Standing Guard at the Door of Your Own Mind in 2021

I have had a very enjoyable month (not a popular thing to say). For this reason, I felt like an outsider looking in when Ryan Tubridy reminded the nation of how much we’re struggling at the moment. In the modern world, I think the severity of our struggle is regulated by the quality of information we’re fed.

I don’t listen to the news. Facebook, instagram and twitter are something I selectively engage with via my PC. Social media has not been resident on my phone for around 2-years. Any whatsapp groups that I engage with more or less serve a functional purpose. I have meditated (25-40-minutes) every day for the month of January, swam in cold water or taken a cold shower, exercised and wrote a gratitude list on all but two days in the first month of the year.

(*disclaimer: not everyone struggles equally due to a multitude of other factors, but this piece is about our information ecology. I realise that I write from a position of privilege.)

Traditional Information

Humans and other mammals have been wired for millennia to respond to information in their environment. Sights, sounds, smells, taste, touch, and other sensations in nature. As humans, we ascribe meaning to this information to decide whether it represents an opportunity (relatively safety) or threat (danger). This is how you decide you don’t like the sound of thunder or the appearance of someone else.

The beauty of this kind of sensory processing is that it is based on real information and your behavioural response to shelter from thunder or avoid a dangerous person can be considered rationale. The evolution of the more complex part of our brain that could think and share ideas and predict what might happen has brought its fair share of challenges as well as opportunities.

Modern Information

Since the advent of books and print media, we have been unable to keep up with the global production of information i.e. it would be next to impossible to read every book ever written. Technology has taken this to a whole other level. The downside of information is how it can make us think and feel and argue with one another, often with incomplete information and about things that have not even happened. In many respects today and similar to the old saying ‘you are what you eat’, WE ARE THE INFORMATION IN OUR ENVIRONMENT.

Imagine we were under the same restrictions without any of the information and instead were responding to our environment. Humans are innately creative, and we would soon find ways of living and being that restored our average level of happiness to what it was in 2019 (or who knows even a bit better). You would probably have more friends within a 5-km radius but that might not be so bad, in fact it could even be considered closer to our ‘evolutionary’ normal. And you would have more online communities. I set one up this month. (It’s free to join!)

Who Decides the News and What You Should Consider About It

The media: I’ve never understood why the entire country needed to know such things as ‘someone has drowned in another part of the country’. Our brains are drawn to the sensationalist and the negative which is why the media so often focuses there in order to remain relevant. This means that this source of information is biased toward feeding you information that swings your emotions between high and low.

What you should consider: Choose your programmes and presenters carefully and then disconnect, especially from the news.

Orange = all the information in your country. Black = all the information you see.

Social Media: A brilliant slave and a terrible master. I am using it to share this piece of writing. Writing blogs is a form of creativity for me and benefits my mental health enormously. I have the time and clarity of mind to write like this because I do not have social media on my phone. If you read this blog and set limits on your social media use, then maybe this has been of use?! Who knows!

What you should consider: Social media, at best, feeds you incomplete information. This allows us all to fill the blanks with assumptions (dangerous things). It can encourage striving for and failing to achieve perfection. But it’s biggest crime in my opinion is the constant space it occupies in your brain even when you are not using your phone. Ever been having a conversation with a friend or watching TV and simultaneously wondering about a notification, comment or reply? Ever felt drawn to use your phone to capture banal every day moments when you could be connecting with the person you are actually with or frustrated you forgot your phone while in the middle of a moment you could be enjoying? Lots to consider.

A Note on the Future

Humans are around a lot longer than information is in print. Ancient cultures have relied on the wisdom of their elders and their natural environment for longer than any media form has existed. Thankfully, when books were invented they wrote a lot of this wisdom down. My advice is turn off the news and your phone, pick up a good book, talk to your elders and each other; and if you can do it in nature even better.

In case it is useful, see below the daily log I have been using to stand guard at the door of my own mind. Peter.