Finding A Balance In Our Digital World
Now, this week, if you haven’t had a chance to listen to a wonderful episode I did with a psychologist, Jocelyn Brewer. Jocelyn is a psychologist and educator. She specialises in helping people be well connected and mentally fit. And why couldn’t we all use more of that? She’s about rather than detoxing or unplugging from technology because that isn’t going to happen. She’s more about the intelligent and intentional use of our devices and the conscious consumption of news, media, and information, information inflammation.
If we have too much digital, mindless digital interaction, then I’m almost certain that will affect chronic inflammation as well. But I digress. She talked about so many good parts to this, and I loved her analogy of the three, not the analogy, three M’s.
The Three M’s of Digital Nutrition
Mindful. Being mindful in your engagement with technology, not just mindlessly sitting there going down the rabbit hole of YouTube or Facebook or Twitter or any other of these things also about it being Meaningful, that there is some purpose to what you are actually doing, and importantly, to be Moderate. Moderate in your time, but also moderate what you are watching. I also really loved the way she was talking about this right across a family. I mean, she does specialise in this area particularly.
This goes back to a conversation that I had some last year, some time with psychologist Jodie Lowinger from the Sydney Anxiety Clinic. She shared a statistic that was extremely concerning, and that is one in five children under the age of 18 are diagnosed with either anxiety or depression, and that is diagnosed. One can only imagine how many undiagnosed cases of anxiety and depression are going on.
The Coddling of the American Mind book
It dovetails into another book that I read recently called The Coddling of the American Mind by American psychologist Jonathan Haidt. And he talked about the impact that technology has had on mental health in general and suicide rates in particular amongst young people and particularly those that were younger than 10 years old in 2007.
And why was 2007 such an important moment in that? And why has the spike in mental health and suicides started to rise? Particularly, sadly, amongst women and girls. That was because in 2007 we were introduced to the smartphone. Up until then, we thought it was pretty cool that we had these small devices that could actually make a phone call, without a wire attached to it and also receive a message. Wow, that was just mind-blowing for those of us to remember.
Back to a time when we were just using those kinds of devices, let alone a time in human history. And yes, such a thing did exist where there were no mobile phones and no computers. Incredible. Who remembers a time like that? Anyway, when smartphones came along, they put the world in the palm of our hands and they gave us the ability to communicate almost instantaneously.
Actually, that’s interesting because Jocelyn talks about this kind of irresponsible connection, it’s a bit like car rage. You sit in a car and you might abuse somebody in this, as you’re driving along. I have actually done this myself, whereas I would never have spoken to anybody face to face like that.
So car rage is almost analogous, synonymous with what goes on on mobile devices. This anonymity that we enjoy on devices. For some people gives them a right to say and respond to things in ways that they would otherwise not do. And that has all sorts of implications.
So back to The Coddling of the American Mind in 2007, not only with smartphones but so did Facebook was launched, Google was launched, YouTube was launched. I mean, Twitter came about. Many things happened around that time that propelled us on this exponential digital experience, roller coaster, if you like, that we are just learning to deal with in a constructive way. And that’s why I was so looking forward to talking to Jocelyn about being intentional and intelligent in the use of devices, I’m guilty of it myself and the conscious consumption of the digital media and being mindful, meaningful, and moderating our interactions.
Digital Nutrition in Digital World
Now, you know, this has all sorts of implications on our health and having digital. I loved the idea also of digital nutrition. I mean, there are two words that are an integral part of everything that is available to us in this world. It’s also a very confusing and confronting and challenging issue. Bringing digital nutrition together in one phrase I thought was so appealing for us to discuss and it’s really worthwhile having to listen to it.
The other thing about The Coddling of the American Mind was the effect that social media and that kind of indiscriminate impact of constantly connecting in a kind or unkind way with your peers can have all sorts of deleterious effects on people’s mental health and we’re learning that now more than ever. But it’s a double-edged sword as well because, in some of our other episodes where we’ve explored the digital world, we’ve also made the point about sleep. And to any regular listener of my podcast will know that sleep is an incredibly important part of the day.
In fact, sleep is the most important part of the day. It is your built-in, non-negotiable life support system impacting every single aspect of your health. But of course, we bring the digital world into our bedroom, and that is fraught with all sorts of problems.
It’s fraught with, firstly, on a technological basis, having the light coming from these devices interferes with our melatonin. On a biochemical level, there’s a problem. On a bioelectrical level, there’s also a problem.
Remember, every atom in our body is both energy and matter. Microscopic currents drive every cell in our body and many cell reactions. So introducing technology and putting it into our bedroom at a time when our bodies should be resting and recuperating is not a good thing. I often said keep devices at least two metres away from your head at night. Your bedroom is for sleeping and if you’re fortunate enough for intimacy as well, but essentially it is for sleeping, this is no time to engage with the rest of the world.
That’s the other thing about digital media, being in your bedroom, and that is your bedtime is a time to connect with your pillow, not with the world. When you check your emails, your Facebook, you look at the news, you read, you know, what’s going on, on Twitter, on Snapchat, on Instagram, your mind is wired, psychologically wired as well as probably electrically wired to not get a good night’s sleep. So there are so many reasons for that.
WHOOP App and Oura Ring
I’ve explored, I do keep technology out of my bedroom. I’ve made one or two compromises on a short-term basis. I bought a Whoop (app), that’s W-H-O-O-P, which is a device to measure sleep quality and heart rate variability. That’s a whole topic we’ve covered in another Healthy Bite — heart rate variability and I use this device and my wife observed that I had become obsessed with the results.
Normally I’d wake up in the morning and I’d be pretty clear whether I’d had a good night’s sleep or not. But I became so obsessed with what the statistics were telling me, it started to stress me out. When I actually measured the electromagnetic radiation coming from this device, after about a month of collecting the data scientifically, I stopped using the device, but still on a journey of discovery I could not resist buying also an Oura ring because part of our wellness programme, which we are developing and I’m very excited about, is exploring all these different apps.
I am putting myself out there as a guinea pig. Only for a short time. I’m not going to make this part of my life. But I bought an Oura ring, and the Oura ring was say a little easier to wear, just being a ring on my finger. It also gave some great data. Again, my wife observed I was getting stressed out about it, so I desisted. I stopped.
It is part of the collection and maybe I’ll give away an Oura ring or a whoop. But I wouldn’t do that to anybody I cared about. Honestly, I wouldn’t. Because again, I measured the electromagnetic radiation and I’m not taking that to bed with me and exposing my body to that while I should be resting.
Technology is a double-edged sword. It’s not going away any time soon. We do have to learn to live with it constructively. I’ve also got introduced by Jocelyn to the author of two wonderful books, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, the author being Nir Eyal and he then has recently published another book, almost the flip side of that coin. Well, it’s not really it’s more than that. But the book is called Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, that’s another great podcast to look out for. But learning how to nourish ourselves in this digital world is a really important challenge. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.
I hope you enjoyed the podcast with Jocelyn Brewer and with Nir Eyal. And we’re going to be exploring these themes. We’ve covered the whole story of electromagnetic radiation with Dr. Preben Dhara. Go back and look for that. It’s a complex issue, but it’s one we all need to come to terms with. I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.