“The human race will eventually die of civilization”- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mankind has made more technological progress in this century than in the previous 50 years. We are only 15 years into this century, so one can only imagine the kind of progress that will be made by the year 2050. One would think that with all this progress our lives would be much more healthier, happier, and fulfilled than they are. What’s going on with all this progress and why does it seem that Emerson was correct over 150 years ago?
The reality is that the progress and lifestyle changes from modern technology come with a hidden cost that research only recently has made apparent. Most of us are quite aware of the cost of these lifestyle improvements on our physical well-being. Here is a brief list of some of them:
⦁ Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and high cholesterol are examples of some diseases that are on the rise.
⦁ Nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamin D, lack of omega-3 fatty acids, lack of iron and other essential nutrients are so common that doctors are suggesting that pills be taken in order to ensure sufficient levels of these in other nutrients.
⦁ There has been an increase in addiction and addictive behaviors. There is more chemical dependence for things such as pain and prescription medication and, although rates of tobacco smoking have leveled off, there is an increase addiction to fast food, caffeine, sugar, and electronic cigarettes.
⦁ Physical fitness for the average American of all ages has decreased dramatically since the mid-20th century. People on the extreme are as fit, or fitter, than ever before, but the average man, woman, or child of 2015 is significantly less physically fit and active. Rather than freeing up time for exercise and fitness, modern life has done just the opposite.
⦁ Sleep for Americans in their prime, productive years averages between five and six hours, significantly less than the eight hours that are recommended. This means that students, much of the workforce, and young adults and raising families are functioning subpar due to lack of sleep. In addition to the physical impact of sleep deprivation, there is a toll that this takes on their emotional health and overall sense of well-being and happiness.
⦁ Hormonal problems, unheard of decades ago, have become quite common. Chemicals in our environment have wreaked havoc with the hormone levels of males. Low testosterone levels, impacted by chemicals in our environment, have become a hidden epidemic that is only recently beginning to be discussed. You can be pretty sure that great grandpa never heard of “Low T.”
All this progress has brought high expectations and, along with it, a lot of disappointment. The number of Americans qualified for Supplemental Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, increased 250% between the years 1987 and 2007. For the years 2001 to 2003 alone, 46% of Americans met the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for at least one major mental illness. Clearly, despite all this progress, suffering continues. It’s quite possible that this progress is, in many ways, responsible for the rise in emotional difficulties.
Even more alarming is the fact that these emotional problems are impacting people at a younger and younger age. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic: “We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between 10 and 20 times as much of it as there was 50 years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression 30 years ago … the average age of which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5 … Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”
In 2011, the U. S. Center for Disease Control reported that the rise in antidepressant use had increased 400% in the previous 20 years. Granted, there has been an increase in the pathologizing of what previously had been relatively normal behaviors, but one would have to also conclude that, in part, technological changes are partially to blame. Here are some reasons that could explain the rise in these statistics:
⦁ Pills. The United States has developed into a culture that attempts to medicate almost any problem or disturbing emotion. This presents problems in and of itself, but also creates a mindset that there is a quick fix oral solution to almost any challenge we face. Pop a pill and instant relief, kind of like the Alka-Seltzer commercials of the 1950s, “Relief is just a swallow away.”
⦁ Parenting. The baby boom generation has spoiled our children. Despite our intentions of making the world a better place and our love and concern for the next generation, we have enabled them through seemingly innocent activities such as driving them to and from everything, organizing all their recreational activities, buying them the latest and best technology we could afford, and negotiating all their difficulties with peers, school, coaches, and employers. Of course, the Xbox, 400 channel cable TV with remote in their bedroom, and the 64 ounce bag of potato chips in the cabinet aren’t helping them either. Parenting trends have robbed many children of their right to develop their own resiliency by solving their own problems. As adults, many of them are ill-equipped to solve their own problems, creating feelings of helplessness, inadequacy, and alienation.
⦁ The culture of instant gratification. Modern technology gives us instant access to virtually everything at the push of a button. We carry more computer power in our shirt pocket than Neil Armstrong had when he walked on the moon in 1969. This instant gratification also carries over to things like, preparing food, paying bills, and even waiting to make that phone call. Just reach into your pocket and do it now. When this “do it now” kind of behavior is not available people tend to feel anxious and depressed.
⦁ The lack of physicality in normal life. Exercise through normal, everyday activities has become a lost art. We either hire somebody to do our activities of daily life or we buy a machine to do it for us. Many of us don’t even brush our teeth, we have a machine to do it for us, that riding mower would probably be a better value for that quarter acre lot we have, Junior needs to have a car, after all, the school is almost a mile away, and of course, there’s never enough time for me to exercise. The lack of physicality is a major reason that many feel anxious and depressed. If your body does not feel up to par, then there’s no way you will feel well emotionally. The mind-body connection is that simple.
⦁ The media. Although we are living in the safest time in human history, media coverage gives most the impression that there is a predator living in every neighborhood, the government is going to sweep in any minute and take away our hard earned rights, and that there are germs and diseases lurking everywhere, waiting to kill us as soon as the opportunity arises. Fear sells, and the media knows this. The human brain is wired to anticipate danger and protect us from it. Many people thrive on the drama of the most obscure news stories, watching the same story repeated from hundreds of different angles. Certainly not the greatest way to achieve serenity. Your own life will give you drama despite your best intentions to prevent it. Why borrow anyone else’s?
My intention here is certainly not to paint a doom and gloom scenario for modern life. Rather, it is to point out that a a lifestyle that combines the best of modern technology, science, and medicine with a little more common sense is the best way to attain fulfillment. Too many get caught up in the instant gratification that modern life and technology seduces us with. Just stop occasionally to consider the cost.
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”- Albert Camus
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