There are three things that separate man from animal, and greater man from lesser.
These three things are needful for anyone who is living a life of higher purpose, and they have one other thing in common, as well:
They are being eroded in all of us by technological overuse and digital addiction.
In our era of technological overload and constant distraction, the man who has the ability to focus is king.
At every turn there is another ad, pop-up, notificaton, alert.
Every little “ding” or numbered red circle grabs our attention from where it was intended to go and offers that sweet little dopamine hit if we just “click now,” and follow our Pavlovian conditioning.
How many times have you picked up your phone and found yourself scrolling almost by automatic function, without really having made a truly CONSCIOUS decision to do so?
The simple ability to concentrate on one task until it has finished can seem like a Herculean endeavor for us.
The switch from analog tools to digital ones is certainly a major culprit, and although there are many obvious positives of technological use, its negatives can be a bit more subtle and disarming.
This unchecked tech use has led to a total addiction to continuous virtual sensory stimulation, that we crave on a very real level, and become as dependent on as a junkie for his next fix.
Even now, as I write, I can feel the subconscious pull to “check my phone.”
The withdrawal symptoms are all there at various times of the day when we are deprived of this “hit”- irritability, lack of focus, continuous thoughts of justification for our drug use and so on.
Constant tech use has drained us of our ability to concentrate at a deep and sustained level.
This is why even the most successful purveyors of technology in the world like Bill Gates set themselves specific guidelines and rules for their tech use, and “go offline” for days at a time when they are performing important work, or cultivating “big ideas.”
At their core, everyone knows that there is a price to pay for all this developing e-sorcery.
I believe that price is the ability to operate at a high level of concentration, interaction, and creation.
The human being is in many ways special because of his almost god-like ability to make connections between things and see the ways they interact and effect one another.
One of my mentors says that real power is just a person’s ability to make connections- not just between ideas, but between cause and effect, between people, networks, the mind and body, and so on.
Understand how things interact, and/or how people interact with one another are the seeds of power.
They can make a man wealthy through predicting the stock market via weather changes, or allow him to build up an interconnected network of people who give him direct access to the heights of worldly power.
He can understand if or why a person is lying or telling the truth through an understanding of connected human behaviors, and know what the appropriate response is in a social situation that might lead to a billion dollar investment.
Our ability to interact with other humans, especially, to communicate important and complex ideas and thoughts through speech and the written word, through art or facial expression is one of our defining talents as human beings.
This, too, is being offered as sacrifice on the altars of the new gods of electron and switch.
Digital interaction is connecting people all over the world, and yet our communication as human beings in the physical world is worse than ever.
Rooms full of people with their faces lit up by that pale glow of the smartphone, all of them lost in their own personal electronic dream.
Some smile, others frown in concentration, or gaze blankly at the hypnotizing little device.
I’ve seen a hundred justifications for this as well, mainly online, in the form of memes or clever little snippets arguing that all these people might be engaging in some kind of meaningful work or interaction, but I don’t think anyone really believes that is the case 90% of the time.
The truth is, tech addiction is breaking down our ability to clearly and lucidly engage in the real world and communicate with true depth and concentration for long periods of time without an interruption from the phone or device.
We lose this “phone face-off” and patiently wait while the other person handles some critical “in the moment” task or answers a text, or takes a call.
We don’t feel disrespected or cast aside, we tell ourselves, because we do the same thing often.
But how many of us really believe this?
How many times have you tried to express yourself to someone close to you as they listen for a moment, and then idly swipe their screen while absently nodding to you, checking out some tidbit, some post or piece of content, and then “switching back” to the conversation, slightly lost, but still reassuring you they are listening with an “uh-huh” or vague nod.
Think for a moment:
There are currently many studies arguing that it takes the brain as much as 25 minutes to recover from a phone “interruption” and return to concentrating on the task at hand.
There are other studies that say an average adult now spends 7-11 hours interacting with a smartphone, sending over 100+ texts a day, and checking the phone over 150 times.
Take the fact from the first paragraph, and line it up with the second.
We are spending our time in a fog of “in between,” where we go from checking the phone, to attempting to regain our focus, to checking again.
Many people these days are reporting a connection between smartphone and social media use and anxiety, depression, “digital ADHD,” insomnia, brain fog, and irritability.
Studies show that elevated tech use can create atrophy in the physical grey matter of the brain, especially in the areas that are responsible for planning, prioritizing, organizing, impulse control, and focus.
There is another thing that separates humans not just from the other species on planet earth, but from one another as well.
Our ability to produce- ideas, things, music, artwork, and so on.
Acts of creation, this awe-inspiring concept of plucking something from the ether, from some reality that exists within our individual minds, or perhaps even our collective thoughts, as some believe, and to manifest that concept here in the “real” world, as physical things, vibrations, images, skyscrapers, songs.
Creation is the most god-like, or, human-like thing that we can do.
Engaging in creativity at a high level requires a level of focus and concentration that few other things require-
First, we must develop the requisite skill-sets.
Learning difficult things quickly, or over time, requires concentration, focus, dedication, discipline, consistency.
Taking these developed abilities, and bringing them to bear like a magnifying lens directing the sun relies on our faculties operating at their highest level to produce the creative equivalent of diamonds.
An example I’ve heard is that 15 subpar writers cannot combine together to create Shakespeare.
This is not a quantity issue, where we can pile on a great deal of mediocre work to make up in mass what it lacks in meaning.
One person operating at a level of excellence will do what 1000 distracted or unfocused ones will never achieve.
In order to master these three areas of concentration, interaction, and creation, we must regain control of our own minds, and pull them “from the matrix.”
We have to moderate our use of that drug that is digital technology, the internet, and all the bombardment that comes with it.
Our phones must go back to being a tool, and not an external brain, an external reality, an escape from the world.
The extreme recommendation is a return to the house phone, or, at worst, the flip phone.
An exodus from social media and a return to physical community.
Work done from the computer when necessary, but isolated to specific times and scheduled use that is done for needful jobs, not entertainment or distraction.
The physical embraced as reality, and the digital rejected as a false replacement for true interaction.
The more moderate recommendation is to set time limits for smartphone use each day and adhered to religiously, which would include time on the internet at all, and especially the use of particularly addictive traps like social media, video games, etc.
The modern world brings with it problems that our ancestors could have never fathomed, but this doesn’t make them silly, or “first world problems, lol.”
It makes them insidious, difficult to identify, hard to combat, and damaging on a level that erodes the very brain itself, and makes combatting the addiction more difficult by the day.
Take control of the machines.