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Wake Up and Smell the Roses

When I wake up, one of the first things I do is check my emails.

And while I have my morning coffee, I scroll through the news feed on my phone.

Then I sit on the train to work and scroll endlessly through my facebook feed, filled with conspiracies, cat memes and outrage!

Throughout the day, there are constant distractions: Incoming messages, calls and email notifications.

After a distracted and stressful day at work, I sit on the train checking facebook, playing games and watching youtube videos.

Then I relax at night, watching Netflix while checking my emails.

This was a typical day for me, until I became more aware of how much time I spent immersed in the digital world and the impact it was having.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. 

Carl Jung

Our lives are completely immersed in constant digital communication.

As a society, we are spending more and more hours each day hooked up to the digital world: News, Email, Social Media, Netflix, YouTube.

The scary thing, is this is no accident.

Our attention has been hijacked and we are being manipulated by Artificial Intelligence and Social Media algorithms.

Our evolved biology serves us brilliantly in many ways but also includes vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Persuasive technology—technology that shapes attitudes and behavior—pushes many of these buttons, leveraging our vulnerabilities to generate engagement and, ultimately, corporate revenue. 

Tristan Harris // Centre for Humane Technology

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat aren't optimising their apps for the good of society or for human wellbeing.

Instead, the focus is purely on profit, where billions of dollars are being invested by tech firms to find the most powerful way to capture and manipulate your time and attention, which is then sold for profit.

Our biology is being hijacked by Supernormal stimuli to gain more and more of our time and attention.

This comic by Stuart McMillen explains it perfectly:

Digital media is controlling your life

You are probably thinking to yourself, so what! A bit of facebook is not going to kill me.

Here's the problem:

Digital media is controlling what you think and how you spend your time.

We all have goals and things we want to get done. Maybe you want to start a new business, grow your own vegetables, learn to play the guitar, spend more quality time with your family or read that book that's been gathering dust on the bookshelf.

Instead of spending your time on the things you really want to be doing, your attention is being constantly distracted.

We tell ourselves:

“After I watch this video on Youtube, I'm going to make a start on that vegetable garden.”

“TOMORROW is the day that I'll start that new business!” 

But what happens? One Youtube video leads to another. Minutes turn to hours... hours turn to days and days turn into months.

Oops. Tomorrow will be the day...

Digital media is also controlling your view of the world and the information you are consuming.

Negative and outrageous information gets more clicks, so the algorithms gradually feed us more and more of it. That's why there is so much misinformation, so much fear, so many conspiracy theories and fake news.

Digital media is affecting your mental wellbeing

Living in a world immersed in Supernormal stimuli, doesn't give your brain the rest it deserves. We overuse parts of our brains which deal with logic, information and decision-making. This affects our mood, causes depression, affects memory and focus, impacts social relationships and empathy.

To find relief, people turn to alcohol, drugs, medicine and expensive therapies to get relief. But these are Band-Aid solutions which ignore the root cause of the problem.

Instead, the solution is obvious. You need to give your brain a rest, by switching off from the digital world.

Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to do this. 

Nature deficit disorder

While society is spending too much time connected to technology, we are spending less time in nature.

People are spending less time outdoors: walking in parks, gardening, hiking, camping. And kids are spending way less time exploring the world, building forts, playing with dirt and interacting with the nature.

It's what author Richard Louv calls Nature-Deficit Disorder, to describe the impact that disconnection from nature is having on human health. Nature-Deficit Disorder is causing diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, obesity and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses.

Nature has such a powerful affect on us, because we evolved in the lap of nature. In the end, we are part of the natural world and not separate from it.

Spending time in nature has the opposite affect of digital overload, helping you to reset your brain.

This connection with nature is supported by science, which shows that our brains behave differently when in nature. Being connected with nature has a calming affect, which soothes your nerves and boosts your immunity. Exposure to nature has been linked to:

  • Improved focus and attention
  • Lower stress
  • Better mood
  • Better mental health
  • Higher levels of empathy and cooperation
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery and illness
  • Increase in blood cells that fight cancer
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced blood pressure

Wake up and Smell the Roses

Instead of waking up and overloading your mind with everything that is going wrong in the world... you need to wake up and smell the roses!

Get outside in your garden and soak up a healthy dose of nature. Your garden will help you start the day in a calm and positive way. A bit of sun in the morning also provides vitamin D and helps calibrate your sleep cycle. 

Four Step Challenge: Take back control and reconnect with the world around you

There is an alternative to spending your day stressed, distracted and overloaded.

Here's a 4 step challenge, for taking back control and reconnecting with the world around you. 

Step 1: Become aware of the problem

The first step is to become more aware of the problems caused by digital media and the impact it's having on your life and on society. Here are some resources I recommend:

Step 2: Become self aware with a digital detox

Disconnect from technology for a full day. No phone, no laptop, no tv. Notice every time you feel the urge to check your phone. At the end of the day, sit down with a pen and paper (no laptop) and write about how your day went, how you felt and how it compared to a normal day for you.

If you don't think technology is affecting you, this exercise will help you become more aware of how it's affecting you. If a whole day is too daunting, start with half a day or even a few hours.

Step 3: Disconnect and take control

There are lots of resources to help you disconnect and take control of your social / digital media use:

Step 4: Reconnect with nature and the world around you

Spend more time in nature:

  • Gardening and growing food
  • Nature hikes
  • Camping
  • The beach
  • Parks

There are no easy answers

There are no easy answers. We live in a society that relies on technology, so it's not practical to disconnect completely. And urbanisation means that nature is often not at our door step. 

If you take up the challenge and do some or all of these steps, I would love to hear how you go. Just leave a comment below.

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