Posts Tagged ‘smartphones’

WIRED WEDNESDAYS: Digital Imitation of Life

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Digital-Dependence-Parenting-for-Peace

HOW FACEBOOK IS LIKE A BOX OF DONUTS

When is an apple not really an apple? And what does this silly question have to do with exploring our collective digital dependence?

An apple is not really an apple when the 3-dimensional, more or less round-ish, faintly applish-scented, red or green piece of fruit is replaced by something standing in for it—an abstract symbol of some kind. The most common form of abstraction or symbol occurs in written and spoken language: the word “apple” is a symbolic representation of the real thing.

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Even an image is an abstraction of the real thing, though more subtly so (which is part of the issue at hand!)

Without getting into all the left- and right-hemisphere brain stuff, we know that in order for the word “apple” to have a true depth of meaning for someone—a richness in their symbolic thinking—they need to have had real, 3-dimensional experience with actual apples: holding them, biting them, sniffing them, perhaps even picking them in an autumn orchard—a richness in their concrete experience with which their abstract thought connects.

An aside: This is why I don’t promote academics for young children, when their brain circuitry isn’t yet optimally wired up to process abstractions and symbols. When introduced too early, symbols such as words and numbers are “learned” in a rote, mechanical way. Such learning has little depth of meaning for a child, and leads to a more superficial interaction with words, ideas, and concepts.

As child psychologist David Elkind points out, “The language of things must precede the language of words, or else the words don’t mean anything.” Not the best way to begin a child’s lifelong learning, and certainly not conducive to the flexibly innovative, layered thinking capacities needed to forge peace, innovation, and prosperous sustainability!

The Danger of Imitators

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple decades, you’re aware of the health dangers of trans fats—you know, from “partially hydrogenated” oils found in almost all conventional processed foods. But maybe you’re not aware of exactly why they are so bad for you?

Leaving the molecular details aside, the process that creates trans fats makes them something your body thinks is food… something that mimics food closely enough that you take it into your digestive process… but something that your body actually does not recognize or know what to do with.

But because your body is always in there trying to come through for you, it tries to deal with it anyway. For an excellent description of exactly how your body responds to trans fats, and why it can lead to health problems, check out the middle section of Dr. Bill Sears’ explanation. (I love that he uses the same cars-in-parking-spaces analogy for cell membrane receptors as I wrote about—a year earlier—in the “Cellular Genius” section of Ch. 1 in Parenting for Peace. Great minds and all that…)

Digital Dependence and the Facebook Donut Box

Turns out there is a long list of things that endanger our health by closely resembling substances, processes or energies that are native to our bodies but which in fact are not, and therefore wreak havoc with our wellbeing and our health.

And it is around this exact point that I had a big “ah-hah”—a new, key vantage point from which to view digital dependence and consider ways toward healthy mastery of our devices.

Just as BPAs (the bad stuff in plastic), PCBs and even ingredients in common personal care products can disrupt health by mimicking our natural hormones, Michael Mendizza posits that “screens are dead but mimic living systems.”

“Compared to a living face the same face on a screen is sensory deprivation, containing a distorted fraction of the information and meaning of the living system it mimics. The more we interact with the dead counterfeit the less attuned, sensitive and empathic we are when relating with a real face.”

Over the past decade a mountain of evidence has been gathered to show that social media use can be associated with depression; the most recent study was just released, showing that in the U.S., “attachment to devices and the constant use of technology is associated with higher stress levels” for those who reported “constantly or often” checking their email, texts, and social media.

Could it be that we are hungry for connection, but trying to gorge on what Mendizza calls a “dead counterfeit” of connection? Could it be that social media (I’m not naming names, which may or may not contain, ironically, the word “book”) are the little chocolate donuts of our collective social landscape? Where memes, emojis and “post engagement” are trans fats that seem to satisfy, yet instead cause suffering?

Are we seeking the nourishment of human connection but embracing its virtual abstraction instead?

Viewer Discretion Advised

A student of and collaborator with the late Joseph Chilton Pearce, Mendizza (in his ever-impassioned, heady way) rightly focuses on the neuro-developmental implications of allowing young children a steady diet of technology, of encouraging a child’s brain to wire itself around so much counterfeit abstraction. And because I think his clear prescription points to a fruitful discussion (on future Wednesdays) of how we might  wisely shepherd the next generations away from digital dependence and toward device mastery, I am giving him today’s last word:

The less screen time before the great neural pruning around age eleven the better. Fill their life with safe, challenging natural living experience, open, develop and expand their capacity to imagine by immersing them in story and rich descriptive language, and model empathy for all living things; with this as the dominant influence during the early years let them have all the technology they want as teens and watch them soar.

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

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WIRED WEDNESDAYS: Dataclysm in the Time of Alone Togetherness

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

AUTHORS ON OUR DIGITAL DEPENDENCE

 

I had so many ah-hah moments reading through Narain Jashanmal’s annotated list of “The Best Books on the Impact of Technology on Society” – not even any of the books (yet), but merely his descriptions of them – that I thought I’d pass it directly on to you.

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The fact that there are 19 books spotlighted here also humbles me that this territory is so unfathomably vast for a single mere mortal – you or me – to be able to easily navigate and understand.

But I’m wondering if this whole digital dependence issue is sort of like life itself: the thing isn’t to “solve” it or even feel particularly on top of it in its entirety. Maybe the thing is engagement itself: the willingness to be open, curious and present to whatever puzzlements and ah-hah’s about our new wired world that are revealing themselves to us at any given time. And then responding in a thoughtful way.

One of my ah-hahs? The concept that we are all now part of the Attention Economy, explored in one of the 19 books on Jashanmal’s list; hardly a surprise, as we all experience daily the “invasion of the tactics marketers use to harvest our attention, generate demand and, hopefully, help us discover products and services that we actually need.”

Here’s a flavor of this article:

As technology moves from the realm of the visible to the invisible; embedded, pervasive computing that adds intelligence to even the most mundane objects and experiences — there will be an inevitable, ongoing conversation about the consequences, unintended or otherwise.

The books on this list run the gamut, from unabashed enthusiasm for our coming robot overlords, to heartfelt expressions of anxiety about whether what we’re giving up is worth what we’re getting in return.

I like how he has organized this list, beginning with the most recent books and working backward. It really is worth the read.

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

Stay In the Wired Wednesdays Loop: Receive a Link Each Week

Your information is always kept 100% confidential.

You’ll also receive cool resources for bringing more calm, confidence & peace to your parenting.

WIRED WEDNESDAYS: Pained in Plain Sight

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

DIGITAL DEPENDENCE EFFECTS ON THE BODY

The question of how we are affected by our handheld technologies is really daunting – so daunting that it is tempting to just do the ostrich thing: put our heads in the sand and not think about the possible downsides of our digital dependence. (Or rather, put our heads down and amuse ourselves with the Candy Crush or Facebook in our hands.)

So I figure I’ll grab for the lowest-hanging fruit first: tangible, visible effects of our digital dependence upon our physical bodies.

A Pain in the Neck?

A few years ago, a private practice neurosurgeon sparked an online news flurry when he published an article about so-called “text neck” – spinal problems caused by the downward-looking posture of time spent on a smartphone. It was his illustration in particular that generated the most buzz, as writers compared 60 lbs. to 4 bowling balls, a half-dozen full grocery bags, or an 8-year-old child… piled atop your forward-tilting head.

If you’ve spent long periods of time looking down at or texting on your device, you probably don’t need convincing that it can result in some pain or stiffness in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Doesn’t take a brain surgeon to point that out. Along with neck pain, digital devotees can over time develop FHP (forward head posture), a spinal abnormality that can also invite headaches, TMJ, soft tissue and vertebrae problems, and scapula/shoulder issues.

Much Ado About Not Much?

You know, as I consider this 21st-century problem of text neck, what keeps coming to mind are the many 20th-, 19th-, and 1st-century activities for which humans had to look down. Especially reading a book; have parents ever worried that their bookworm kids would develop “book neck”??

The well-respected news magazine The Atlantic (just days after they’d “bitten” on the neurosurgeon’s flashy story) addressed this exact question, about how “our necks are made to bend forward, and it’s not something that’s new to humans. Texting invokes the same posture as holding a book.”

I appreciate the rigor (and humor) with which The Atlantic dug a bit deeper into this question of the spinal costs of our digital dependence. They even consulted with a respected neurosurgeon “for his counterperspective on last week’s text-neck mania.” <   >

The upshot from this brain surgeon is that while good posture is generally good for health, texting isn’t an “imminent threat” to us, whereas, says Dr. Ian Dorward, “People are walking around now while texting, falling into water fountains and lakes and walking into traffic—that’s a real danger.” (And a blog post for another week.)

A Real Study

The Journal of Physical Therapy Science published a study in which they compared changes in posture and respiratory function between two groups of college students – one group who spent less than four hours per day on their smartphones, and one group who spent more than four hours per day on their smartphones.

The more exaggerated changes they found in the higher-use group isn’t surprising; it makes sense that any static activity** involving a head-down, rounded-shoulder position is going to result, over time and repetition, in negative postural changes.

[** Wow, now there’s an oxymoron, am I right — “static activity”?? More on that in a moment.]

I’ll admit that I hadn’t even considered that breathing might be affected by all this, but that actually also makes sense if you compare – right now, do this as you read – how deeply you can breathe in an upright-spine, eyes-forward posture, versus in the classic rounded-over texting posture. That kind of blew me away!

Digital Dependence: Of Greater Risk to Children

Our 21st-century world with all its technological prowess tends to careen ahead with whatever we are capable of inventing, while our understanding of (or curiosity about) the implications tends to lag quite a bit behind. (A great example of this is the tangles of ethical riddles that began revealing themselves years after the early advent of reproductive technologies that enabled IVF, 3rd-party conceptions with donor eggs or sperm, freezing of embryos, etc. I digress.)

So it may be years – even decades – before we have compiled a body of scientific data on the effects of our digital dependence, and particularly its effects on children. Therefore, I think parents would be wise to keep in mind an important biological principle: Children’s dynamic growth and development makes them more susceptible to all environmental effects.

Whereas your fully-developed neck (cervical spine) may get stiff or sore after really prolonged smartphone use, your young child’s spine and nervous system are far more malleable and thus vulnerable, given their in-progress status: they are still forming!

Which brings me to another biological principle that every wise parent might keep in mind when making choices for their child: Beginning in the womb and continuing throughout childhood, a child’s brain and nervous system develop in adaptive response to their environment. Nature arranged it that way to give young creatures the best possible chance of surviving well!

So if a child is living in a world that features a lot of digital devices, it makes sense from a strictly biological-evolutionary standpoint that his or her body should adapt itself to be most suited to thrive in the midst of that reality: for example, rounded shoulders and more dexterous thumbs (to the detriment of other hand musculature, say some experts). In fact, one nickname for children born from the mid-1990s onward is “the thumb generation”!

So What Do We Do??

Parents who are concerned about this subject – and I do think it is wise to be cautious while avoiding panic – can find a helpful clue in the oxymoron I mentioned above in red: digital activities are usually static when it comes to moving the body.

And, bodies are meant to move. They function best when they do so consistently and frequently.

And, it’s healthy to aim for balance, moderation and mastery when it comes to environmental influences on our kids (which include food, clothing, household atmosphere, school, music, TV, movies), and like it or not, in today’s world digital devices are one of the most prevalent environmental influences going.

As parents, we can model mastery of our devices rather than enslavement to them. (This will be an ongoing theme that I intend to develop and elaborate upon as this series unfolds.) So in the case of their painful effects on us, let’s show our kids that we respect our bodies enough to make it a top priority to keep them feeling good. Make it clear – through actions, not so much through words or lectures – that your body’s wellbeing (and theirs) is an even higher priority than your digital dependence.

Let your child see you moderating your use of technology — “Mama’s stepping away from the tablet…” — and mixing it up with healthy movement, including stretching exercises designed to counteract “text neck.” You’ll find some helpful stretches here.

Make some family fun of it – put on a “Ditch the Device” playlist and see who can look funniest doing neck stretches, shoulder shrugs and finger flexes!

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

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Your information is always kept 100% confidential.

You’ll also receive cool resources for bringing more calm, confidence & peace to your parenting.

WIRED WEDNESDAYS: Exploring Our Digital Dependence

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

 

Digital-dependence LET’S BEGIN

If you harbor vague concerns about your (and your children’s) growing digital dependence, I’m right there with you.

If you fear that the issue of device devotion is so complicated you can’t get a firm grasp on it, I’m with you.

If it all seems just too… inevitable and insurmountable, yep, I’m there as well.

But like a squirrel on a mission, I’ve been stashing away lot of good stuff on digital dependence and now I think it’s time to just dive in — into the foggy, messy fray, without any real plan, outline or idea of how this blog series will look. So here goes.

The only plan-ish part is that I’m committing to post something every Wednesday on some aspect of this topic. I’ll look at different angles on the role(s) that our devices play in our lives, how they help, and how they may be hurting.

And probably much more important, how we can develop mastery over our technology so it can do what it was designed to do: to make our lives easier and richer!

The Rub

Here’s the conundrum, particularly for the Parenting for Peace objective of fostering vibrant social intelligence in ourselves and our coming generations: While technology has careened forward and changed our world dramatically, even in just the past twenty years, human beings haven’t much changed — in how we’re built or how we function — in thousands of years!

We’re essentially running hypermodern software programs on hardware that wasn’t built for it.

My intention with this weekly series is to take my head out of the proverbial sand around the digital dependence issue, and thoughtfully consider, sliver by sliver, what Social Intelligence author Daniel Goleman calls “inexorable technocreep.”

A Vast Territory to Be Covered

I have a file folder of clippings going all the way back to 2011, when I had just turned the Parenting for Peace manuscript in to my publisher and it was too late to add it. My folder bulges with flashes of insights into how our digital dependence is redefining our attention spans and our love lives, how it impacts our driving ability and our school performance, and ways in which it is changing the architecture of our brains – like  this chilling explanation of how fMRIs show we quite literally love our smartphones.

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and make no mistake: I’m not one of those stuffy oldsters pining away for a nostalgic, over-romanticized past. But I am a fan of self-determination and empowerment. I believe in holding the reins on whatever brain changes you decide (YOU decide!) to consciously make.

Solutions for Our Digital Dependence

The most important thing I want to accomplish with this Wired Wednesdays exploration is to help you do just that: take up the reins of mastery on this powerful technology so it will work for you, not on you.

I have discovered some wonderful tools and resources for putting yourself into the driver’s seat on this issue of digital dependence – for you and your children. So instead of feeling like you’re in a runaway vehicle, careening way off the path of where you envisioned being, you can use that power to take you exactly where you want to be.

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

Stay In the Wired Wednesdays Loop: Receive a Link Each Week

Your information is always kept 100% confidential.

You’ll also receive cool resources for bringing more calm, confidence & peace to your parenting.