Yesterday I heard a disturbing story. My friend rang me to share how his son had recently gone through a very sad divorce.
He shared with his Dad how the unreality of the digital world, that many young people live in today, was a major contributor to his divorce and his general lack of wellbeing.
My friend’s son pointed out that after a while, for the inhabitant of the digital world, it is hard to tell between truth and fiction.
It gets so bad that you can even lie to yourself and you actually believe the lie.
Many years ago, another friend of mine, Rod Allen, summed up the predicament of the younger generation (and maybe all of us) with this memorable quote:
“This current generation is sadly off with the pixies most of the time and they don’t even know it.”
Personally, I have been aware of this problem myself for some time. At times, the digital madness has overcome me for a moment, but thankfully not for too long.
When I was a boy, my dad taught me the danger and falsity of vicarious pleasure. For many years of my younger life, our family did not have a TV. This proved to be a huge blessing in disguise.
Seven Dangers of the Digital World
So, what are the seven dangers that present themselves to us in the digital world we all inhabit?
1. We are Losing Our Ability to be Human
Charles Ashworth writes in Forbes Business Magazine an illuminating article titled, ‘Are We Losing The Human Connection?’ He had this to say:
“Human connection is an innate need to create a social rapport with others. Given the complexity of human communication (verbally and non-verbally), it’s nearly impossible to have an online recreation of this kind of social rapport we get offline.
This isn’t to say that technology has completely eradicated our ability to connect; it’s only that the way we connect digitally is different than the way we connect analogously.
It is imperative for our mental health to have a true connection with other humans, intimate conversations with eye contact and touch, an empathetic heart in the presence of others and open ears when asking someone about their well-being both in and out of their professional lives. Digital connection should never be an alternative to the natural interactions of human beings.
In my opinion, human interaction — that good old in-person connection — is more rewarding. We can get a much better feel for the person’s tone, sentiment and feeling face-to-face than we can from behind a screen.
For many people, it’s even uncomfortable to sit down across the table from someone and make eye contact now because, let’s face it, that’s not the world we live in any longer.
Our world consists of emails, laptop screens, mobile devices, and instant messaging platforms infiltrating our daily lives. We skip from app to app, vying for true, intimate human connection, all while staying stuck behind the perceived safety of our screens.
The issue is, we can’t move into the future if we’re using technology as a crutch. It’s supposed to augment human interaction, not replace it entirely.”
2. We are Building a Fake World to Show Ourselves Off
Tal Thompson in his insightful articled titled, ‘The Lost Art of Human Connection’, says,
“Anyone who’s been around social media long enough knows that there’s one irrefutable truth. Everyone has a social media version of themselves and then they have a real version of themselves.
Can you imagine choosing the best candidate for a job based on their social media profile? Do you have any real friends that were created and maintained exclusively through social media? I’m sure you answered “no” to both, because there is an element of authenticity that’s missing from those scenarios.
The human connection is all about authenticity. If you want to truly know who someone is, you have to meet them at the human level and encourage authentic interaction. Authenticity is what I crave in my interactions with people, and I think everyone should. Social Media is great, but it has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Your tribe and your true version of reality should be based on human connections. This keeps us grounded, and authenticity reciprocates.”
3. We End up Believing Our Own Lies
Rob Gould in an article titled, ‘Digital amnesia | People believe their own lies on social media’, says;
Millions of social media liars are only fooling themselves. We all have friends on social media who seem to be living perfect lives. However, according to a new survey, a frightening two-thirds of social media users embellish reality to create the illusion of a more exciting life. This phenomenon, which has been called an “airbrush reality” takes a toll on the embellisher’s psychological health too, according to experts.
Sixty-eight percent of social media users surveyed admit that they “embellish, exaggerate or outright lie when documenting events on social media” in order to make their lives seem more interesting and generally better than they really are, the study found. And half of respondents said they feel sadness, shame, and even paranoia when they are unable to live up to the online image they have created.
Here’s the really frightening part. Psychologists have discovered that “digital amnesia” is a side effect of lying on social media and essentially, it entails forgetting the truth and actually believing the lies. When a user lies on a social media website (like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) they actively help their brain rewrite their memories and eventually believe the lie they share…
Psychologist Dr Richard Sherry, a founding member of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis, warned that it could also lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness.
“Being competitive and wanting to put our best face forward — seeking support or empathy from our peers — is entirely understandable,” psychologist Dr. Richard Sherry, a founding member of the Society for Neuropsychoanalysis, told The Telegraph.
“However, the dark side of this social conformity is when we deeply lose ourselves or negate what authentically and compassionately feels to be ‘us.’”
4. Digital Addiction is Real & More Bad News
Psychotherapist Lisa Jones in her perceptive article in Thrive Global called, ‘The Digital Age: Are We Losing Human Connection?’ said,
“So why do we, as social animals, feel the need to prioritise or place such importance on our virtual relationships? Well, this is where the addiction element comes in that the media has picked up on.
Putting it bluntly, tech developers have been very clever in their design, by employing psychological techniques to tap into the stimulus / response mechanisms of learning AND the reward circuitry. In doing so, they have designed a wonderfully elegant product that we just can’t do without.
Let us explain further. Back in the late 1800s, Ivan Pavlov did experiments into learning in which he taught dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. This later became known as classical conditioning where there is a pairing of stimulus (bell) to a reward (food) whilst the stimulus triggers an involuntary response (salivation).
This wonderfully simple principle was applied in the development of the ping used in technology. We hear a ‘ping’ (or other sound we choose) and a reinforcer is provided, an email or text — a form of human connection. The response that we elicit is to check our device and then possibly send a message back, and so the cycle continues.
So why do we do this action, and why is this action rewarding? Well, that is down to basic neuroscience. Essentially everything we do, think, believe, remember is governed by our brains through our neurochemical reactions. When we are happy, we release particular neurochemicals including oxytocin and serotonin, as well as dopamine which is released in anticipation of a reward.
In short, when we hear a “ping,” dopamine is released, making us anticipate a reward. This flood of dopamine provides the physical drive to check the phone which then provides the reward which is reinforced by the release of oxytocin and serotonin. This release of chemicals in the brain explains why it is so difficult to inhibit our response to check our phones at the sound of a ping, or even when we see other people checking theirs or receiving a message.
Putting it bluntly, we want the buzz we get from the action.
It is really easy to understand this connection between a digital device and our actions, and we are aware of the potential that we all have to some level of digital addiction; so, in practice, what do we do about it, given that technology is everywhere?”
Along with the outright digital addiction, are gambling, gaming, and porn addictions. In and of themselves, these can be horrifically damaging to the individual and to others. Such addictions really hurt the family.
5. Isolation & Loneliness the Growing Health Epidemic
Jessica Assaf in an article titled, ‘The Importance of the Human Connection’, says,
“Loneliness is what we feel when our social needs, whether at work, with family, or through friend groups, go unmet. Loneliness is a mental state — when our minds perceive isolation, loneliness settles in. We can be totally alone and not feel lonely, and we can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. Loneliness can be situational, such as after a divorce or losing a friend, or it can be ongoing.
Loneliness is a normal human emotion when temporary, but persistent feelings of isolation can be detrimental to our health. And in the last 50 years, rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States. In a survey of over 20,000 American adults, almost half of respondents reported feeling alone, left out and isolated.
What’s more, one in four Americans shared that they rarely feel understood, and one in five people believe they rarely or never feel close to people. Last October, former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness a “growing health epidemic.” At a time when people are more connected than ever thanks to technology and social media, rates of social isolation are rising at alarming rates.
Sadly, the cycle of loneliness is self-perpetuating, as loneliness can be caused by the overuse of technology and can lead to the compulsive use of it as a coping mechanism. Individuals who feel an absence of and longing for authentic human connection may turn to their digital devices for comfort, but a lack of face-to-face conversation further perpetuates feelings of isolation. When we experience loneliness, the feeling can be as real and detrimental as physical pain.”
6. Harmful Health Outcomes
Jessica Assaf also talks about the negative health outcomes in her article titled, ‘The Importance of the Human Connection’:
“The emotional and physical impacts of loneliness can be long-lasting and detrimental to our health. Studies show that human beings who experience prolonged isolation can become unstable. In the short-term, those who feel loneliness are less likely to achieve quality sleep, and thus experience challenges in reasoning and creativity.
In the long term, people who experience prolonged loneliness are at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems and even premature death. Research suggests that loneliness can even impact our genes, with emotional and physical impacts of loneliness triggering cellular changes that alter gene expression in the body.
Loneliness drastically affects productivity in the workplace, leading to less job satisfaction reported by lonely individuals and a higher rate of unemployment. And according to a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, employees who experienced higher levels of loneliness in their personal lives also reported fewer promotions, less job satisfaction, and a greater likelihood for frequently changing jobs — with lawyers, doctors and engineers reporting the highest levels of loneliness.”
Psychotherapist Lisa Jones shares about the harmful health outcomes of disconnection in her article in Thrive Global called, ‘The Digital Age: Are We Losing Human Connection?’:
“In contrast, lack of social support is associated with increased mental illness including depression (Gariepy, et al, 2016). If we know that human connection is important for long term health and wellbeing, where does technology come into it?
Well, firstly, social connection can go wrong. Rejection, exclusion and loss can cause pain because some of the brain circuitry underlying physical and social pain are shared (Kross et al, 2011).
Both actual and virtual rejection can have a significant effect on our wellbeing, thus impacting our resilience and perception of self in the moment, in addition to influencing patterns of coping moving forward into adulthood.
Because of our dependence on technology from an early age (apps have even been created for 2-year-olds), the exposure that young people have to actual and virtual rejection is increasing. Added to which there are other darker sides to the barrier created by virtual connection, in the form of cyber-bullying, trolls and grooming.”
7. We can Miss Out on the Fun of Being Human
Andrei Vasilachi in an article titled, ‘How Social Media Exploits Your Mind’, writes this:
“You need other people, even if you’re the biggest introvert on Earth. So, when that friend asks you to go out, do it, unless you have a real reason not to. You can stare at your phone later, it’s always in your pocket. That friend isn’t. That friend is a human being that needs to connect to people the same way you need to. So don’t be so cynical and appreciate the people close to you, they won’t live forever.
All of the above will hopefully get you out of your own head, and at least for a while you’ll stop comparing yourself to these “perfect” people from your social media feed, and you’ll start living and being more compassionate towards yourself and others. Maybe then you’ll have some more joy in life. Maybe then you’ll stop trying to be “happy” and you’ll just be…
The more I see how addictive smartphones and social media can be, the more I’m thankful that half of my childhood was without these intrusive technologies. I think to myself: at least I know how it feels to be on the other side — the time before the Internet. And now that I think about it, I’m the last generation (born in’93) that lived through that time.
Everyone born after 2008 or so is born into smartphones, their brains develop with smartphones. I bet if you make some research, you’d find that 5-year-old kids spend more time playing on their tablets than looking at their mom’s face.
Maybe I’m dramatising, maybe I’m being too stereotypical by talking about the “good old generation” that played with sticks in the sand. But I know that it is at least partially true…
But before we think about synthesising entire human organs from scratch and dream about colonizing Mars, we may be better off paying more attention to the way our current digital environment is affecting us and our children.
The stars in the sky may be beautiful, but if we’re too busy starring down our phones, we’ll miss the smile on our child’s face, let alone dream about the Cosmos.”
Seven Ways to Overcome the Problem from a Dad’s Perspective
1. Recognise the Problem.
If we put our head in the sand, the problem will still be there when we pull it out of the sand. We have a problem, and we need to solve it. This has to be the starting point!
2. Moderation in All Things and in All Things Moderation
No, we are not saying that you must live in a cave or join the Amish community and get a horse and buggy, but you do have to practise moderation. Small amounts of social media mixed with a healthy active lifestyle socialising with your family and mixing with real people, who don’t have a phone in their hand all the time, will get you back on the straight and narrow.
3. Total Detox & Media Fasting
Some people have worse addictions than others. Try a week-long social media detox. No social media for a week. The world will still go on without you. If you can’t do it, you’re probably addicted and you need to think about stronger action.
4. Live an Active Life & Enjoy the Outdoors More
Social media pushes you indoors and into isolation. Actively make a choice to get out and about more with your wife and with your children. Deliberately choose places without signal and always go with some friends. You kill two birds with one stone. You get healthy and happy on the real McCoy. Yes, people are what makes life interesting. Real people who are not on a make-believe screen, but face-to-face and out and about!
5. Build Relationships with More People
Go out of your way to connect with your children in the flesh. Prioritise your family and connect with other families in the process. You will be happier and healthier if you do and your children will too.
6. Model the Behaviour You Want From Your Children.
Gandhi said, “You must become the change you seek.” Your children will become what you are, more than what you say. So put all of the above into action and be the change you seek. In most cases, your children will follow!
7. Get Help from Upstairs
Changing damaging digital habits can be difficult. Sometimes you have to call in the big guns. Yes, I am talking about the big boss upstairs. Andrew Scarborough details this strategy in a great article: ‘Tough Time? Put Your Technology Away’.
Put your health and your family first and put these seven keys into action.
You will be glad you did, and so will your children.
Yours for a Happy Joy-Filled Life,
PS: The Men’s Leadership Summit is happening on 16-18 July 2021. What a great time to experience a social media and digital detox and build some new friendships with like-minded men. Check out the promo video here.
Check out the brochure here, book your spot here and take advantage of the early bird price.