Remember This: Digital Dementia

“Remember This: Digital Dementia” is the second in a series of Mind/Body Articles by Anamaya’s Graham Doke

Of course I don’t have digital wossname, not me.

Why, of course I can still make calls if I lose my phone with all my numbers - no, I don’t remember them, that would be silly: I have them all in the cloud, and I can access them from my Mac, my Macbook Pro, either of two iPads, and my backup phone.

And, no, I do not rely on my Macs to navigate me in my car - I use my own mind: I input the address with my own hand into the GPS: my car bleeps obnoxiously if I speed on the way there, which is helpful, and when I arrive I press a button and as the car parks itself I call my friend myself (his name pops up conveniently on the dashboard screen) and he tells me which number flat he occupies.

And, of course I need facebook and email and messaging open as I write this, that has nothing to do with - hang on, that was a WhatsUp message, just a tick...

If I had a penny for every time I got distracted - I wish I had an ice cream.

Manfred Spitzer, a German psychologist, coined the original German phrase which we have so alliteratively translated. His original thesis is that overuse of technology is quite simply dulling our brains. His original paper was a warning to parents of young children, but it applies equally to adults. 
We do not use our memories - and why would we? Everything we have not stored in our myriad devices can be got from google in a flash, and directions from place to place are no longer our concern, but that of the annoying voice in the car.
We simply do not need to dig deep to find anything anymore. As long as we can remember our password and where we left the phone/tablet/laptop (and charger), it is all there for us.
But it is not just memory - it goes much deeper. We pride ourselves on the number of facebook friends we have, or twitter followers, or the number of people who respond to our inane comments or postings. 
We have instant responses on text and email, immediate exposure on facebook; the ability to react to that exposure with an immediate “like” or “dislike”; the dreaded “unfriend”, that ultimate faceless rejection. 
The problem is, none of this is real social interaction, none of this involves human contact.
We become mindless automatons responding not to the sound of a friend’s voice, the slight inflection of sadness that alerts us to a mood - but rather to the emoticon she chooses to post; not to the genuine joy in a new mother’s voice, but to the electronic card she sends; we receive and send birthday wishes to people we barely know (well, it’s either that guy from Pilates, which is cool, or the freak from the pool, uncool, but anyway...).
Just as if we do not use a muscle, it withers and wastes, so too will those parts of the brain we do not use in human contact wither and waste - the parts governing sympathy, empathy, understanding, love, anger, sadness. I could use words like pre-frontal cortex and anterior cingulate to label these parts, but we try not to be vulgar.
But we do, we become automatons.
This is not a luddite debate telling you to put your phone away, shut off your computer and go down the Post Office and buy a writing pad, some envelopes and a box of stamps. There are ways, many ways in which we can ensure that we do not lose our ability to behave like human beings.
First, we should not imagine for a moment social media constitutes meaningful social contact. It is simply the grossest manner in which to broadcast what we are doing: “Look at me! Look at me!” we scream. We must develop, rather, and treasure, real life relationships, in the knowledge of what is real and what is artificial.
There are also brain exercises, crosswords, Sudoku, chess (all of which we can play on a phone or a tablet!) ... and, of course, you all know that I am simply going to say one of the best of all is meditation. Meditation is quite simply physiotherapy for the brain. 
And if we can join a group meditation, then we are killing two birds, as it were, with one stone. And, ahem, we happen to have one at Anamaya ...!

Read more about meditation at Anamaya here.


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