We as a species are changing in a way that troubles me.
In daily life in my household, in the lives of my clients, in my friendships and relationships with colleagues, in every human interaction on the street, I see it happening everywhere around me. Do you see it too?
We are too much in our heads, busy with schedules jam packed full of too many commitments and not enough time to pause, breathe and reflect. Our jobs and the cultural expectations of turn-around time to respond to texts, social media posts, emails, and phone calls, cause us to feel compelled in an obsessive way to focus most of our attention downward or straight ahead at a screen.
The Bottom Line?
We are individually and collectively experiencing a huge imbalance that is disconnecting us from our human-ness, making us sick, and resulting in diminishing returns in the workplace. In my moments of sadness and despair about this situation, I feel that we are involuntarily headed down a path of becoming more like robots and less like spiritual beings.
The proof is in the research that documents how our brains are changing. And the proof is in how increasingly disconnected we feel from the people we love the most—our friends, our partners/spouses, our children. AND—and this is a big one folks—the proof is in how incredibly unhealthy we have become, disconnected from real whole food that comes from the soil, disconnected from the practices and beliefs that taught us to respect the physical and natural environment around us.
I used to think that the primary cause of this imbalance was simply the increasing amount of stuff we have to get done in a finite amount of time. But, now I know our challenging circumstances are more and more inextricably linked with the technological devices that make our lives incredibly convenient and entertaining.
Time in front of a backlit screen changes our brains and influences the way we connect with each other as human beings. The more time we spend in front of those screens, the more it changes our brains and the more it affects our relationships. How?
It literally re-wires our brains due to an amazing process called neuroplasticity. And—because eye contact is a critical component in human communication—one that allows us to not only observe body language through peripheral vision but also connect at a soul level—the less we look at each other and the more we look down at our screens, the less we connect on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
The second foundational principle I teach my clients is “wherever you direct your attention, energy follows.” And that’s what’s happening with our brain getting re-wired.
An article in an Australian paper last year described this re-wiring (neuroplasticity) as “the connections between our brain cells” being “shaped, strengthened and refined by our individual experiences. It is this personalisation of the physical brain, driven by unique interactions with the external world, that arguably constitutes the biological basis of each mind, so what will happen to that mind if the external world changes in unprecedented ways, for example, with an all-pervasive digital technology?”According to research cited in the article I’ve forwarded below, “The part of the brain that’s becoming smaller due to the overexposure to media is the part of the brain that’s responsive to face-to-face interaction, empathy and the ability to read subtle non-verbal cues.” Changes that are radically affecting our ability to “relate to other people, have meaningful friendships and have deep, long-lasting relationships.”
I don’t have an answer for you, for what you should do about this in your own life. I can only suggest that you begin to notice how our cultural obsession with smart phones and televisions and computers and tablets and other backlit devices is drawing us more and more out of the “real world” where we interact with each other and make eye contact and more into the world of devices.
In my life, we try to limit screen time for our kids to 30 minutes a day during the week and 60 minutes on weekends, but we do allow longer on “special days” (which feel like they are becoming more and more frequent). And, I try to take a break from the computer on work days at least once every 2 hours. This week, while I’m on vacation, I’ve made a promise to myself to not one single time press the Mail icon on my smartphone as one way to limit my screen time so that I can focus more on being fully present with my parents, my husband and my boys.
For those of you with children and grandchildren, or who are caregivers or teachers of children of any age, I strongly recommend you read the following post shared by a parenting coach named Toni Schutta that my husband and I have worked with over the years. It talks about how electronics are changing the brains of our children in a way that seriously concerns me for our future.
Electronics are Changing Your Child’s Brain
Electronics are physically changing your child’s brain in ways that will alter how they learn and how they interact with people. If the pervasive use of electronics continues its predicted that your child will be less able to read social cues, will have less empathy for others, will have difficulty staying on task, will give up easier when challenged and will have more shallow friendships and relationships.
This concerning information was shared by Gary Johnson, Ph.D., L.P., L.M.F.T. at a recent seminar I attended called, “IBrain: Kids, Brains and Electronics. A Growing Concern.”
Consider how pervasive technology has become in a child’s life:
- Some nursing mothers are interacting with their phones and iPads while nursing denying an infant eye contact and conversation.
- One out of every five U.S. children under the age of two has a TV in their bedroom.
- One out of every three U.S. children ages three to six have a TV in their bedroom.
- Every year children spend an average of 2000 hours watching TV and 900 hours in school.
- Children are exposed to technology 8 ½ hours per day (5 ¾ hours of passive viewing and 2¾ hours of active viewing).
- Students ages 8-22 send an average of over 3,200 texts per month.
- Teens send an average of 34 texts per night, after going to bed.
When looking at the data cumulatively, Johnson provided these astounding facts.
Before a child leaves home for college they have:
- Spent over 10,000 hours playing video games.
- Sent over 200,000 emails and instant messages.
- Sent over 350,000 texts.
- Spent over 10,000 hours talking on digital cell phones.
- Spent over 20,000 hours watching TV (That’s 1/6th of their life).
- Watched over 500,000 commercials.
- Spent 5,000 hours reading books (That’s 1/24th of their life).
Influences that helped shape a parent’s brain included: Social interaction, TV, reading, music and radio.
Influences that are shaping your child’s brain include: TV, YouTube, iPods, video games, Facebook, Twitter and cell phones.
The part of the brain that’s becoming smaller due to the overexposure to media is the part of the brain that’s responsive to face-to-face interaction, empathy and the ability to read subtle non-verbal cues. This research was conducted by Dr. Gary Small and the Institute of Neuroscience and Behavior at UCLA.
In the short-term and in the long-term, this will radically change your child’s ability to relate to other people, have meaningful friendships and have deep, long-lasting relationships.
Historically, people have learned about non-verbal cues and body language by interacting with others through thousands of human interactions that teach them the subtleties of body language. Children now have less human interaction and more electronic interaction so they aren’t learning that information. Johnson noted that Cambridge recommends that all schools now train children in how to read nonverbal cues and has created a product called “Mindreading” to aid in that process.
Effects that Technology is Having on the Brain:
- The portion of the brain that is responsible for empathy, the ability to read subtle non-verbal cues and face-to-face interaction is getting smaller.
- The Journal of Pediatrics (April, 2004) reported that every hour of TV watching increases a child’s chance of ADD by 10% from ages seven and up.
- When using several types of electronics at once, increased cortisol and adrenaline are released. Too much exposure can destroy brain tissue.
- A lack of down-time and relaxation impairs memory functions. (Mass General Hospital)
- Children are better able to give continuous partial attention to several items for 30, 60 or 90 second intervals, but are having more difficulty giving sustained focus to one activity.
- Keep TVs out of a child’s bedroom to decrease exposure to media and to increase monitoring of what your child watches.
- Limit the use of technology to one hour a day if you want to prevent physical changes in your child’s brain.
- Don’t let your child play interactive video games on the Internet, especially World WarCraft.
- Lock up your child’s cell phone and other gadgets at night so they can get uninterrupted sleep.
- Make sure your child gets a minimum of one hour of exercise a day which increases learning ability, mood and better health.