It is thought that the prehensile (grasping) digits of our hands and feet have evolved from a common mammalian ancestor about 60 millions of years ago… a tree shrew, with five digits at the end of each limb. It is amazing to look at your own hands and feet and think of their evolutionary journey… from shrew to you!
I find a deep irony that the word ‘digital’, a word that originated from the Latin digitalis, which means ‘pertaining to either the finger or toe’, now applies to something ‘relating to computer technology, especially the internet’.
From using our digits to count up to ten, to the binary sequencing used to input data into ‘computing machines’, to using your digital finger print to unlock your digital device, to an unhealthy fixation with staring at screens. We are beginning to use our digits less and less, and stare at digital screens more and more.
Having spent time with quite a few indigenous communities, where they see themselves as being a normal part of the natural world, simply occupying a niche within it, no more or less important than the tiny ant or the mighty elephant. I used to wonder whether French philosopher René Descartes made a grave mistake in making a clear distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, seeing us as something ‘other’, severing our connection to nature in the Western mind for good. Where we once saw ourselves as a part of nature, we became apart from nature.
We appear to be co-evolution addicts, where unlike other species we have used out clever ‘digits’ to make tools - which we have become reliant on. We mastered fire - which we have become reliant on. We began animal husbandry and farming plants – which we have become reliant on. We have harnessed the power trapped in fossil fuels – which we are now reliant on. Now we appear to be rapidly co-evolving with our technology - which we are now reliant on.
How often have you been somewhere, where literally everybody is staring into a tiny bright screen, fully absorbed in his or her own little online digital world? On the train ignoring everybody? In the restaurant ignoring their friends? At the playground ignoring their child? In the home ignoring their family? In bed ignoring their partner?
Digital devices affect both human interactions and human relationships, usually in a negative way (occasionally positive as we can freely and instantly connect with loved ones who are literally on the other side of the world).
It is well documented that people who spend too much time online struggle with getting enough sleep, become more vulnerable to stress, and don’t exercise enough. It is accepted that too much time online reduces attention span, mental agility and decision-making abilities. It is also noted that people who spent too much time on social media begin to struggle with maintaining relationships, as ‘real world’ social skills atrophy, empathy and intimacy are reduced, and low self-esteem and emotional fatigue take their toll. Unfortunately young people are especially vulnerable to this manipulation, as the wonderful neuroplasticity of their developing brains are more susceptible to being rewired to accept a new ‘normal’.
“When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing for your sleep.” – R. Hastings, CEO Netflix
Google, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Youtube aren’t just competing for your money, but also for your time. It is your most valuable commodity and the one you can’t make more of. You can make more money, but not time; and rather scarily it is your time that is being targeted and stolen - valuable time that could be spent sharing experiences with your friends and family, or time spent in physical contact with you lover, or hugging your child - time that you will never get back. Don’t waste it watching crap on Facebook and Youtube.
Digital distraction is having a profound affect on our relationships, both romantic and platonic, from deep family bonds to amicable friendships. So what can we do about it?
Take control - Do not let your device control you!
Identify the habits that make you waste your valuable time online and do something about it. Remember, habits can be changed from bad habits to good habits. For starters I would suggest that you –
- Switch off all notifications on your phone. Do this now. If you want to check Whatsapp or Facebook, check it, but when you decide to, not because your phone has just ‘binged’ at you and a little red badge has appeared and you are desperate to get that micro-dopamine reward.
- Check emails once or twice and day, when it suits you. Not as they come in.
- Do not bring your phone into the bedroom - ever. It is where you spend time with your lover, take time to relax, read to your kids, or have restorative sleep. It is not where you scroll through your endless ‘news feed’. Buy a cheap alarm clock. No excuses.
- Lead by example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you tell them to do. Give them your undivided attention when playing - they deserve it.
- We mirror each other, if you distractedly pick up your phone while chatting, “I just have to check this”, then so will your partner and cycle of ignoring each other will begin again.
- Use your phone as a phone – use it to speak to people!
- Use the ‘off’ button, especially when you get into the driving seat of your car. Seriously, you could save a life. Maybe your own.
- Read a book that makes you think – avoid unnecessary screen time.
- Read a book that helps you unwind – avoid unnecessary screen time.
- Go outside and spend time in nature – ‘Actual Reality’ is much, much better for you than ‘Virtual Reality’.
We spent the best part of two hundred thousand years as upright humans living in the natural world, where our highest form of technology was simply sticks and stones, since then we have co-evolved with / and continue to rely upon a lot of things from oil to microchips, but we are rapidly loosing sight of the most important ones. Spend more time outdoors, in nature (with no phone, bring a camera), with the people you love, and who love you. Your life will be richer for it. Your clock is ticking – go now J
Photo © Richie Owens
Words and illustrations © Ben McNutt - www.wildhuman.com