A while ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. We were looking at–this was pre-Covid–at the future. What do we think of the big crises that are going to happen?
He talked about a possible war with China and kind of what we saw down the line for society.
I said, “You know, I do not think it is any of that. I think that the world is so interconnected that it will not be some kind of us-against-them type of thing…I think it will actually be a global mental health crisis.
Mental Health Issues Are on the Rise
If you look at the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide–particularly in the US, but globally, too–they keep rising.
And I actually do not have to look at the rates. I can watch my own mental health and well-being, as time passes and then go, am I okay? I know the amount of effort, work, and consciousness that it takes for me to feel whole and good every day. And I have support, privilege, and a lot of different things in my life going for me.
And so there is this kind of huge question, why are people suffering so much with issues around mental health, substance abuse, and at its extreme… suicide? What is going on?
Is Technology Taking Its Toll on Our Mental Health?
Very simple question. And I think that technology is a big component of it.
We are probably taking somewhere between twenty to thirty-five percent of our conscious energy absorbed on our phones, computers, and televisions. That is a lot of energy and attention on moving pictures and content consumption.
All different kinds of colorful information. Manipulated information to keep you on there.
So there is the whole addiction aspect of technology. There is also the unknown of what it does to the nervous system…but I think we are starting to find out.
We become addicted to instant gratification. We become addicted to looking at something. We do not know how to just be. We always need to be doing something.
So we create turning to technology as an option to fill in the gaps when we used to just simply be. What kind of energy and attention are we putting on our phones and our computers, etc.? And what is that doing over the long term to our nervous system? We have no idea.
Smartphones have only existed for like 15 years. Maybe a little less, right? So it means we have no idea what that means but we are getting a taste of it.
So technology is one huge component that everybody focuses on. It is like to me technology is nested in this larger context of the age that we live in.
Is Our Lack of Consciousness Contributing to Mental Health Issues?
I come from a kind of philosophical background, a historical background. And so I could tell a story about there was a period of time in the West when everybody had religious consciousness. People then were thinking about being a good or bad person.
I don’t even know if people think about that anymore. Now, we are thinking, “Do I feel good or not,” or whatever we think.
People used to think about am I good or am I a bad person in relationship to God. In relationship, if you are Christian, to heaven and hell, right? And in relationships as the idea of being saintly or God-like or Jesus-like, right? So for eight hundred years that is the way people walked around constructing their existence.
It seems kind of foreign to us now, but that was quite recently.
It was up until, I think the 1600s, and then continues to transition. Back then you had the enlightenment come along in the 1600s with modern science. The beginning of nation-states, the idea of the self. Out of that enlightenment came an idea of psychology.
We started to think about what is happening. Who am I? What is going on in here? It was not so cosmically God, religious focused. It was more about, who am I?
Descartes said,I think therefore I am. And he opened up this Pandora’s Box about who are we and where we are from and maybe there is no God. And we entered into the secular age, right?
A New Era of “Enlightenment”?
There was a pretty solid religious tradition that we came from. Prior to that, it was more of a tribal and agricultural existence. It was pretty predictable. Each generation, the same as the one before, generally, not a lot of “progress”.
Then suddenly you have rapid progress, you have the throwing off of religion and then eventually you have the enlightenment. Which says through rationale and reason, if we all can be reasonable, we all could figure out how to create a utopian world.
It is not about God. It is about reason, universal reason. What is the truth? If we all know what the truth is: scientifically speaking, philosophically speaking, we all agree on it. Then we can all agree and we can have built a utopian society that we all agree upon. Everybody in the world.
Then the huge backlash…postmodernism comes. What about black people, what about women, what about that? The biggest deal was World War One and World War Two. Wait a minute; I thought we are all reasonable. Suddenly, we just killed a hundred million people in the most reasonable society we ever had. And it started in the most reasonable culture, the German culture, which was the most “advanced” culture of the time.
But yet that culture, at least in World War II, decided they were going to try to kill twenty million people. And so it just destroyed this dream of building the foundations of society on reason.
Cultural Containers Are Dissolving
So I am telling the stories but it is really to understand that throughout all of human history there has been what I would just call cultural containers. I understand who I am supposed to be based on what my parents pass on to me from the culture, from their parents and from the environment. And that that culture has been rapidly changing and no period has been faster than the last hundred years.
And so the most basic things that were fundamental of our society like, I am a man you are a woman, we now question. Well, is gender even real you know. What does it mean to be sane? What does it mean to be insane? What does it mean to be good? Who can be president? What are the job qualifications there? I mean the most basic notions have fallen by the wayside or have been questioned and deconstructed and torn apart.
Now, if you are born into the world, you really have no idea exactly how you are supposed to be. You are very distant from ideas of morality and religion. You are very distant from when psychology was a living, breathing, brand new way of being in the world.
Now, it is more of a marketing everyday thing that everybody is doing and so where is the moral authority? Where is the ground of being? Where is the moral authority that exists in society right now?
Technology is Just a Product of Changing Times
So in my mind, technology is actually nested in the fact that everything has changed. And there is so much change so fast that there is no stability. And so everybody, of course, is going to be on their phones because we want to be distracted from the fact that we have no idea what the f— we are doing.
We had an idea when we knew that we were going to go to heaven. We had an idea when we knew we are trying to build a utopian society, be good American citizens and do good for our country. All of that got wiped away.
What are we doing now? We are posting YouTube videos and trying to make a buck and hope that I can find somebody I care about.
So I think there is a larger story here about mental health. I tend to be an optimist against my better judgment. Which is to say, I do view this time period as a transition. I do think it is going to get worse before it gets better. But I think it is a transition into something else. I could not possibly say what that something else is but we are living in a very rapid time of transition.
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