WHITMAN — After a year of Zoom meetings, remote education classes, FaceTime calls with family and friends and overloading on social media during pandemic lockdown, it may be time for a “Digital Detox.”
Reducing that screen time was the topic of a recent program presented by the Friends of the Whitman Library — perhaps ironically via Zoom recorded for streaming on the WHCA-TV YouTube Channel as the library was still closed to in-person indoor programming on Saturday, May 22.
“It’s about balance,” said Josh Misner PhD, a mindfulness and communications professor at Gonzaga University and North Idaho College. “It’s about how I can return control to myself over my device.”
The number one thing people can do to regain control over digital addiction is committing to turning off your device for a period of time each week, and intentionally notice the difference. He practices device-free Saturdays and family meals.
“You are going to get far richer conversations from people in person than you are in text,” he said.
Misner’s presenation, “Finding Stillness in the Age of Distraction,” argues that we are living in “one of the largest most revolutionary changes in the way that humans communicate since the dawn of time.”
Other examples of such changes through history included the basic development of language, the printing press, the advances of the Industrial Revolution — modern cameras, telephone, radio, film, and satellites —
“We always talk about these revolutions being driven by technology,” Miner said, including the act of writing itself. “It allowed us to store records, to send messages over much longer spaces. It allowed us to analyze communication.”
The length of time between these revolutions shrinks almost predictably in an exponential manner, he argued.
“For thousands of years, every time we have one of these revolutions in communication technology, we have some group of people resisting against that … saying we would lose part of our humanity,” he said.
Misner gave the example that Socrates thought the written language was bound to create a generation of idiots, because people would not be able to remember things the way the had to in years before.
“I’ve heard it said that the two most important inventions of the entire 20th Century were the birth control pill and the solid-state transistor,” Misner said.
The first gave women more autonomy over their bodies and the second allowed reduction in the need for binary computer language and vastly increased computer memory capacity.
With the development of BlackBerry and other smartphone technology, came the resulting bleeding of work emails and other interruptions to our personal lives, he said.
“Because I had my ‘CrackBerry’ for so long, I didn’t realize how sucked in I was becoming — how addicted I was becoming — to checking and clearing all those notifications, how socially conditioned I was becoming, to that ever-familiar buzz in my pocket,” he said.
After an epithet about it in Costco from his wife and a heated argument, he realized he was sending the wrong message to his family.
“I’m a communications scholar and this is a communication problem, so I’m going to do what communication scholars do,” Misner told himself. So he researched just what is going on.
In 1989 it was determined that one edition of the New York Times contained more information that the average person in 17th-Century England would encounter in a lifetime, Misner pointed out. Today, the 4GB available on a top-of-the-line computer hard drive from 1996 can fit on any inexpensive USB stick.
By 2025, it would take 1.8 billion years at the fastest available computer technology, one person to download and store all the information in the world’s computers.
He then gave a glimpse of that information exposure to human behavior.
In 1968, a study by George Gerbner found that people who watched TV more than four hours a day thought the world was a more dangerous place than it really was thanks to violence on the medium.
“I think we can apply that to social media,” he said. “People who are using social media are starting to have an extremely warped view of the world around them.”
The world of politics and the divisions there are the best example of that, Misner argued.
So, what to do?
Find some time, every day to unplug, calm down and focus on one thing at a time.
Practicing mindfulness — being intentional, present-focused and aware, noticing novel developments as they happen and practicing nonjudgmental acceptance — can boost your attention span.