We are not wired for modern life

Despite what some would say, most people, in the West at least, but increasingly everywhere in the world, are living a better quality of life than Aristocracy did less than a hundred years ago. For all the talk of the 1%, most people born today are in the top 1% of everybody who has ever lived in human history.

I’ve always been fascinated how we can have so many material comforts, and so many deadly problems our ancestors faced have been eradicated, yet we still have the capacity to be miserable. There is a strong negative correlation between mental health issues and increases in comfort, especially rates of suicide in men and self harm in women. As life objectively gets better, paradoxically many of us become less happy. In fact many believe we are currently in the midst of a mental health crisis. There is a reason why this bit from Louis CK went viral, because it’s true:

One of the reasons is relativity, we compare ourselves to others, rather than appreciate how much worse things could be. However, the bigger problem as I see it (or my pet fascination at least) is that we are built for adversity and for living in groups, but we are experiencing much less of both. Our ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were the ones who had it in them the ability to thrive when times got tough. We have evolved from the industrious, the aggressive, the survivors and the community focussed. When times are relatively easy, that part of our DNA does not just switch off. It takes thousands and thousands of years for us to evolve to changing circumstances, and we currently live in a time when everything is changing more rapidly than ever before.Continue Reading

Connectivity expectation

As you may have seen from my recent posts I have been in a constant battle to reduce my internet usage, despite working online. As a society I think we are only just beginning to realise some of the problems that the internet is causing to our mental wellbeing. One thing I haven’t seen much written about, but is certainly the catalyst for a lot of my own attempts at digital minimalism, is the anxiety caused by being constantly connected to others (from a distance).

I’ve always been a worrier. Part of me likes being a worrier. Worrying has always allowed me to plan ahead. It is worrying that means I save money for a rainy day. It is worrying that means I am always learning new things to keep me employable in a fast changing world. It is worrying that ensures I never miss a flight. Anxiety is a very useful primal driver, but it can also be completely debilitating when you have too much of it. It is also worrying that means I have a hard time shutting off work, even when I’m on holiday. It is worrying that means I rarely treat myself to a luxury. It is worrying that means I can’t relax when I am working away from home, a long way away from my wife.

The internet can cause anxiety for lots of reasons but one way I see very little being written about is the cost of being always a few seconds away from each other, digitally. Right now if I needed to tell my wife (who is at work) something I could send her a text, message her on Facebook, ping her on Skype, send her an email or if all else fails, the old fashioned method of calling her phone. As such we often send each other quick messages throughout the day. It’s lovely to stay in touch all day, but it also creates an expectancy, or maybe even a dependency.Continue Reading

Five books about how the Internet is changing us

If I were to pinpoint a specific theme for this blog, and generally what fascinates me, it is how the Internet is changing us, and perhaps making us psychologically weaker. We are only really starting to understand the effect the Internet is having on us, and by now it is perhaps too late. I recently wrote a blog with five of my favourite psychology books, today I wanted to share five books that I think really helps us understand the effect the Internet has on us. They are essentially tech books, but in a lot of ways they are just as much about human nature as the ones in my previous list.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

No book has ever changed my online behaviour more than So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it is horrifying and would otherwise be a very difficult read were it not for the fact that Ronson is both very empathetic and very funny. The book is all about how Twitter encourages mob mentality and documents a number of cases where normal people have had their lives ruined for relatively minor transgressions on social media.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ll know all about how every day there is a new thing everybody has become outraged about on social media. It is a constant occurrence, one which thankfully I think the world is starting to realise is unhealthy for society. The ‘pile ons’ are more frequent but less devastating these days (in part because everyone moves onto the next one sooner).

Nethertheless, I would be lying if I didn’t say that this book made me incredibly gunshy about posting anything remotely controversial online, as well as making me often stop myself before joining a Twitter ‘pile on’. Like all Ronson’s work it is utterly brilliant and a must read.Continue Reading

Digital minimalism when you work online

Cal Newport

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember my guide to improving reading speed, which referenced the book Deep Work by Cal Newport (whom I also was lucky enough to interview). Cal’s blog is superb and he is something of a guru when it comes to digital minimalism. This week he wrote an interesting blog post where he coined the term Facebook Phreak, to reference people who have installed apps and other mechanisms to reduce the number of distractions Facebook unleashes upon us.

In the blog post he referenced people who cull their friends, use Facebook specifically for special interest groups, deleted the Facebook app from their phone and installed blockers on their browser to kill the news feed. It turns out I am a Facebook Phreak because I do all these things.

Digital Minimalism is becoming very important to me, it is something where I have made some massive strides but also fall back into bad habits often. I use Freedom.to to block distracting websites when I work, I have removed email and browsing apps from my phone (if it wasn’t for podcasts and a weather app I’d be using a ‘dumb’ phone right now), I have started to mute a lot of political words from my Twitter, I only use Twitter socially in very specific time periods and I have even blocked the news channels on my TV. Watching people lose their shit over Donald Trump and arguing with people online about relatively trivial things is something I am trying to put to an absolute minimum in my life.

There is a problem, however, in that for my day job I need to stay plugged in to social media and news. I am the editor of a large poker website and a lot of my job includes working with our social media accounts and writing industry news (most of which comes one way or another from social or news sites). This naturally is at odds with my desire to keep my online interactions controlled and to a minimum.

I’ve by no means perfected this, but here are a few ways in which I have managed to stay plugged in without letting social media overwhelm my working day.Continue Reading

Five of the best psychology books you are likely to read

As I have already mentioned one of my great joys in life is reading, especially since I learned how to read faster. Despite my love of books I am embarrassed to admit I rarely big up the books I have read and almost never leave reviews on them. As an author myself and somebody who is working on a book as we speak, this is a pretty inexcusable example for me to set. Especially because having studied our book sales metrics quite meticulously, word of mouth seems to trump every other form of book marketing there is.

So I might do a few of these posts.

I used to read a lot of self-help books and that is fine for a while, but reading self-help on its own is quite an insular experience, because it causes you to think about yourself only. Since I stopped reading exclusively self-help books a few years ago I discovered that some of the most beneficial life lessons you can learn, and apply to your own life, come from reading broader books about other people. Today I wanted to share five books which are truly fascinating in and of themselves, but I would argue also teach you more about psychology and how to live a good life than 99% of self-help ever could.Continue Reading