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Digital Dementia - The Hidden Dangers of Not Using Your Brain

"Digital Dementia" is a phrase I have been ruminating on, for a while now.

Real dementia, a form of Alzheimers disease (AD), both fascinates and terrifies me. Neurodegenerative diseases have the capacity to decimate families, robbing a person of their sense of self. To watch a loved one go through such a tumultuous ordeal, I can only imagine, is one of the hardest tests life will throw at you. To be the victim of neuro-degeneration has to be one of the scariest, soul-sucking and confusing ailments that one could face.

There is also the very real risk that we all may be affected by this harrowing disease. Alzheimers disease is up about 50% since the year 2000. Let that sink in for a second. The numbers aren’t slowing down, either. By the year 2050 we may be so crippled by neurodegenerative diseases that we will need swashes of 24/7 care givers to manage this pandemic. That is, of course, if diabetes costs don’t bankrupt the entire medical system beforehand.

Another down right terrifying piece to this neurodegenerative puzzle is that there is no cure. There is not a single medication on the market right now that even eases symptoms, let alone slows them down. In fact, it has been shown that most conventional treatments for AD actually speed up cognitive decline and disease proliferation.

Due to the aforementioned reasons, I became fascinated with AD and its counter parts. I wanted to truly understand the disease etiology and why we have been so profoundly unsuccessful in treating it.

Albert Einstein once famously said “You can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.

The fact that treating AD has been a complete failure and the drugs we have available are contributing to the disease, rather than helping it, clearly indicates the need for some new thinking on this earth shattering disease.

I have my own ideas on the matter:

Diet plays a massive role in AD development. It is the single biggest contributing factor. This is why AD is now commonly referred to as Type 3 Diabetes - turns out that what you eat for your grey matter, really matters. This is why we will be hard pressed to ever find a drug that will fix the problem. Band aid solutions don't work for chronic conditions. Understanding the importance of the link between diet and the brain goes somewhat of the way to also explaining why AD has sky rocketed in the past 20 or so years - our worsening diets, laden with sugar, crappy vegetable oils and fake food, which we now start kids on as soon as they leave the womb, are likely the major contributing factors to neurodegeneration.

But diet alone does not explain this whole puzzle. There are clear environmental and lifestyle factors at play.

I often say that we are wild animals living like zoo animals. If you have ever paid close attention to animals in the zoo, you can see they are not well. Alienation from nature, our true genetic and biological drive, extrapolated over time makes us sick…just like those animals in the zoo, for we are, after all, just advanced animals.

Within the landscape of thinking about this neurodegenerative epidemic we find ourselves within, I think it is worth mentioning our incessant use of technology and social media.

This is where digital dementia enters the fray.

Technology is remarkable. It has allowed us to achieve a great many feats that were mere pipe-dreams, just a century ago. Technology has come so far and is now so accessible that it infiltrates all aspects of our life.

This makes our lives easier. We can now rely on tech to do the things that we “don’t have time for” so we can keep ourselves busier and find more free time to use tech.

This comes with a cost. We have gotten so good at outsourcing our brains to tech that we seldom use them any more.

Splitting a bill at a restaurant with friends? Screw math, use the calculator! Need directions? Ditch the road map and check Waze! Need to have a conversation with someone? Don’t actually talk to them, that’s so 1990’s, send them an emoji instead. Bored? kill time by scrolling social media and living vicariously through others!

Think about how many phone numbers you used to know. How many do you know now? Exactly. Many people have the mentality of “What’s the point in remembering this kind of stuff if your phone can do it for you and do it better?”

They’re not wrong. Our phones and tech are incredibly smart, way smarter than us, in fact. Armed with our phones we can answer any question ever. We can pull up directions in a second. We can order food in minute and have it on our doorstep in twenty. We can “do math” on our calculators because what’s the point in wasting time thinking and potentially getting wrong what you know your phone will get right?

We can even answer calls or texts on our bloody watches now!!! We don’t just use tech, we wear it. We are, if you think about it, the first form of artificial intelligence.

We automate so much of our lives to tech and gadgets, outsourcing important tasks to computers and this comes with great costs, in my opinion.

We aren’t using our brains much any more. Modern life is taking the necessity for this away. How wonderful to live a life where thinking is done for us? Tech and modern life treats thinking as something slow and clumsy. Humans are constantly messing that up and they have a hard time doing it. The solution is simple - more tech, more gadgets, more artificial intelligence.

This is the direction the world is going in. We are very close to living in a 5G world. 5G is coined as “the internet of things” - our entire environments are going to become extensions of the internet and tech. This is happening in many homes and businesses already, further “freeing” us from the burden and stresses of problem solving. Making life even more comfortable and perfect.

Sounds idyllic, quite honestly. Here’s the kicker, though. Humans don’t flourish in comfort. We need challenges, both physically and mentally, in order to grow. Comfort is where that growth stops. We need to constantly be using what we have or we lose it - we see this play out time and time again. Don’t move your body? Lose it’s functionality. Have you seen what happens to a limb in a cast? Don’t use your brain? You will lose it.

Digital dementia.

It’s right in front of our eyes, yet we seem so blind to it. The internet of things, wearable tech, smart homes, automation, social media - these are creating a bigger disconnect from the human experience, as they seek to “improve” the human experience. Quite the paradox.

I don’t think that these things are improving the human experience, per se. Is tech making it more efficient? Absolutely. But at what cost?

Again, tech is amazing and has the capacity to change the world - it already has. Tech is not going to stop or slow down. It’s only growing and infiltrating more of our lives. Some of this is fantastic and I am grateful for technology. Without it, I would have to hand write this email and send it to you all (some 360 of you at this point, spanning 7 different countries) by carrier pigeon. Quite the task.

Despite all of the obvious and remarkable benefits that tech has and will bring to our lives and the world, we must exercise caution and be mindful of overuse/over-reliance, for the cost of not doing so, is grave.

I am worried about our future generations growing up with tech in their faces 24/7…I am incredibly grateful I grew up without a phone and did a lot of my learning through play.

I am worried about the billions of people every day that waste countless hours on social media consuming absolute junk for their eyeballs and brains, usually looking at people in better shape, with more money, nicer things, on cooler vacations and with more privileged backgrounds than them - essentially demoralizing themselves by admiring strangers they will never meet!?

This is a toxic habit. You have to be VERY careful with your time and attention. Are you using tech and social media mindfully and to improve your life? Or are you using it to distract yourself and automate life so that you can zombie-on-through, with as little real thinking and challenge as possible?

Ask yourself that question and think very carefully about the answer.

At the end of the day tech has a place in our lives, as does social media and all of that stuff too. I am incredibly lucky to run a business that is largely based on social media and use of said tech. I am also conscious of my use of these things and whether they are serving me.

Tech is a tool that can be used to do many great things, but if it is using you, who is the tool?

I am on a social media fast right now and it feels bloody fantastic. I have ditched as much tech as possible from my life to do the things that I can do. I split my own check, using my own brain. I read real books. I seek adversity daily. I meditate in the times I would usually scroll though socials. I journal about the process. I eat for my brain and body. I don’t consume junk (and I’m not just talking about food). I use my body and brain daily because I don’t want to lose it.

I am not telling anyone how to live their lives. I am merely asking the questions that I think modern life does it’s best to avoid.

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day.



This blog post was taken from my "sunday's with Ste" email that goes out once weekly - if you liked it, you can subscribe to that list here:

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