Internettled? Work With It!

Today, Perfect Whole presents something completely new: a guest post! Dr. Elena Taurke-Joseph, a psychologist and filmmaker, proposes a productive, self-compassionate process to use when feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated with technology. This is the first of a series, which she will continue on her blog, OgreHome.

“Technology is totally screwing up our minds,” says my gracious host. Really? Are we frogs in lukewarm water unable to realize that we will soon boil to death? Will our mind’s ability to delve deeply atrophy in response to the many shallow jumps we make each day? A link! Did you click on it? Are you back? Well, I guess you must be, but we lost the other fellow. As I was saying, are we doomed to distract ourselves out of all intention, unable to complete a task because we keep reacting to shiny little links, ads, and comments? Sated with cheap sensation while starving for meaning and connection, the human species perishes.

Actually, I happen to like technology, the Internet especially, but as with food and weaponry, we need to get ahold of ourselves. Not so long ago, we could eat all the berries we could find, but it took us all day to find them. Nowadays, berry pie is ever available, and we have to decide how much to eat–without getting all deprived or rebellious. Same goes for guns. Clothing. Espresso. Maybe life itself.  But let me tell you one thing: I don’t see us getting rid of technology, any more than we’re going to start walking on all fours again just because our backs hurt from upright posture. No, the lesson of this era is how to find our inner limits. Don’t Resist. Evolve.

As a psychologist, a mental mechanic, I tinker with the brain, listening for jarring sounds, making adjustments until I hear the hum of harmony. When it comes to the internet, I hear people at war with themselves, throwing themselves off Facebook for example: “Goodbye my friends, I just can’t take it anymore!” Friends respond: “We’ll miss you!” like “Don’t go!” like “I wish I could do it.”  If war were a successful strategy, we’d have peace by now. But we don’t. War begets war. Fighting with distraction only makes it more interesting, like the cake we can’t eat on the diet.

First, let’s understand what happens to us when we get caught in the Web. We were just going to check a fact for our essay, but then we discover that the Facebook window is open. Julie shared a link–oooh! Lots of comments. Let me take a look. Fascinating, and it references another link, which has a pop-up ad, which reminds me that I have to order fair trade tea or underwear (or both), then I see I’m see that I’m invited to an event that I really should attend, except I have no time and now I forgot what fact I was looking up. Now I am completely overwhelmed. I can’t process so much information and I can’t find my way back to my intention. What to do?

Put it away, right? That’s what we used to do. I remember when a 30-year-old set me straight on folders. “We don’t use folders anymore; we use tags.”  Nowadays, nothing gets put away. It is all available, to be connected with at any moment. So how do we know what is a distraction and what is a real thing? In the realm of creativity, being seized by a distraction can lead to a wonderful, surprising discovery. Connections and collisions can enlarge your work by taking you beyond your plan. When you allow yourself to pursue crazy associations or crazy links, things become relational instead of solitary and independent.  On the other hand, anything relational, not just the web, can lead to a loss of original thinking.  Social groups or corporations can smother your mind in conformity, especially if you are vulnerable to the idea of belonging.

To make good stuff, we need both, and this is where PsychoZen*, comes in handy. Zennies love to cite obstacle is path whenever the going gets tough. In this case, that means we don’t get to escape to Eden before there was Internet, and we don’t get to park our brains and go for an auto-ride on the web either. Instead, we practice going back and forth. They say that when our amygdala hijacks our pre-frontal cortex, higher order thinking ceases. We can’t stop it from happening, but we can recover. Each time we recover, just as when we return our attention to our breath after our minds wander during meditation, we build new connections in our brain. We become participants in our evolution, not junkies ready to become extinct.

Here’s an introduction to a method called ERRoR. Forgive the corny acronym; my lousy memory requires mnemonics to function correctly.  Before you start, I am assuming that you have a purpose, some reason you are going to the web in the first place. I strongly recommend that you set a timer so that you can relax into the process. And then….

Engage: Go ahead and jump in, allow yourself to make connections, follow your curiosity.  Delight in the splendor of human ingenuity. Take notes if you want, but don’t try to restrain yourself. This is like writing before you edit. Have fun with it. Make typos. Hit on a few stupid sites. When the timer rings….

Retreat:  Stop. Step back. Walk away. Immediately. Do not just finish up.  Do not check one more thing. Just walk away.  If you meditate already, this will be a lot easier for you. The goal is to mentally refresh, just like your computer does. Shift gears completely. I find that manual labor helps. Go do the dishes. Notice how your body responded to the stimuli. Are you excited, nervous, lonely? You don’t have to do anything about it–just notice.

Remember–oh! Sometime during your retreat, you will remember your purpose in entering the web. Don’t force it. It will come only when your sensational response fades.

Reconcile: This is the evolution part. You connect your purpose with your discovery and reconcile. You make something new. And then you can go back in, Engage….

And do it again. Many times. It’s fun and it grows the connective stuff in your brain while strengthening your executive functions. Let’s evolve together.

*PsychoZen is my quirky blend of psychology and zen. If you would like to follow my posts as I develop this method, giving examples and conundrums, I invite you to subscribe to OGReHome.com, or set up an RSS feed, if it’s not too distracting.  You can also read about my personal experience with an Internet Holiday, which I practiced as research for this post.

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Dr. Elena Taurke-Joseph is a psychologist and video-maker whose mission is to trigger shifts in perspective using art and conversation. What shifts? Visit OGReHome.com for Outsider Grief Relief.

Other posts in Elena’s Internet series are:

Internet Holiday

(more coming soon)

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About Julie Goldberg

Julie Goldberg has lived a life entirely too entangled with books. She is a school librarian, former English teacher, compulsive reader, occasional jazz singer and the author of Lily in the Light of Halfmoon. You can email her at perfectwhole@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter @juliegoldberg.
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3 Responses to Internettled? Work With It!

  1. Neuroscientists keep telling us that the Internet is rewiring our brains, but they keep forgetting to tell us what to do about it. We need strategies, not hand-wringing, and I’m grateful for your suggestions.

  2. OGRe says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to think it through, and do let me know how it works out.

  3. Pingback: Confession of Love | Perfect Whole

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