How to Stop Being a Digital Stimulus Junky

IMG_1144.PNGOne of the best books that I have read in recent years is Quiet by Susan Cain. A lawyer by training, Ms. Cain uses her incredible research skills and piercing intellect to present a view of the experience of introverted people, living in an extroverted world. If you tend to prefer peace and simplicity over loud and chaotic, and you have not read this book, do so!

I had never viewed myself as an introvert, and some people who know me superficially are surprised to hear me refer to myself as an introvert. It took me some years to realize my introversion, as well as to embrace it. Once I discovered this about myself, other struggles dissolved away like magic! Reading Susan Cain’s book was a big part of that awareness.

C.G. Jung was the first psychologist to popularize the distinction between introversion and extroversion. Jung used the words differently than we do in everyday talk, and I find his way of understanding these two qualities to be much more sensitive than simply wallflower versus life of the party. In fact, according to Jung, many of our most celebrated public performers are introverts when they are not working. This description is what first turned me on to the idea that I had significant introverted qualities. When I am in front of a lecture hall I thrive, once I am off the stage, I have little desire to be with more than one or two people at a time. I find it too exhausting to interact with more than a couple of folks at once. This is classic introverted character described by Jung.

When we think of introversion and extroversion, we can think of energy direction. Where do we direct our energies? Extroverts tend to direct their energies outward, towards other people. The extrovert releases their energy through interacting with others. On the other hand, introverts tend to direct their energies inward, towards thought and personal creative projects. It is not essential for a writer, painter, or composer to be an introvert, however, the moments of creativity are introverted moments in their lives. We all have moments of introversion and extroversion, and Jung used the label not as a rigid classification, but as a situation-dependent tendency. People get carried away and put rigid labels on themselves and others. In life, character style is much more fluid and flexible. Those who cling to acting as one acts when one is an introvert (or extrovert, or whatever), we call neurotic!

There is some connection between stimulation and how individuals tend to interact with the world. Those of us with high threshold for stimulation tend to be unaffected by loud noise, bright lights, and chaotic environments. Those who have very sensitive sensor y systems often feel overwhelmed in such situations. This is a reason why some of us prefer low-stimulation environments. Understanding our temperament, that is our natural sensitivity and thresholds for stimulus, can be an excellent way to gaining insight into our preferences and our character structure. However, we are adaptable and fluid organisms. Although our nervous systems have baseline temperament, there is also an adaptive feature that interacts with our world.

Digital Stimulant

I spent about six years researching media psychology. In that investigation I came to Discover and learn about many long-standing insights into our human relationship with media, technology, and our environment in general. I realized quite a few insights regarding human adaptation to the mediated environment. Although much of this research was popular in the 1980s, with marked resurgence in the 2000s, there was a substantial amount of literature coming from the early years of psychology – the 1900s.

In chapter 11 of William James the principles of psychology, the concept of stimulus saturation is discussed. Referencing back to G. E. Müller’s work on overstimulation, James describes a model for understanding human adaptation to the rapidly changing, technological world, that we function in today.

James was writing in a time of industrial revolution. Possibly the most entertaining illustration of the conflict and struggle that exists between the human condition and the industrialized revolution is illustrated in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times. In this film, we find a slapstick ballet illustrating the effects on the nervous system that working in an assembly-line setting produces. Although a comedy, chaplain clearly illustrated the prevailing concern and issue of the day. A concern that was introduced in the transition from artisan and craftsman to the alienation that often accompanies Fordism. This term, Fordism illustrates an idea that has become second-nature for taking for granted and post Industrial Revolution societies. It is the assumption that mass production is taken-for-granted as an improvement for the human condition as a whole. Chaplin’s film directly challenges this idea.

Mueller describes the experience of a factory worker who has spent at least a third of his day in a noisy, cacophony of industrial revolution machinery. Upon leaving the factory environment, and entering the natural world that surrounds the factory, the worker experiences nervous irritability due to the contrast between me overstimulation in the factory and the subsequent under-stimulation in the natural world. All sorts of symptoms are described that accompany the condition. Nervous irritability, lack of concentration, sensory exhaustion, and deafening quietness are all consequences of the contrast between over stimulation in absence of stimulation.

Today we have comparable experience in the technological revolution. Faced with a constant audio and visual stimulation of the 24 hour newsfeed, 24 hour program stream on the television, constant social media, text message, email, and other computer communications, or nervous system’s have adapted to their environment that we have exposed ourselves too. It is not uncommon for an individual to experience irritability, loss of concentration, hyperactivity and sensory exhaustion when the phone is turned off the television and computer turned off.

Today the medicalization of psycho logical human experience leads us to a scribe medical conditions to the phenomenon is that we experience smart phone addiction, attention deficit disorder, and other anxiety and personality “disorders “are used to explain away or functional adaptation to The digital environment. How can we understand virtual reality therapies and as a virtual “reality “while it’s raining away we adaptation to virtual “realities “a medical disorder? It is true, these are biologically affected situations. However the correlation between biology and experienced phenomenon is a matter of correlation rather than cause and effect.

Addiction is typically understood as a biological dependency that builds up over time due to an adaptation of the physical cell structure to a lived experience. We often talk about The need to increase her dosage of our stimulant ones we have adapted to a habitual level of exposure. Take any stimulus; sugar, caffeine, nicotine, cocaine- and you will find in that over time an increase in the amount of stimulus taken is needed to experience a continued effect. When the stimulus where is off we are brought back down to the deafening contrast that Muellers factory workers experienced after their nervous system adapted to the factory setting.

I found it useful to view technology and media as a stimulant. The more one exposes themselves to the stimulant, the more severe the withdrawal will be once the stimulant is stopped. We can explain away this contrast by calling it a disease or disorder or symptom, but the fact remains that there is a natural functional adaptation when environment that once withdrawn from that environment results and feelings of great discomfort. In addiction, we called this withdrawal.

The lesson for us is clear. Before dismissing our discomfort, our shortcomings, or our feelings of struggle as merely a disorder that must be treated with stimulant medication or some anti-anxiety pill, perhaps we must consider the environment which we have adopted to. Taking effort for intentional steps towards a limiting ones exposure to the stimulation of constant sharing – ego – highs from social media, and instead restricting oneself to a healthful use of these media stimulants can have significant impact on one’s experience life. The initial transition will be one that is painful, take time, and be much like any other stimulus withdrawal. However, the change that occurs, experiencing have a sense of well-being in your life that will accompany your free yourself from the media high, is a choice that is entirely up to you.