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Will Technology Take Away our Last Freedom?

Addiction to technology is identified as a dark trend of the coming years.  Everywhere there are articles and posts and YouTube videos about how we need to spend less time on our devices and how our children need to spend less time on their devices….reading articles, posts and YouTube videos. On one telegram thread I follow, two months have been devoted to us sharing articles about how we should not be sharing articles, which is why I am in a position to share these articles, by the way.

 I am pretty certain I am addicted to WhatsApp, or at least to a couple of conversations on WhatsApp – every time I hear the ping, I can actually feel the dopamine being delivered to my hungry brain. More broadly, AI has been accepted at a whiplash speed right into the heart of our homes, and we are not always as perturbed as perhaps we ought to be by what is effectively a Stasi dream sitting in our kitchens. Reports of Alexa laughing spontaneously and ignoring commands are met more with fascination than horror.

What to do?

Honestly, I have no idea. It seems to me that we are swimming in a new sea and we are going to have to orient ourselves through trial and error as humanity has always done and will always do. We look at the evidence, take a course of action, see what goes well and what doesn’t, correct (or not) and so on. Its how we evolve – it is slow, but we are still here. I am confident that the emerging understandings about tech’s dark side, and the dedication of some very active and influential groups (like The Centre for Humane Technology and Joytech) to using tech to enhance rather than dominate will keep our collective navigation on a straighter course.

Time and Choice

However, I am concerned about the gap created by the slow speed of our human adaptation and the lightning speed of technology because what falls through that gap is choice. In observing my WhatsApp addiction and my gradually eroding attention span, what has struck me most is that I am failing to exercise choice in the way that I used to. Technology’s speed, efficiency and dopamine hits are short-cutting my ponderous (by comparison) internal process of: information in….digesting information…registering my response….choosing whether I will respond with the first version, or whether I will consider further and dive deeper…..make the choice….response out.

What used to look something like this:

 Time, choice, response

Time, choice, response

 

Now looks more like this.

 No time, no choice, reaction

No time, no choice, reaction

 

Our responses to anything are chosen, our reactions are automatic and mechanical and it is this part that I am most interested in. How do we operate in the virtual world – which is effectively our ‘real’ world now – and be in a state of responsiveness rather than reaction? How do we continue to exercise choice when all the technology we use is designed to push us down a particular path, is designed to make choices for us?

Our Last Freedom

I don’t believe that the answer is to switch off – although I have switched off my WhatsApp notifications  (just now, while I’m writing this, lets see how long that lasts!). I think maybe our only leverage is to take back our version of time instead of being dictated to by technology’s version of time. If I feel I have time, then I can go back to the first process. Its when I feel like there is no time that I am frantically trying to keep up with my latest sense of smiley face/frowny face/angry face reaction. In fact, when I feel that I have time, I realise that more often than not my chosen response is absolutely nothing at all – the bliss of that is indescribable….clean, open, empty space in my mind and body!

In between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
— Viktor Frankl

As well as the quote above, Viktor Frankl also said that no one can take away man’s last freedom: the freedom to choose his or her own attitude given any set of circumstances. I wonder if technology may be something that really can take away that last freedom unless we take back our own rhythms, our own understanding of time? Because it is in the speeding up that we lose our ability to choose. Choosing may well be our last freedom and if we are not to lose it, we must take back what it requires: breath, time and a little interior quiet.

I am starting with switching off notifications – not for the whole day, but for the first two hours of my working/waking day. In that time, I can consider what came in the day before, the night before, the week before and I can breathe a little bit more easily. I also realise that the amount of time I spend reading articles, posts and watching YouTube decreases with the time available to do it – an obvious point but one worth making.

My fight for the last freedom is about time.

 

Can writing make us happy?

In the age of ‘infobesity’ the antidote to digital overload may be writing

Humans are the only living beings on the earth who can express their thoughts in the form of writing. Call it an evolutionary success of the higher primates or an act of adaptation, the complex human brains show remarkable feature in terms of superiority in the animal kingdom.

Benefits of this invaluable capacity in humans have a larger scope. Writing not only serves as the mean for communication or expressing the thought processes in a systematic way but it also has developmental implications. One of these is the improvement in the neurological health, such as enhancing your memory.

How Does Writing Help You?

In the era of digitization, writing has become a lost art. Starting from writing books, novels, stories to blogs, nearly all forms of writing are taken over by typing. But scientific research shows the brighter side of handwriting.

Studies have determined the therapeutic benefits of writing to overcome symptoms of depression, and cognitive development to increase memory and other positive effects.

Therapeutic Aspects of Writing

A number of studies were carried out in the past and some are ongoing to prove the therapeutic aspects of writing. Expressive writing involves writing about yourself, this includes emotional experiences and thoughts.  It can be in the form of writing in your diary. It is narrative in nature and is more on the explanation or the impact of the incidents on mind rather than a mere description of events. Scholars have penned down their views supported by facts and results to outline the benefits of expressive writing.

'Expressive Writing: Words that Heal', a book by James Pennebaker and John Evans beautifully described the positive sides of expressive writing. The authors also suggested several examples on the subject matter. For example, you can talk about things that keep you awake at night, incidents that caused trauma and happiness. Pennebaker and Evans suggest dedicating at least 20 minutes of your daily schedule to writing to increase its health benefits. They also said that writing for six weeks using different techniques and analyzing the written material plays an important role in mental wellbeing.

Cognitive Aspects of Writing

On top of all its therapeutic aspects, writing also has several cognitive benefits that we can take advantage of. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is similar to Expressive Writing and it also requires its participants to pen down stressful memories in order to help the patients to fight depression. In a study based on cognitive processing therapy, participants showed a significant reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and improvement of cognitive health just by writing. Another study by Longcamp et al. has proved that learning and remembering the pattern and orientation of letters by using different mediums, can also impact the brain. Participants took two different methods to learn new letters from unknown languages, those were handwriting and keyboard typing or copying. Over a period of time, the group of people involved in handwriting was found in a better position to memorize than those who were typing.

Conclusion

The benefits of writing are enormous but often underrated. Writing has deep therapeutic advantages. Writing is also a good exercise for the brain to stimulate the brain cells and to improve memory. Bridget Murray at the American Psychological Association explains how the psychologists are using this weapon to treat thousands of patients with anxiety, depression, and trauma. So slow down, get a pen and paper out and start to write!

Kathy Mitchell is a Travel & Beauty Blogger and a new contributor to Peacebeam. She likes to go out with her friends, travel, swim and practice yoga. Kathy is also a contributor at BookMeditationRetreats.com.

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