'Digital dementia' is a result of our dependency on technology

'Digital dementia'

“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device!”

Those words, from The Eagles song, Hotel California, continue to ring loudly in my mind as I experience and witness the invasive nature of the electronic leashes many of us have attached ourselves to.

Just because something’s normal doesn’t mean it’s good. Being alone together is now commonplace, as our attention is often miles away from where we are. Physically here, but not present, is a sad norm in today’s world. It’s rare to receive the precious gift of another’s undivided attention.

Our attention has been commodified; it’s mined, harvested and sold, and we’re often not even aware. Programs are intended to create addiction with the so-called neural-rewards they offer. We have to be smart and aware of what’s happening.

While there are many things we can’t control, we are the only ones who have control over our attention.

As a mindfulness practitioner, I’m keenly aware of the challenges created by the virtual reality of our minds, where we ruminate on the past or worry about the future. Our minds have the tendency to keep us from experiencing the present moment. In this virtual reality of our minds, so much of life’s richness is missed, often fuelling the fight-or-flight response within our bodies.

In today’s society the growing dependency on our digital devices adds fuel to the fire. People gathering with devices within easy reach, alerts pinging and vibrating, draw attention away from those right in front of us. I call it the invasion of the zombies.

My awareness of the growing epidemic of cell phone addiction increased years ago when I viewed a photo series, Removed, by Eric Pickersgill.

Pickersgill captured photos of people in modern life, consumed by their devices, except the devices were removed from their hands making the images all too familiar becomes odd and absurd.

This photo series was like a cold slap of reality to me. The stark truth of what’s happening in today’s society caused me to wake-up and notice the isolating and intrusive nature of life married to digital devices. As one of my mindfulness students mused, “Beware the cyber-toothed tiger!”

There are many health costs arising from cell phone addiction. Technology is good, but overusing it creates challenges for the cognitive function of our brains. It may be startling to realize the abilities of our brains are changing due to the increased use of technology. We are harming our ability to remember and to solve simple problems on our own.

How many phone numbers are you able to remember? Are you able to quickly calculate sale prices in your head? Our spatial awareness is being altered through the use of Google Maps.

Use it or lose it. A young store-clerk was shocked when I was quickly able to calculate the final price of an item when the sale price was 20% off. She was impressed. I’m concerned she was impressed.

Digital dementia, a term coined by Manfred Spitzer in 2012, is the breakdown of the ability of the brain to think. Poor short-term memory, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders are only a few of the consequences of the overuse of technology.

I grew concerned when I noticed my tendency to reach for my device to simply pass the time. I frequently see people eating out, absorbed in scrolling on their device. Do they even notice and enjoy what they’ve eaten? Not surprisingly, this often leads to overeating and weight issues.

Injuries from distracted walking are on the rise. I’ve had people walk straight into me on the streets as they walk with their eyes transfixed by their screens. Thank goodness I’m not a car. Distracted people are increasingly walking into traffic, unaware of their surroundings. It’s becoming such a problem some municipalities are now banning texting while walking. It’s hard to believe.

I’ve slipped back into an addiction to my phone during the isolation of the pandemic. I was aware, and then I forgot. What to do? Only I can take action to correct it. Awareness is curative.

Utilizing the weekly screen time report on your phone is a great way to draw attention to your use of your device. Being mindful of your usage can lead to positive change. Notice your own habits with technology, being gently curious. Self-criticism is not helpful, but gaining insight into your own ways is a place to begin.

As we say in mindfulness, be gentle, patient, and kind, and be here now.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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