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Social Media And The Dumbing Down Of America

“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”- Carl Sagan

As a young boy growing up in the highly Roman Catholic greater Boston area, I recall a practice called “going on retreat.” It called for going away for a day or two for prayer and pope contemplation. Of course, when we went on these as adolescents, we did everything possible to avoid the quiet and solitude that the retreat directors tried to expose us to. They were, undoubtedly, “the lamest thing that ever happened.” Years later, I was a teacher at a Roman Catholic high school and the yearly retreat was a part of the opening week for the faculty. We would spend two days and one night away from the hustle and bustle of the world in semi-isolation on some quiet and usually huge piece of property owned by the Catholic Church. We were supposed to be engaged in prayer, so as to be ready to spend the upcoming school year “teaching as Jesus taught.” I recall not praying very much at all, but I was introduced to that feeling of calm and serenity that being isolated from technology, music, telephones, and TV that those two days provided. And, for some bizarre reason, I always the better spiritually, despite my half assed attempts at prayer. It kind of felt like a detox of sorts, in which I had been purged of all the negative aspects of a culture dependent upon technology.

The reality is that technology is, in fact, addictive. We have become a culture where virtually everyone utilizes every spare moment they have staring at a 3X5 computer that they hold in their hands. Our days are punctuated by the sounds of iPhones that vibrate, ring, chime, and interrupt with inappropriate music. Our whole lives are in those little tiny computers. We pay our bills, get information, music, our books, photographs, and hold the intimate details of our lives – all in the palm of our hand. Way too much information and way too accessible.

This glut of information can be a blessing or a curse. Unfortunately, within the last 10 years it is starting to look more like a curse than a blessing. Here’s some negative aspects of this technology:

1, Social media is highly addictive. Studies show that approximately 70% of all Americans log into Facebook daily. Almost 50% login multiple times per day. People receive likes and shares for things that they post. From a behavioral standpoint, these are positive reinforcements. All living creatures seek positive reinforcements and they can be addictive. Dr. Cecilie Andraessen at the University of Bergen, Norway and her colleagues have classified the overuse of Facebook as an addiction, creating an instrument called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale to quantify what constitutes Facebook Addiction. You can look it up, but don’t bother. You probably have it.

2, Social media leads to unrealistic and contrived comparisons to others with regard to looks, possessions, relationships, and belief systems. For young people, particularly adolescents, social media is a way to develop your identity, embellish your looks and accomplishments, declare your relationship status or lack thereof, and let everyone know what you just had for lunch. For the older crowd, social media is a way to feel superior to others because of your religious or political beliefs. Adults will argue about two conversational taboos that they would never argue about face to face-religion and politics, pontificating about their private and personal beliefs to friends  that disagree in a way that would be insulting and obnoxious if done in real time.

3. Social media creates a false perception of making a difference. People can be lulled into a false sense that they are promoting social justice by trying to convince those with different beliefs to change their ideals in causes that they support. Liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats, Hillary versus the Donald, etc. all of this cyber posing and posturing can make one feel like Gandhi, Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King, all the click of a button. However, nothing changes in real time. To my knowledge, there are no instances ever of anyone changing a belief that they already held because of a Facebook argument.

4. Social media and the Internet have created a Cult of Celebrity, where the opinions of rockactors, athletes, musicians, and pop cultural icons are held in higher esteem than those of politicians, scientists, spiritual leaders, and intellectuals. If Springsteen or Kanye say so, it simply has to be true. This Celebrity Cult can be dangerous if the culture looks to celebrities for guidance in realms that are out of their areas of expertise. We have recently elected a celebrity as president of the United States and there is a growing groundswell of support for other celebrities to run in 2020. Yesterday I saw a petition online to support Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson for president. Really? Can you smell what the president’s been cooking?

5. Social media tends to promote nonscientific and archaic solutions to society’s problems based on anecdotal evidence. According to the Internet and social media, yoga, cannabis, and curcumin can cure virtually anything. No need for physicians or science. There’s nothing that probiotics cannot cure. Oh, and forget about those vaccinations. They can kill you.

6. Social media and the Internet has created an environment where anyone can find any news story they may need to support a false assumption. Conspiracy theories abound, exciting the imagination of millions of people. Once a theory goes viral, it becomes an accepted fact. It has to be, because everybody believes it, right? The masses line up, either for or against, and society gets dragged into a rabbit hole of nonsense. The interesting thing is that both sides, for and against these theories, can find ample evidence supporting their viewpoint – all at the push of a button.

7. Social media has distorted the meaning of community. While online communities can be highly beneficial, they’ll never replace real communities where people meet face-to-face, in real time, and share their human experiences. Ideally, people should have both. Social media can be a great way to stay in with extended family and old friends that you’ve lost touch with. Just be sure not to neglect family members and friends who live close by.

8. Social media has distorted our sense of privacy interpersonal boundaries. People will vent about a relationship that they had just ended, some personal problem that may have just gone through, or how much they hate their job. Existential angst gets dispersed into cyberspace and, once it’s there, it’s hard to get back. Some people use social media in the same way that previous generations used a journal or a personal diary. Today it’s very fashionable to put all your deepest and most private thoughts on your Facebook page. Sometimes not a great idea.

9. Social media has changed the ways that people share good wishes, congratulations, and couple-phonecondolences. This is one of the better aspects of social media. Being able to respond to someone’s grief, joy, or to be able to instantly celebrate something of significance with them is great. Just make sure that you try to do the same thing in person if possible. I often wonder if that guy that writes that long and rambling post about how much he loves his wife on their anniversary had the brains to tell her to her face.

10. The Internet and social media have replaced books, pens, paper, and libraries. While this, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad, it can lead to faulty research. Most people latch on to the first article that pops up in a Google search and unquestionably believe it to be true. It has to be, right? I got in on the Internet.

Like most things in life, the answer is balance. Use technology wisely, as overindulgence can lead to misinformation, impaired relationships, loss of privacy, and a host of physical and emotional disturbances. But, don’t take my word for it.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Amor Fati : How To Live Life On Life’s Terms

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The nature of being human is to be a thinking, feeling, animal. We continually assess nietzsche187awhat is going on in our world, both internally and externally. We receive information, derive a feeling, and decide what it means to us. The meaning that we connect to these experiences shapes the context of our lives. What we love, hate, feel good about, feel bad about, worry about and fear, are all determined by the meaning that we attach to the experiences we have. Ultimately, we all must realize that we do not have much control over most of these things. This realization usually happens in early adolescence and often results in years, if not a lifetime, of running from both real and imagined pain.

This isn’t anything new. Mankind has been experiencing it since Adam bit the apple. Religion and philosophy were developed by humans to resolve the existential angst of the human condition. All religions and philosophical traditions ultimately teach the practice of acceptance. Religions invariably encourage prayer, a turning over of this pain to a higher power, thus relieving the person of the pain of carrying it. Many philosophies encourage a detached acceptance in an “it is what it is” fashion. In both cases the pain remains, albeit to a lesser degree. The pain remains because it is something that we cannot ultimately embrace.

Acceptance is hard and, for most people, impossible. Letting go of control is one of the most frightening feelings a human can have. But what if you could find joy and fulfillment through letting go? Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher put it this way:

“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it…” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Amor Fati! To love and embrace your fate. Not easily done, and Frederick Nietzsche epictetus-5hardly sounds like a fun guy. Nietzsche is best known as the, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” guy. Look a little deeper, and much of what he says makes sense. Nietzsche, and the Stoic philosophers before him, took acceptance to its deepest possible levels. The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, put it this way:

“Do not seek to have events happen as you want them but instead want them to happen and your life will go well.” – Epictetus

From modern philosopher Eckhart Tolle:

” The acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.” – Eckhart Tolle

The nature of acceptance, and the concept of amor fati is to accept, receive, and ultimately embrace, all that life has to offer you, the good, bad, and ugly. It teaches us that contentment, fulfillment, and purpose can only come by embracing, and even welcoming, all that life has to offer us. This need not be a pessimistic outlook, rather it is designed to make us fully appreciate the beauty and joy available to us during our rather short lifetime.

Being fully open to everything that life has to teach us is clearly an acquired skill, not something we are born with as the avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is natural. It is also the reason for almost all human suffering. Ultimately, life is going to do what life does. Learning to let go and accept that we are not in control can be liberating. It can also give us more joy in more meaning with the things that are in our control. Can there be any other way to enjoy a fulfilling life?

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love ooenhenceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Live life on life’s terms. There really is no other logical choice.


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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