- Abandon their diet.
- Be incredibly busy, yet unproductive.
- Spend all day surfing the net.
- Walk into lamp posts.
- Kill themselves.
- Kill others.
I believe the common theme is attention. More specifically in the above cases, inattention. At any given time, we only have so much attentional bandwidth. Optionally we can use willpower and habits to influence where our attention lands. But habits have to be acquired. And willpower is usually drained to empty by dinner time, particularly after a day of maintaining a professional veneer in a business environment that today is still largely cluttered with humans.
By the end of the day, your attention will likely pursue anything that provides neural relief, for example, a high octane film, a high octane chocolate muffin, or something more directly neuroactive. Often we are so emotionally exhausted after a tough meeting, day, week or career that we do not have the attentional reserves to manage our subsequent focus and thoughts. The ‘stressful day – unhealthy evening’ cycle turns into a vicious circle, where our physical and mental health deteriorate over time. Modern media when consumed without attentional filters is a contributor to this downward spiral. Profit triumphs over truth, and nothing sells like bad news.
Over time, what we ingest shapes our thinking. If we are not careful, ie pay attention, our mental outlook will morph from joyful curiosity to guarded paranoia. There is a danger that we become so chronically distracted that we start to misinterpret reality. It might well be that the driver of the car that cut you up is desperately trying to get his child to a hospital. Or your partner’s caring is misconstrued as targeted nagging. When our attention is impaired, we are inclined to interpret scenarios in their worst light. Perhaps a measure of a society’s health is its mean ‘time-to-rage’? This can be thought of as the period it takes the average citizen to shift from seemingly civil to uncontrollable anger.
And perhaps time-to-rage is an unintended consequence of digital society? Extreme connectivity and mobility makes every day at work feel like we are competing in the final of some sort of world championship. Technology has us operating like hamsters on amphetamines. The nagging fear that we are also in competition with technology simply increases the stress.
As we spend more time fretting about our future, the vicious cycle of stressful work medicated with unhealthy food, low quality media and other mind-moving substances picks up pace.
If you are overwhelmed, have a lingering sense of injustice or just can’t think straight, it might well be that you are a casualty-in-waiting of the digital age. Or more specifically, you have yet to make the professional / expectational adjustments needed to capitalise and enjoy this post-industrial era.