On Dopamine, Technology, and the Decline of “Men of Letters”
Much has been written over the past 10 years with regards to sugar and its negative effects on health, and specifically the brain. We are aware, through a growing body of research, that sugar consumption directly affects dopamine levels, and so much so that some experts lump sugar into the same category as illegal drugs, i.e., sugar is highly addictive. Recent research even suggests that increased sugar in the diet can actually alter the way the mind learns and remembers (or doesn't remember), the consequences of which could be brutal for the cognitive capital of this country when one considers the sheer amount of sugar consumed each year. We are literally eating ourselves stupid, and the literature is thick with warnings against excessive sugar consumption the ensuing effects on our health as a whole.
While the informed and educated are certainly aware of the negative effects of sugar, I want to inspire a discussion today on a separate, albeit related topic, dealing specifically with the dopamine response of sugar, similar responses in the brain from technology, and the effects of this phenomenon on “Men of Letters,” or in modern terms, the cognitive capital of men of working age in this country.
As I have in the past, I again draw on the work of renowned political scientist Charles Murray as inspiration for the following thoughts you will read today. I propose that technology and its overuse, (the subsequent effects on dopamine levels in the brain being similar to that of sugar and drug addiction) has robbed men of the full potential of their genetic cognitive power, the results of which are seen in, as Murray would argue, a lack of male industriousness since 1960, and perhaps worse, a lack of motivation and desire for said industriousness. As the high performance man knows, desire and motivation are the starting points of all achievement, cognitive, physical, or otherwise… One could lump this outbreak of technological dependence in the same category of drug and alcohol addiction and not be far off!
I would encourage independent research to anyone interested in studying the effects of technology dependence on the brain, and there are several studies in recent years that describe precisely what I have proposed above. Technology does in fact elicit similar dopamine responses in the brain to that of sugar and drug use, and we need not delve through research to imagine examples in everyday life. Take your average 20 year old male’s video games away for a week and watch the response wreak havoc on the brain; cancel the 600 cable channels for your average 45 year old man and he will shake from the withdraw. We are a nation of men caught in an outbreak of technology dependence, and the majority of us, through a lack of careful and honest self examination, are oblivious to the harmful effects, the list of which I believe is long and exhaustive.
And thus, where do we go from here? How can we balance the important role of technology in our lives while maintaining healthy boundaries? How do we regain control of our brains in a tech world?
In no particular order, I would suggest -
1. If you have an issue with watching too much television, think about cancelling the cable. This is drastic...I know, but hear me out. I grew up on a 9 generation family farm without cable TV, and looking back I am thankful for such an upbringing. I did not miss anything, and the hours gained by not watching television were spent playing outside and reading books. We did have 3 local channels, and I never missed a World Series or NBA Final growing up. I saw Michael Jordan compete, and while I missed episodes of The Real World on MTV...what did I really miss?
Over the last 60 years, nothing has done more to advance the rates of technology dependence than television. Jersey Shore, The Kardashians, American Idol, and so forth...What do we gain from consuming such content?
2. Limit time spent on unproductive internet browsing. This article is a must read and is the only example of unproductive web browsing you’ll ever need. IF you’re one of these men, STOP NOW. Unproductive internet usage is second only to television in sheer numbers of hours wasted, though it is overtaking it rapidly.
3. Limit the unproductive use of smart phones, and see numbers 1 and 2 above. Now smart phones are extremely valuable to mobile professionals, and I am not saying to limit their use altogether. When used wisely smart phones are a time saver, and their use can be extremely productive. They can however be a trap for time wasting, and it would pay to limit their unproductive use. Also note that Thomas Jefferson is estimated to have written over 18,000 letters in his lifetime, and you my friend have a long way to go to match his prolific output!!
Revisiting Murray, he would argue that the above three habits are ones which high performance people have mastered, and I would agree. I highly doubt the majority of professors, CEO’s, lawyers, doctors, successful entrepreneurs, and others in similar positions spend their time literally “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” or partaking in similar time wasters. It is high time the rest of America fall in line as well, and part of what makes the elites successful are the magnificent ways in which they maximize productivity and make great use of the allotted hours of the day.
Tell me, does Niall Ferguson watch the American average of 35 hours of television per week? Can Lewis Lapham name the stars of the latest reality TV show? While I do disagree with censorship, China has gone down a temping path, banning trash TV , and a small part of me lauds them for it!!
I would encourage you to take an honest look at your use of technology. Are you productive, or are you wasting time? What is the opportunity cost? What are you missing if you are wasting precious time on unproductive uses of technology? What are the effects on the brain? Are you developing a dependence? These are all important questions that anyone aspiring to be high-performance should seriously consider!