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

Easily offended Millennials offended by show suggesting Millennials were easily offended

I’ve written a lot about how Millennials are poorly equipped to deal with adversity, as well as how easily offended we are these days. Today I saw an example of these two ideas coming together.

In a focus group for the new show The Great Indoors some Millennial audience members were offended because the show depicted Millennials as being easily offended. I implore you to follow the above link because it’s really worth a read, but an excerpt below:

“The millennial in the group said he did not like it because of the jokes about millennials being coddled, too sensitive and thin-skinned. The woman running the focus group, Gibbons said, clarified: “So, you were offended by millennials being portrayed as too sensitive.”

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The generation that can’t compete

50239799ifhfcI stumbled upon an interesting article this week, the cliff notes of which were a group of interns at a company did not like wearing formal clothes at work, so they (all but one of them) started a petition to change the company dress code. They were called into a meeting, which they assumed was to discuss the changes, and all of them were fired.

Below is a sample of it, but I implore you to read the whole article, because there are some excellent rebuttals both from the author of the post and the readers in the comments, explaining that a workplace is not a democracy. I wanted to touch on a few reasons why the new generation of workers are seemingly so out of touch.

“I spoke with my manager about being allowed some leeway under the dress code and was told this was not possible, despite the other person being allowed to do it. I soon found out that many of the other interns felt the same way, and the ones who asked their managers about it were told the same thing as me. We decided to write a proposal stating why we should be allowed someone leeway under the dress code. We accompanied the proposal with a petition, signed by all of the interns (except for one who declined to sign it) and gave it to our managers to consider. Our proposal requested that we also be allowed to wear running shoes and non leather flats, as well as sandals (not flip-flops though) and other non-dress shoes that would fit under a more business casual dress code. It was mostly about the footwear, but we also incorporated a request that we not have to wear suits and/or blazers in favor of a more casual, but still professional dress code.

The next day, all of us who signed the petition were called into a meeting where we thought our proposal would be discussed. Instead, we were informed that due to our “unprofessional” behavior, we were being let go from our internships. We were told to hand in our ID badges and to gather our things and leave the property ASAP.”Continue Reading