclusion that the frighteningly eerie similarities should compel each of us to consciously choose not to follow the crowd and intentionally limit our connection and ensure a healthy amount of absence exists in our lives individually.
In this post, we’ll take a behind-the-scenes look at what happens with all the data you’re willingly and freely putting into digital technology every time you text on your phone, go to a website, input anything onto social media (including the infamous “like” button on Facebook), do a Google search, buy something online, watch streaming video, and play internet video games.
We’ll also see how being constantly connected to digital technology brings that data back to us and shrinks our exposure to real and complete knowledge (Google infamously does this with their industry-standard data mining and predictive analysis processes, which narrow search results down to what we want to see, based on our input, rather than everything there is to see).
In effect, we are being shaped and manipulated in an endless loop of our own little world of preferences and beliefs with subtle changes and false ideas about value and credibility being implanted along the way.
Our constant connection to technology is literally rewiring and incorrectly programming our brains. This negatively affects – if not outright destroys – our value systems and belief systems.
Additionally, our ability to not only think for ourselves – and change our minds based on that – but also to critically and objectively think, as well as to think outside the boxes of what we know and are familiar with is rapidly being destroyed because we depend on technology to do our “thinking” for us.
Additionally, we’ll continue our look at how our constant connection to technology is essentially creating a virtual life (think the movie The Matrix) that we are being conned into believing is real life, while actual real life, which includes lack and absence, is rapidly disappearing for all but a few of us who are aware of what’s happening and refusing to let it happen to us.
Our lifestyles, which now center around technology, are creating a new kind of lifestyle dementia, and most of us don’t even realize it’s happening. That’s why you need to read this book and that’s why I’m spending so much time reviewing it.
Perhaps you think what is being described here is impossible and this is just an alarmist warning that you can blow off because “that’ll never happen.”
It’s already happened and it is happening. I know technology very well from a big-picture and a behind-the-scenes perspective, so I’m speaking as an insider and an expert who has worked and does work with this on a daily basis.
Here’s the reality. Whether you choose to ignore this is immaterial. It’s already well in motion and progressing rapidly and, if we choose to remain ignorant and we choose to continue our constant connection, we will be devastatingly changed in the process.
And the sad part is that, like the society that Orwell discusses in 1984, not only will we not be aware, but we will not care, even if it’s the most destructive thing that can happen to humanity.
One of the ways in which our constant connection to technology has changed us is that now our default choice is to use technology to interact with people and things rather than actually interact with people and things for real.
Here’s a simple comparative survey of why our brains have been rewired to prefer technological interaction with people and things rather than real interaction with people and things.
With technology, we can ignore or eliminate or limit our time with anybody or anything we don’t want to have to deal with. This can include people and things we find challenging, who disagree with us, who don’t “tickle our fancy,” and who “make” our lives “harder” just by their presence.
With a click of a button, we can unfriend them or unfollow them and turn off their news feeds, or we can avoid those things altogether until they simply no longer exist to us.
What we end up with in the process is an artificial, virtual world that we create to make us feel good. It’s also a shallow and stagnant world that ends up being essentially us looking in a mirror and seeing nothing but our own image reflected, because the people and things that are left after our unfriending, unfollowing, and avoiding are those that never challenge us, always agree with us (even when we’re wrong), and boost our feel-good emotions (as we do theirs).
In real life, those people or things are right there with us and we have figure out the best way to deal with them whether we want to or not, even if that means putting up with our co-workers, friends, and relatives or all the tough things that exist in real life.
In other words, we can’t turn them off (and if we eliminate them, in the case of people, then we go to prison). So it forces us to find creative and workable ways to share the same space with them and it increases our relating-to-humanity-and-things skills and builds traits like patience, kindness, gentleness, understanding, empathy and mercy.
These are character-related traits that cannot be developed in the artificial, virtual world that constant connection to technology enables us to create in our own image.
And our artificial, virtual worlds make demands on us as well, although this dark side is seldom, if ever, on our minds or consciences. They demand our 24/7 attention and presence and because of our acquiescence to those demands, we lose absence. Solitude. Peace. Disconnection.
Absence gives us time alone with our thoughts, alone with ourselves, and alone with our ideas, our dreams, our hopes, and our imaginations. Absence also gives us the ability to regroup and recharge our brains and ourselves. It gives us a chance to get away from all the “noise” of life and have peace and quiet.
Here’s the irony. We need solitude as part of our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. There’s no other way to survive life.
Yet, even for those of us born before 1985, from the moment we’re born the emphasis is on socialization.
Society is so insistent on this – my parents often had to drag me kicking and screaming as a small child into social situations because I was always very uncomfortable with them, and as I got into my teenage years and could make my own choices, more often than not, I chose staying home over going somewhere either for a few hours or overnight – that most of us are uncomfortable being alone and being quiet, with nothing to entertain or distract us.
Technology and constant connection ensure that we don’t have to be uncomfortable, and it amplifies the illusion of constant company.
This, by the way, began before digital technology. Before there was the internet, there was television. And before television, there was radio. All of these technologies gave – and give – the illusion of constant company because of the noise and the distraction they provide.
And here’s the reality for humanity now. For those of us who remember absence, we have the constant choice of saying “yes” or “no” to constant connection. For those of us who came of age with constant connection as part of our normal lives, we don’t even know there is a choice. And that is truly sad.
Because our artificial, virtual worlds seem real to us because they’re replacing real life, our brains get rewired in additional ways by the illusion this creates.
One way is that we feel surrounded by people like us, so we feel free to say whatever we want to say however we want to say it. We don’t care how wrong it is, how hurtful it is, or how confessional it is. Constant connection, by subverting thinking, has removed the filtering that normally goes into thinking before we speak.
In this way, the words spewed out on the internet actually mimic one of the tell-tale signs of dementia: the loss of impulse control and ability to know what things to verbalize and what things to keep to ourselves.
Another way that constant connection to technology rewires our brains is that it promotes the self all the time. With an artificial, virtual world that we have created and are the center of, we can continuously draw all the attention to ourselves.
This self-broadcasting, which shares many traits with narcissism, includes fervent self-documentation consisting of constant tweets, continual status updates, and a never-ending supply of selfies.
In effect, a constant connection to technology makes us incredibly self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish, and it reinforces our belief that “it’s all about me.”
So it’s no surprise that we’re less empathetic, less genuinely caring (caring for someone online takes little effort, engagement, involvement, and commitment while caring for someone in real life takes continual effort, engagement, involvement, and commitment, no matter what circumstances arise), less able to listen and hear what people are saying or trying to say, less understanding, and less able to provide authentic comfort, encouragement and support.
In other words, a constant connection to technology makes us less human.
So why do we do it? Because it’s rewarding online. The more attention we garner, the more we want. If everybody notices us and loves – or likes – us, that is very motivating to continue our self-tracking because it feeds our egos.
A constant connection to technology and self-broadcasting gives us the approval we crave just for living life and doing the mundane things it requires of all of us. Somehow, having a bunch of people like and praise some routine, ordinary thing we’ve done makes us feel extraordinary and accomplished.
It doesn’t happen like that in real life. Most of what we say and do goes completely unnoticed, even though we may say and do a lot and say and do a lot of good, but despite that reality, those of us who are invested in real life just keep going on and putting one foot in front of the other.
A constant connection to technology rewires our brains to stop doing our own thinking and shop it out the the public opinion of the internet.
This costs us far more than we are remotely aware of.
In choosing constant connection and public opinion to do our thinking and decision-making, we choose to abandon the most powerful workshop we have access to, which is our lone minds.
In our lone minds, which only solitude can give us, we can think objectively and critically through things. We can solve problems. We can fill in missing pieces of the puzzles that life inherently has. We can find connections between things that don’t look connected on the surface. And we can innovate and create scenarios and options that point us forward in our lives.
When we abandon our lone minds, we offer ourselves up to indiscriminate information from public opinion, much of which is conflicting, wrong, and worthless.
But because our brains are rewired to believe that’s a valid and real world, we accept all the input we’re given and make the erroneous assumption that it all has the same quality, the same value, and the same veracity.
And that will destroy us, because most of what we get is uninformed, uneducated, and unknowledgeable in the context of being “expert” information.
In addition to this and what most people don’t know is that public opinion is manipulated, especially on the organizational level.
For example, many organizations have people internal to the organization write a lot of positive reviews about whatever their products are to feed the search engines to give them a higher rating of satisfaction.
Data mining cannot analyze quality, only quantity. So the more times a search engine sees a name and sees positive input, the higher it ranks it organically. This is a driving force – and goal – in every organization with an online presence.
There are two types of search engine results, paid and organic.
Paid search engine results (the ones in the example above with AD to the left of the link) are those that organizations pay, often a lot of money, to the search engine for significant keywords to get top-of-the-page (or top-right-side-of-the-page), first-page placement.
This is known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Each time someone clicks on the paid advertisement, whatever that keyword costs is what is charged to the organization. This can get really expensive really fast.
Organic search engine results (in the example above, below the faint gray line, starting with the Alzheimer’s Association’s link) are generated in order by how many times the keyword appears on the site and how much traffic (search engines don’t really care where the traffic comes from, only how much of it there is) goes to the site (this is where social media sharing has really taken center stage in driving traffic to sites). This doesn’t cost anything.
So, it should be obvious why organizations manipulate their data behind the scenes to get higher organic ranking. The most prevalent (and most dishonest) way has become social media sharing and having people internal to the organization physically go to the site as often as they can. More hits equals higher ranking in the organic search results.
What does that have to do with us and the end of absence and constant connection to technology? Everything!
We instinctively choose what’s listed first because we connect that with what must be the best. However, because what’s listed first is simply because of manipulation (which we are unaware of) and not because of proven and tested quality, we get duped in accepting things as “best,” “right,” or “most” when in fact there is no proof any of those things are true. It’s all an illusion.
Because we have come to believe that Google is always right and if it’s on the internet then it must true and because the answers are alway immediate, we have abandoned the mental processes that time would allow – comparison, analysis, perspective, insight, and wisdom – so that we could be sure we were making the right and best choice. That’s the lack of absence that real life decision-making gives us.
And what do Google and Facebook do with all that data you share with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google (these are just a few – everything you do on the internet gets stored somewhere and is analyzed by software that gets a sense of who and what you are about using predictive analysis, so that what you ask for ends up being things that appeal to or interest you, not everything there is on the subject)?
The next time you do a Google search, log in to your Facebook account afterwards. Look at the right hand side of the screen where the ads are. Odds are good they will be for what you just searched for in Google.
Pay attention when you share links on Facebook to that same right hand side of the screen. The odds are good that whatever the content is within the link you shared will be what the advertising is for.
This is predictive analysis in your face. Most of it is not, but Facebook makes no secret that is what they are doing to try to get you to buy something.
Google’s method is invisible, but much more detrimental and dangerous.
Google uses what is known as a “filter bubble” to generate search results. This gets personalized for each person that uses Google and it is based on our preferences and our activities.
Google keeps meticulous track of our searching history, promoting the same results each time we repeat a search and further personalizing them based on which results we choose to follow through on by clicking on the links Google shows.
Each time we do the search, results are pared down to match our personalization preferences, which in effect means we get exposed to a narrower and narrower view of the universe.
Facebook uses this same algorithm in our newsfeeds. We might have 100 Facebook friends, but we interact with 10 or so almost constantly.
All the statuses of those 10 will always show up in our news feeds. The other 90 friends will randomly show up in our news feeds based on how much we interact with them and they interact with us.
The more interaction, the more likely the statuses will show up randomly – not always – in our news feeds. For friends with whom we have little interaction on Facebook, their statuses disappear from our news feeds altogether.
In other words, the internet is making our worlds smaller, not bigger.
And the personalization that makes our worlds smaller, not bigger has affected every part of our lives. The music we listen to. The suggested content for us to watch on live streaming. How and if we get employed by an organization.
And it seems that our brains are, with their constant connection rewiring, accepting this as being okay and we’ve adopted an “out of sight. out of mind” mentality toward anyone or anything we don’t see regularly or at all.
Here’s what we must understand and realize about how dangerous this is and how much we’re losing in the process.
Personalization is really just the glorification of our own tastes and our own opinions. It eliminates the big picture and a general, broad and comprehensive base of knowledge and understanding while embracing customization, specialization, and a singular viewpoint that takes nothing around it into account (no context).
Personalization cuts off our access to real learning and real knowledge. It cuts us off from the very things – and people – who could help us the most.
Because there is no “surprise” content to challenge us, to think about, to learn from, and to grow and mature in, we stagnate in life.
Stagnation is one step away from the regression to the kind of mindlessness that typified 1984‘s society as a whole. We are not that far from it ourselves.
Neuroscientist and author Frances Jensen, in describing what normal life has become for most of society, calls what happens neurologically dementia of the preoccupied.
It’s an apt term. It’s also the brain mimicking dementia symptoms, because our brains aren’t wired to do continual rapid attention/task shifts nor is it wired to multitask.
Despite a lot of evidence that a 24/7 connection to technology (produces a neurological condition, which includes changes to the structure of the brain, known as digital dementia) and multitasking are not only damaging the brain long-term, but they also reduce productivity dramatically (the effect neurologically is exactly the same as staying awake for 24 hours or more or smoking marijuana), a 24/7 connection to technology and multitasking are still seen as badges of honor and are highly prized both professionally and personally.
The problem with multitasking is that we can’t really multitask. Neurologically, we are wired to focus all our attention on a single task and to complete it before moving on to something else. When we try to force our brains to do something they aren’t designed to do, we end up doing more harm to ourselves than good.
One harm is simply forgetting what we were doing, leaving it unfinished, or forgetting to do something we needed to do altogether.
As a result, at the end of a day, which is when we finally put that phone down, turn the digital devices off, and turn off all the rest of the technology we have going (until we open our eyes the next morning), all we have is a random, disjointed mess of incompletion. In other words, we have little to nothing concrete or finished to show for being awake for 14-16 hours.
That increases anxiety, which is damaging to the brain. It also increases stress, which is damaging to the brain.
And because we’re not getting anything accomplished, we’re constantly behind and getting further behind until we’re completely overwhelmed to the point of just quitting, so that most of what we set out to accomplish as far as things that actually mean something and are important never get done.
We’re already paying dearly, in ways we may not be aware of, for the choices we’re making. The cost will only get steeper with time.
It will not only affect us in dramatic and negative ways, but also our loved ones who will end up either taking care of us because we are unable to take care of ourselves or will be forced to have someone else take care of us because they can’t meet the demands of caregiving.
We don’t have control over the external factors – and nobody really knows or will ever know what all of those are – that cause dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. We don’t have control over genetic factors that give us a greater risk of developing these degenerative neurological diseases.
But we do have control over the choices we make in our lives that put us at greater risk for developing dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
It is my hope that we will all choose to take that control and use it wisely.