Is the Web Driving Us Crazy? A Mindful Response

It’s undeniable. The bond between human and digital device gets stronger every year. The average person sends or receives four times the amount of text messages since 2007. People are starting to feel their phone vibrate in their pockets when in fact there was never a vibration. This has been called “phantom-vibration syndrome.”

There’s a historical shift happening that we’ll only begin to understand years from now.  With the wonderful things that the internet has brought us, it also hard to deny the ADHD and OCD-like qualities many of us are picking up as we continue to merge with our digital devices.

As you practice and repeat something, it becomes a habit, and whether the kick starter was a need to use the internet for business or social reason, the devices we have today are pretty good and getting us to use them over and over again. What do you need to be aware of?

The fact is, every day our brain is being trained dozens, if not hundreds, of times to check for messages; be it texting, messaging, Facebook, Twitter, emails, voicemails or any other form of notification. Threfore, it’s going to train the brain to constantly be anticipating the next message. Consider how many times you’ve been on a walk to your car, to the bathroom, in a line or wherever and grabbed for the phone in your pocket. At times, this may have happened even if you forgot your phone. It’s already a habit.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT, already thinks we’re there. As she points out, “we are all cyborgs now.” Our brains have already merged with technology. This technology is only in its infancy and offers so many incredible gifts. We can find friends all around the world; we can get aids to help us count our calories easily to manage weight; it’s easier than ever to donate to a needed organization; with the push of an icon we can find a map and navigate wherever we want or find the top rated places to eat. This is all good stuff.

However, we’re not really going to harness the power of this technology if we’re sleepwalking through this new relationship, unaware of the tightening hold it has on our attention. As Susan Greenfield, a pharmacology professor at Oxford University says, “end[ing] up glassy-eyed zombies.”

Larry Rosen wrote a book called “iDisorder,” and “his team surveyed 750 people, a spread of teens and adults who represented the Southern California census, detailing their tech habits, their feelings about those habits, and their scores on a series of standard tests of psychiatric disorders. He found that most respondents, with the exception of those over the age of 50, check text messages, email or their social network “all the time” or “every 15 minutes.” More worryingly, he also found that those who spent more time online had more “compulsive personality traits.” (Newsweek article)

However, we can take the fear of addiction to the internet a little too far. The Newsweek article uses the following as examples of a way to make the misleading point of how dire this is:

“One young couple neglected its infant to death while nourishing a virtual baby online. A young man fatally bludgeoned his mother for suggesting he log off (and then used her credit card to rack up more hours). At least 10 ultra-Web users, serviced by one-click noodle delivery, have died of blood clots from sitting too long.”

My guess is it’s probably safe to say there were mental issues co-occurring with this, but technology usage could have exacerbated those issues.

However, we can also take it too lightly, as a Forbes article explains in We’re all Internet Addicts and We’re All  Screwed, says Newsweek. While the Forbes article has some entertaining bits that poke fun at Newsweek‘s focus on internet addiction, this article also mocks it for bringing up an important comment by Sherry Turkle, PhD, suggesting that texting while breast feeding can create stress in the mother that can get passed along to the child. Or that parents are on their devices at the expense of attending to their kids.

In other words, while these aren’t examples of heavy neglect, they are the little things that add up, and the Forbes author’s assertion that these aren’t things worth looking out for may be naive.

In this new era, it’s okay to love and feel the rewards of your Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Apps, or whatever, but it’s all about how far we take it. Each of us is in a pretty serious relationship with our technology, and so the question is, how can we begin to become more aware of how we’re relating to it? How is it affecting our relationships or our stress? Do we feel compelled to grab for it, it is splitting our attention and taxing our brains? When does it turn from a source of leisure and relaxation, like reading a magazine or book, to a source of stress and feelings of being overwhelmed?

Here’s today’s practice:

Start by just being mindful of how your body reacts to your digital devices. Do you notice a pull at times? What does that feel like? What happens when you just let it be, how long does it last? How long until it goes away?

After all, if we’re going to be married to technology, we might as well get to know it a bit better.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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