“Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential.” – Arianna Huffington

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On a quiet Sunday morning, 50 years from now, I picture myself with my grandson on my lap.

The History Channel comes on – some sort of holographic projection, I would assume.

It’s a very grandiose program that encompasses the whole world’s history in the last 100 years. From the 1960’s all the way until the 2060’s.  

It’s a bit much for an 8-year-old, but he’s fascinated by how much the world changed so radically, and even if he doesn’t understand everything…. he’s eager to learn more.

Like his grandpa, he is quite obsessed with not only the events of the past – but the people.

He watches quietly and patiently to see what they looked like, and how they acted.

He was also paying attention to how everyone treated one another.

Were they playing nice or mean?

How did these big “strangers” called “countries” – treat one another?

Did they share with one another?

Did they clean up when they were done?  

After watching the entire documentary together, he looks up at me with wide, and tearing eyes.

He asks one of the following two questions:

1) “Grandpa, what was war?”

2) Grandpa, what was freedom?

Go ahead, pick one.

You see, we all play a part in how this story unfolds – we are active participants, even if we pretend to be passive spectators.

It seems that way on social media at least – whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – so many of us are following, but who is really leading?

Passivity may the foundation of all our individual psychological neurosis’s that are the 21st century’s “new normal.”

Do you honestly know an adult that doesn’t suffer from stress and/or anxiety or has in the past?

How many people do you know struggle with depression?

 According to NBC News, “Major depression is on the rise among Americans from all age groups, but is rising fastest among teens and young adults, new health insurance data shows.”

How many young women do you know that DID NOT have an eating disorder or a serious body image problem in their teenage years?

It seems that today, despite the fact that there is less crime than ever in most rich countries – and more material goods, technology, etc. – we seem to be less happy than our parents who had a lot less.

And that is probably because having more doesn’t necessarily equal happiness.

Jamie Hale, M.S. cognitive scientist and author at PyschCentral, explains further,

“You may be surprised to learn that materialistic things rarely determine long-term happiness. That which you have always assumed would make your life much more joyful may not actually improve long-term happiness.

Happiness is determined by innate factors and perceptions, as well as experiences.”

A lot of people mistake comfort for happiness, however, long-term happiness is much more connected with the pursuit of meaning and fulfillment.

It is a never-ending process and journey of self-discovery and self-mastery.

But despite all of our “toys”, many of us lead unfulfilled and passive lives.

I had a great business law professor at NYU that was more of a mentor, than a professor. One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave us was:

“It’s always tempting to want to watch the game, instead of play it. As a lawyer, there are times right before court that I envy my students, my paralegals, and my assistants.

But in life, you MUST play the game. That’s what life IS.”

The truth was, he was simply paraphrasing Teddy Roosevelt – which said in one of his best speeches:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;

who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;

who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

How many of us suffering from depression, anxiety, stress etc. are not fully in the area?

Have we used our technology to enable us to become the greatest version of ourselves, or are we using it to escape?

Are we Netflix and chilling – instead of creating, writing, reading, speaking, calculating, analyzing, exercising, sharing, and loving?

How many of us even spend time outdoors with our family and friends on a regular basis?

Many experts theorize that the overuse of our technology and addiction to “our screens” has produced so much of the stress, anxiety, and depression as well as the accompanying passivity associated with our never-ending newsfeeds and scrolling on multiple platforms.

It could even be chemical too!

When we receive a “like” or an incoming “text” – we receive a tiny, and highly addictive hit of dopamine in our brains. This works in a nearly identical way to the dopamine receptors in the brain that also “light up” when a drug addict takes a hit of cocaine.

Trevor Haynes, a researcher in the field of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, explains,

“As explained in this 60 Minutes interview, Instagram’s notification algorithms will sometimes withhold “likes” on your photos to deliver them in larger bursts.

So when you make your post, you may be disappointed to find less responses than you expected, only to receive them in a larger bunch later on.

Your dopamine centers have been primed by those initial negative outcomes to respond robustly to the sudden influx of social appraisal.

This use of a variable reward schedule takes advantage of our dopamine-driven desire for social validation, and it optimizes the balance of negative and positive feedback signals until we’ve become habitual users.”

 And it’s not just dopamine at stake. Additionally, the very platform’s themselves can create and exacerbate anxiety and stress.

It can be even worse for kids and teenagers still figuring out who they are.

Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD), explains it best:

“Social media is judgment in public.

No matter the platform, likes, followers, and comments are measured for the world to see. Public adoration or public shaming happens in front of everyone. And for teens and young adults still figuring out their identity and moral compass, managing social media can feel like a social crisis.”

Technology isn’t bad, it’s just that many of us of are sadly addicted to our phones and all of the screens in our life.

Here’s an easy test – do you sleep with your phone in your room?

Is your phone EVER in another room during the day?

Don’t worry, I’m not any better than you! Most of us aren’t.

So here’s an idea – take the green screen, BRB challenge!

Once a week, you must shut your phone off for 24 hours and not look at ANY screen! (don’t worry, you’re really not that important, and yes, it is possible).

You see, we used to say “Be right Back.” (BRB).

Now we never leave.

We think once a week, everyone needs a screencation!

And while you can do anything that doesn’t involve a screen, we highly recommend you go outside and reconnect with nature (hence the “green” screen BRB challenge).

And your family.

And your friends.

All at the same time.

Perhaps all of these “digital” connections will never be able to replace the real ones.  

You might start to feel like you are not separate from nature at all – you are a part of nature.

Since you’re clearly the smartest species within nature – perhaps you’re meant to be responsible for it?

Whether it be the plastic pollution crisis, clean water crisis, CO2 and climate change crisis, deforestation crisis, rainforest crisis, coral reef crisis, etc., – these crisis’s are all global in nature, all getting worse – and up to all of us to solve.

Perhaps when you reconnect with nature and your loved ones – you start to realize the screens don’t matter.

But the people do. And so does our collective home.

And the crises are very real – in the words of the late great Carl Sagan, “No one is coming to help save us from ourselves.”

If there is inaction, there will inevitably be global catastrophe, increased extreme weather events, coastal cities flooding, crop failure and famine, and perhaps worst of all – a global scarcity of drinkable water, for which is there is no substitute.

It’s really not an “if” question, it’s a when question. And a question of “how bad” will it get?

However, if we are able to all step into the arena – together – and no longer expect others to do it for us, we may find a global community with mutually shared interests in the process.

We might find a great deal of collective fulfillment and purpose if we are able to turn our global society’s way of life and commerce, industry and consumption to replicate nature’s way……sustainable, cyclical, and circular.

An elder tribesman was asked, “How should we treat others?”

He replied, “There are no others.”

Because WE ARE ONE.

It’s time to stop watching the game.

It’s time to dare greatly, together.


Jon O’Donnell