Technology and Mental Health

Yahoo was formed in 1995 and went public in 1996- immediately becoming a part of every young person's vocabulary. Offering free email addresses and a search engine, Yahoo was "it". Until...

Google files for incorporation Sep 1998, and not long after- everyone who's anyone "googles" their questions online.

In 2003 "Tom" created Myspace- arguably the first widespread social networking site. Old friends reunite and anyone "cool" has a Myspace page. Until...

Facebook (although created earlier) became open to everyone over age 13 in 2006. Offering status updates among other things, it becomes the newest "to the minute" way to keep in touch with friends.

Don't even get me started on Twitter...

Once upon a time we lived in a land where decades (or more!) passed between technological inventions. Whole (short) lifetimes existed, and for the most part, the old people didn't have to learn a whole lot "new". A father could pass on his knowledge about carpentry for example, and his son could continue the tradition more or less the way his dad did it. This was the case with most of human history. Change came slowly....

Let me make an obvious statement: this is not true any longer.

What was once the "it" invention, quickly becomes outdated. Inventors extol the virtue of their latest innovations, only to be outdone by competitors 6 months later. The Iphone becomes cheaper and outdated almost the second you buy it (grumble). It's an incredibly exciting time to be alive if you have a technologically gifted mind.

But what about the rest of us?

Throughout human history, we have evolved to accept a certain pace of life. Our minds, our understanding, our perspective are all based on a lifestyle that traveled (at fastest) by horse. To travel from A to B, took time. Your mind was free to wander. You breathed fresh air. Definitions of "road trip" did not include drive thrus, loud music, or speed traps. I would imagine that time spent getting from A to B allowed reflection, decompression, imagination, and if you were lucky- conversation.

So the question I want to pose is- how do you think it affects our minds that many of us literally never sit in silence without a monitor in front of us. Very few of us enjoy more than a few minutes of outside air a day (and usually only when walking from our cars). Our idea of "decompression" is to get Starbucks. Our idea of conversation is now often- text messages, status updates or email.

I enjoy modern comforts as much as anyone. I enjoy starbucks, road trips, facebook and blogging (clearly! ha!) But I'm left to wonder: what is it doing to me?

The human creature adapts slowly. It always has. A great example of this is our obesity epidemic. Our bodies have adapted since the beginning of time- to make the most out of every calorie. To store fat from foods so that we have it in famine. To prevent starvation. To give us energy for the next hunt. To ensure survival. Try telling your body, "I actually don't need you to store fat any longer and if you could just ignore the calories I'm sending- it would be great!" It won't listen (I've tried.)

It is no stretch to see that the human mind is likely the same. While we travel at 80 mph, drinking caffeine, sitting by artificial light until late at night, listening to music or tv constantly... what is our mind making of all this noise? Does our mind know what to do with it? Watching TV feels like rest at the time. But strangely, I don't walk away feeling rested.

Someday, one of the many things I would like to study is just that. We already know that exercise is good for the mind (see my earlier blog). What about fresh air? What about a slower pace? What about sunshine?

The mind is an organ that succumbs to physical realities just like your heart. If you abuse it endlessly- there must ultimately be a consequence. So what is that consequence?

All I know is, that when I get going really fast- I crave the technology. It is a struggle to push that power button off. But once I do, when I'm on the other side, I'm so grateful I did. I feel rested, calmer, happier, and more connected to my loved ones.

The irony that I write this on a blog is not lost on me. Ha! I love technology and love the additions it has brought to my life. So (like most things) it will have to be a balancing act. Anything short of living on a compound will require that I make friends with technology.

But I think the balance is worth striving for....

I'm curious- what is your experience with this? Do you feel technology has helped or harmed your emotional well-being? What do you do to decompress in a real way?

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