Although it began painfully, because I had a difficult time settling into the narrative, I recently completed a book I began reading; Stolen Focus by Johann Hari. I am pleased that I persisted because it was purposeful and held true to the promise that drew me to the text. The ending of the subtitle is “How to Think Deeply Again”. Qualifying myself, I have maintained my focus and have a distinct ability to consider myself, be alone, and introspective, and use solitude to benefit myself. I have read excerpts from this book, as they have been copied at professional developments for teaching over the past year, I selected to read the whole thing since the pieces tended to whet my appetite. I wanted to discover how to really make a difference in the most important people in my life lives.
“Kids today have so much more to deal with in their lives than we did when we were growing up.” Have you ever heard something like that being stated? I most certainly have; I may have said a permutation of that claim. However, I reject this claim at this point. Context: When is the time period of “when we were growing up”? For me, I was an adult at the point in time when email became a common thing, well just barely. I worked out my first email address, a Hotmail account when I was 18. It was not until I was 21 that I purchased my first cell phone, a Nokia. It is easy to suggest that kids now have an immersion in technology almost in utero; you get what I mean. An easy target is social media, and I do not suggest that social media is not a part of the problem. I deposit the lion’s share of the blame to the feet of the cell phone manufacturers.
When my daughter was 9 years old she would beg me to watch a new movie. We own more than 1,000 DVDs and many of them are rated G or PG, appropriate for her to watch, sometimes on her own at 9 years old. I ventured to show her some movies that were rated PG-13 alongside me where I could pause, explain, or even pre-teach some concepts, images, and/or ideas that she would be exposed to. We would process the movie afterward and have an intelligent dialogue about the plot, character development, and themes seen within the movie; this was something I thoroughly enjoyed and was prepared to conduct being a veteran English Language Arts teacher. It was not until she was in High School at the age of 14 that she got her first cell phone. I did not feel good about it, but I also acknowledged that it was not going to be the hill I was going be die on since there would be no value in my death as she was going to get a phone from her mother; I may as well be on board so that I could assist in monitoring minutes.
Within a year of her having a cell phone, she began hating watching movies. “They are too long.” “They are too boring.” “I just don’t get what’s going on.” While “watching” movies, she would also be on her phone, but that’s not where I think the problem rests. The problem comes from how her brain has been rewired and has been affected neurologically.
Although I could spend time right now looking up and citing the evidence I am about to propose, let’s be honest, I am too tired and I have a feeling you wouldn’t check my sources. Furthermore, with the same amount of effort, you would express to follow a hyperlink, you could do a web search with a few keywords; okay, I consent that is a little more work, or you can just take my word for it. Cell phones, as well as social media, train that owner to become emotionally reactive to the sounds. A ring, chirp, beep, buzz, or vibration makes the owner “feel” something. “Yay, someone wants to connect with me!” thinks the owner. The owner’s brain releases dopamine and/or serotonin when the phone makes a sound. “I have to look.” “I have to get this.” “I have to connect.” The quest for this connection brings the owner such joy. A cell phone is a tool. The tool functions to make the owner happy. The neurological interaction of the brain releasing joy juices provides a new complex problem. This problem is that now, the owner NEEDS that device to gain the effect of dopamine and serotonin. The owner is now less able to regulate their happiness in a normal way with living and interacting with the world and others. The brain now, cannot and/or will not release the dopamine and/or serotonin as it normally would because of the actual addiction to the phone. Exceedingly, this addiction holds nearly 100% of the people who struggle with this problem in depression. This juxtaposition of phone and person is clear. The phone owns the person and the person is now the tool.
The tool to what end? To be manipulated by corporations, marketers, and advertisers. If you have not noticed and are unaware that smartphones listen to your conversations and use algorithms to push focused information to encourage your spending and control your thoughts, they do. You can look this up yourself, experiment, and engage in the Scientific Method to see what happens, or just take my word for it.
So, my daughter… She does not have the attention to maintain herself through a movie. The few times I have been able to get her to put her phone away, she has been enraptured by the movie. She suggested to me, “One thing I really liked about going to Camp Taconic,” a sleep-away summer camp she attended until she was 15, “was that we were not allowed any technology. I liked that I could disconnect for 7 weeks and I felt good. I really wasn’t bored and I didn’t miss it.” In the small case study of my daughter, I see that the value of the cell phone and social media does not contribute to a well-adjusted person.
I chose to write this blog post while I was attending a concert at the Apple Tree Inn where I live in Lenox, MA. The band, well, a member of the band was Deertick. I sat by myself, reflected on the ambiance, and enjoyed the flavors of the water, the cocktail, and the coffee. I listened to the sounds in the air, the harmonies, melodies, the sounds of the voice, and actually heard the words even though the romance of the vibe, words were not needed. I sat, I smiled, I observed the other guests, smiled at them nodded with our glances. Never once did I use technology, not even my watch. I was immersed in the moment and gained joy from my brain releasing hormones and chemicals that supported my happiness. This was a great experience.
Years ago, even before I commonly texted on my phone, I wrote an article about how connections between people on technology were an illusion. I am not going to get into the details of it, only summarize: Real connection, as such, communication, are impulses understood by your brain. The deepest connection and communication are completed when you are face-to-face with someone. The visual, auditory and tactile ‘learner’ are all engaged in this interaction; beyond that, the kinesthetic part of the brain is pressed into the party as well. Technology removes the “mixed grill” from the communication and connection party. Technology brainwashes the user to assimilate to what the corporations want; compliant, docile, easily manipulated, and not thoughtful (as in thinking deeply and wholly) participants in the human experiment. The trouble is, this experiment is not following the Scientific Method, the conclusion does not attempt to prove a hypothesis; it only intends to prove how much control the conductors are able to hold over the participants. Did you know you were part of an experiment?