Friday, November 28, 2014

PASSION. PURPOSE. MEANING.


In a recent Huffington Post article, "The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager," Thacher School Headmaster, Michael Mulligan relays the status of teens today. On the one hand he extols them as "confident, connected, and open to change." They are service oriented, embrace diversity, and seek solutions to environmental problems. By reporting these facts one could interpret Mulligan's views on the Millennial Generation as happy, fulfilled and purposeful, yet Mulligan reports the opposite. He says, "We have raised a generation that is plagued with insecurity, anxiety and despair." He reiterates his point with evidence from former Yale professor William Deresiewicz' book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life who claims, "They are so stressed out, over pressured; [they exhibit] toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation." In reading such an alarming account of the emotional health of college students, one needs to ask why?


Deresiewicz points the finger at some parents and the way college age sons and daughters are raised with intense pressure to get into an elite college that will not only reflect well on the student's status, but the parents' status as well. Society plays a role in conditioning students to believe that everything they do is to look good in the eyes of admissions officers and employers. The pure joy of an intrinsic passion does not come into play if it does not serve the greater goal of getting into college or getting a job. Mulligan states, "You engage in community service not because you wish genuinely to make a positive difference in the lives of others but rather because that is how you burnish your resume -- service as check-off box," and this is just one example. There are many where intrinsic values are replaced by extrinsic ones. These points are all valid and true, but I’d like to elaborate further with the ways technology plays into these students’ emotional and mental states.

In a study at Baylor University, 60% of the students self-diagnosed themselves as addicted to their cell phones. Research shows that an overuse or addiction to technology can cause the same "stressed out, over pressured" student who may "exhibit toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness, and isolation." There are many specific ways the Internet, social media, and dependence on digital devices contribute to these unhealthy moods.

A little known physical fact is that 80% of us hold our breath when we check email. Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft Research coined the phrase email apnea when she researched and found that people inhale when they check email, but in the anticipation of what is to come, they neglect to exhale. Without the exhale our bodies shift into a high alert state of fight, flight or freeze. If one thinks about the Baylor Study findings that college women spend 10 hours a day on their cell phones and men 8 hours, it means that college age Millennials are walking around in a state of non-breathing anticipation with an alert and frightened sympathetic nervous system. These physical conditions create anxiety and fear which is only augmented by Deresiewicz' findings.

There are other reasons for anxiety including Nomophobia - No Mobile Phone Phobia. Depression can be caused by Facebook and Instagram with a false reality that one's friends are happier and more popular than one based on the number of pictures tagged and posts liked. Aimlessness and lack of motivation can be blamed on the seductive and addictive nature of video games that are designed to entrap the user in a flood of dopamine hits, thus making it more difficult to put the game aside and complete schoolwork or go to a part time job. There are more statistics found in other entries in this blog.

Now with the problem identified, what are the solutions? In essence we can go back to 1854 with Thoreau's words, "Men have become the tools of their tools." In today's world, "Don't be the tools of your tools," can be transformed to "Don't let technology distract you and use you to your detriment. Use technology mindfully for the good."Thoreau also said, "Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves," and today's youth is lost. Not only from what I've read in the article, but also from what I've personally seen with my own daughters and their classmates. Many of today's youth are either dissatisfied in college, or taking a break because it's not only unfulfilling, it's causing depression and anxiety in pandemic proportions.

Teens are unhappy, and we've identified some of the reasons why, so now what? If today's teens are lost, then perhaps they need to go on a modern Hero's Quest and ask the existential questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Michael Mulligan asks similar questions. The first one, "Who tells us who we are?" can be seen from the extrinsic with the college admission process, employers, Facebook, Instagram, and fashion designers to name a few. What would happen if students went on their own Odyssey and ideally came to know themselves through intrinsic interest and experience, similarly to T.S. Eliot's famous lines, "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." What if we taught passion to purpose as a curriculum, and then once they knew a purpose, they could begin to think creatively about that purpose and move from idea to impact? What if we asked them how do you want to serve your world? And we want to know how it connects to your authenticity, your desire, and your compassion for humanity.

Howard Thurman states it a little differently, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive," and if one says, "I don't know what makes me come alive," then that is the first obstacle in the Homerian journey. The mission is to discover what you love to do. Discover your desires and passions. Then you test it out with purpose. You create a direction and a discipline to move from idea to impact, and ultimately you find meaning.



ABC Legacy’s Mission is to prepare today's Millennials and eventually Generation Z for the promises and challenges of an increasingly interconnected technological world including the dangers of technology addiction. With a “Power Down to Power Up" process that takes students from presence to passion to purpose, and then idea to impact, the Incubator provides the physical space for an "In the Gap" year program. Participants come to be inspired, focused and effective through technology awareness, mindfulness practices and entrepreneurial skills as they work directly with mentors to create their own social change initiatives. ABC Legacy is committed to lighting candles in the minds of the future leaders of the world and helping them ignite a positive collaborate impact on society.

"Power Down to Power Up" is the process  for ABC Legacy’s In the Gap program which is designed to be housed  within a thriving Innovation Center like the Bradford Mill in Concord, MA. Students spend 12 weeks taking frequent intermittent breaks from technology to practice mindfulness in order to synthesize and create new ideas, collaborate and plan to use technology mindfully. Through this process they learn an entrepreneurial curriculum similar to African Leadership Academy's to create social and environmental initiatives whether it be a TED talk, a computer language, a company, or a social impact project. The possibilities are endless once these college age millennials "come alive." There are Millennials who are thriving, and the question is, "What was their process?" 

The African Leadership Academy takes the best and the brightest students from all countries in Africa with the mission to create the new leaders of Africa. These students are thriving. They go to universities and colleges around the world and commit to entrepreneurial projects in their home countries. What can we learn from this model? Can we do the same for our schools in the U.S? Maybe some are, and I plan to seek them out, or I will go learn the curriculum at African Leadership Academy, following one of my own passions - South Africa.

In closing, I loop around to the beginning of this article. What happens when depressed and anxious teens seek passion and purpose to make a difference in the world, or in TS Eliot's words, "to Dare to Disturb their Universe?" I claim they find meaningfulness.  I end with, perhaps, a little known fact about the great spiritual philosopher William James. As a young man, William James went to Paris to study. He was extremely depressed and became suicidal, but he decided to make a wager suggested by a French philosopher. He would act every day for a moment as if the universe was full of purpose and meaning. At the end of this period, he had discovered so much meaning and purpose that he changed his life around. Thus, Presence + Passion + Purpose = Meaning.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Digital Detox


How balanced is your use of technology? How often do you go offline? For a weekend? A day? An hour?

When parents set boundaries around their own use of technology they have more power to suggest and enforce boundaries with their families. Role modeling one’s own productive use of technology is an effective method for helping children and teens “use technology rather than let it use them.”



Technology free zones in the house work well, for example during family mealtime and during sleep time which would include all bedrooms, including the parents. If you, the adult, don’t use your digital device in the car, you can expect the same from your teens, who are very aware of their parents' compulsions to pick up their cellphones. In a recent study, by Liberty Mutual and MADD, “Nearly 91 percent of teens witnessed their parents talking on their cell phone, and 90 percent admitted to doing it themselves. When it comes to texting and driving, nearly 59 percent of parents were caught doing it and 78 percent of teens admitted they had done it, too, once they saw their parents engage in the behavior.”

Digital detoxes are a more radical way to unplug. My friend, Ritchie Perkins and his wife instituted technology detoxes in their household on Wednesday nights and Sundays until 5 pm. Their sons complained, and still complain, when they are asked to unplug, but it is now part of their family culture. Even when the boys say, “We’re the only ones who have to do this,” they know it’s for their own good, as most teens do.  The family has begun to see some of the benefits of such unplugging. In Ritchie’s words, “We spend Sundays having fun in real life, real time activities. We walk the dogs together, or we play a board game, or sometimes we go to the Huntington Theater. But mostly what I like about it is that we are hanging out together, talking about something (or maybe even nothing). It’s the simply hanging out that I like best about no-technology.” Ritchie’s family is in the minority because it takes energy and persistence to enforce these types of boundaries, especially with digital natives who have never known a life without technology. 

My response? I have spent very little time away from technology, even on yoga retreats where I journal and write. I’ve often used the rationale that I need my computer to do this since I write more fluidly on a keyboard. Of course, I am also connected to the Internet, so perhaps my reasoning is a little suspect. This past weekend I went to Omega Institute for Sustainable Living to see Pema Chodrun, a 78 year Buddhist Nun and “Rock Star.” Anyone who has read her many books or spent time with her will agree. Her teachings on presence, mindfulness, and meditation are the antithesis of the mindless distraction of unconscious computing. Though it was not a requirement of the retreat, I decided to leave my cell phone at home. I gave my daughters emergency numbers, put an away message on my Gmail, and went off the grid.

I was amazed at the results. Granted I was in silence for the first part of the weekend in a camp like environment where there was very little need for technology. Nevertheless, I noticed my frequent impulse to check my phone for texts from my daughter, emails about upcoming plans, and Facebook notifications. Gradually, the need to check my phone subsided. The most surprising observation was in the morning. After reaching for an absent phone, there was nothing to distract me from getting up and rolling out my yoga mat. I usually intend to meditate and practice yoga for awhile to start the day clear and focused, but often times I am distracted by my phone. With those precious early morning minutes gone, I spend time, while on my computer, with my teenage daughter before she heads to school.

As the weekend progressed I truly felt my mind settle, relying on my own thoughts and memories rather than googling questions I had about this idea and that. I didn’t look up the books Pema mentioned on Amazon, rather I found them in the Omega Bookstore. I found it easy to handwrite in my journal, and I came up with many ideas for this blog entry, as well as other creative musings. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of the book The Distraction Addiction, writes about balancing technology through conscious computing.
He says that when you go through a digital detox, “You might feel your mind slowing down a bit, but in a good way. Some of the cognitive sediment stirred up by juggling work, personal life, and virtual distractions is starting to settle. And the stillness that’s left, which people usually assume is a terrifying boredom that has to be filled with something, actually isn’t bad after all. It’s the feeling of your extended mind tuning up, your attention rebuilding, the balance between the human and high-tech parts of your righting itself.”

I plan to implement more of my own self-imposed digital detoxes, including a 5 day yoga training at Esalen later this month. October 6 is the kick-off for the TextLess, Live More Campaign I’ve written about in previous posts. My daughter and her friends introduced the campaign to their Rivers and Revolutions' Cohort, so they will be joining the other schools and colleges around the country. Hopefully, this group will bring it forth to the entire CCHS community, and set the trend for a more balanced digital life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Email Apnea, a Digital Diagnosis




Do you hold your breath when checking e-mail on your computer, clicking to see a notification on Facebook, texting on your iPhone, or watching a YouTube video? Have you ever tested it out? Stop right now, and notice your breathing, your posture, and your heart rate. If you hold your breath or have shallow breathing you are one of the 80% of people who have E-mail Apnea (alternatively called Screen Apnea).

Linda Stone, one of the technology industry’s great visionaries, coined the phrase in her 2008 article  when she began to notice her own breath holding. She went on to see if others did the same thing through extensive research, with some fascinating results. When one holds their breath, several things happen. It increases stress levels because there is no exhale, and the exhale is what lessens the stress response and generates the relaxation response. This also impacts our view of the world, sense of well-being and effectiveness.

In another article, “Why Email Can be Habit Forming,” Stone researched the impact of stress and found that when one is stressed they revert to familiar or unconscious behaviors and routines. That is why it can be very difficult to break a habit because “the part of our brain associated with decision-making and goal-directed behaviors shrinks and the brain regions associated with habit formation grow when we're under chronic stress.”

For example she states, “Stressed rats will compulsively press a bar for food pellets, even when they have no intention of eating.” This compulsive behavior could also include checking email every ten minutes, going on Facebook when working on a research paper, and texting and driving,” all behaviors that are contributed to the distraction addiction so many teens suffer from, and they are not the only ones. How many of you find yourself setting goals to use technology less, focus on singular tasks, and stop playing Candy Crush, only to find yourself impulsively doing these things. Luke Venebles in a response to Linda Stone’s article Conscious Computing wrote, “the constant allure of checking to see if someone has replied to my email is a bit more powerful than me at the moment.”

Why do we hold our breath or breathe shallowly when we are in front of a screen? One reason is that when sitting at a computer or using a digital device we are usually in a position with our arms extended and shoulders forward compressing the diaphragm so that it is difficult to get a full inhale and exhale, thus shallow breathing. The other reason is that there is often anticipation involved, which begins with an inhale but the exhale rarely follows which alerts the Sympathetic Nervous System, or the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. The nervous system goes on high alert, ready for danger, thus creating stress in the body, among other things.

A recent study at Baylor University found that female college students spend 10 hours a day on the cell phone, boys slightly less at 8 hours a day. If students are holding their breath or experiencing shallow breathing for much of this time, it means that they are in high alert stress response much of the day. In another post I will share the research on teens, technology and anxiety, but the simple act of breathing could be one of the remedies for the effect technology is having not only on teens, but the entire population, including you.

The essential remedy is to teach college students to become more mindful of their computing behaviors and remember to breathe. When one takes deep breaths through the nose they fill the lungs and make more space in the body, and the longer they take to exhale through the nose, the more time the body has to go into relaxation response. Simply becoming aware of one’s posture and breath, while sitting at a computer or on an iPhone can cause one to sit up straight and start breathing, thus beginning to reverse some of the effects of Email Apnea.

There are technologies that help us become aware of our breathing, of our attention, or our stress levels. Huffington Post's GPS for the Soul is an app that measures heart rate and heart rate variability. In combination these inform the user of their stress level. The app includes guides to help one self correct, or move from flight, fright or freeze to well-being, along with a breathing pacer. One of the most helpful aspects for me is the intermittent reminders to check in with oneself and breathe. 

Mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and walking in nature alone are other ways to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to dominate, allowing for more tranquility and calm. Another benefit of these practices is they are done off the grid which gives the mind, body and soul a break from the digital world.





Friday, September 19, 2014

Teens and Technology



Teens and Technology are wedded. They go hand in hand… iPhone to iPhone… and much of what one hears about is only about the dangers and negative aspects of this marriage, which are valid and well documented. But, there are also positive occurrences as teens themselves attempt to remedy these issues.





Teens from Milton Academy are making a difference in light of the tragic death of their friend Merritt Levitan with the campaign, “TextLess Live More.” Merritt, on a cross-country bike trip, died when a texting driver hit her. In honor of Merritt’s memory and to fight against this deadly habit, students at Milton Academy began to institute a day a month where all technology was suspended for the day. In their words, “Our goal is to decrease excessive phone use and encourage people to disconnect from the virtual world and reattach themselves to the real world. Hopefully, our practice of “disconnecting” will translate to more substantial real-world relationships and also prevent dangerous habits like texting and driving.” At present there are 50 other schools and colleges participating. The goal this year is 500, and the kick off is October 6. The Merritt’s Waywebsite has specific instructions for students who wish to institute "TextLess, Live More" Days in their own schools or colleges. One can learn about this on Facebook as well.

When teens themselves ask their peers to become aware, evaluate and moderate their technology habits and behaviors, it can be a very effective campaign for change. At this point, it is not an older generation instructing a younger one, but rather a group of peers putting their beliefs and values into action with their friends and classmates.

This proactive approach to the deadly consequences of texting and driving is a superb model for seeking remedies to other issues, concerns and questions about teens and their use of technology. In essence the proactive statement could be "Live More." Ben Snyder, Head of the Upper School at Noble and Greenough School made an interesting comment by expanding on the TextLess, Live More theme. He said, “I kept coming back to thinking that if we all texted (and “teched”) less, we would all live more (and better).

We need solutions, and I believe we are going to find them, oftentimes from teens themselves which includes ways for teens to use mindfulness and present moment living to counteract some of the ways technology alters the present into mindless distractions. Thus the statement "Live More" could be expanded to Live More in the Moment.

In my newly named Teens and Technology Blog, the nouns teens and technology go together when we look at teens’ relationship with technology and the propensity for some of their lives to be controlled or governed by these digital devices. Technology and cell phone addiction is on the rise, as well as the negative impact such use can have on teens’ attention, memory, multi-tasking,anxiety, depression and an inability to communicate face to face compounded by the excessive use of texting.

In a recent article, “Is Technology Making Your Children Mindless Instead of Mindful?” Jim Taylor, an expert on teens and technology, states that moments of full engagement in an experience in life bring the greatest happiness, while distracted moments such as those when we are in our technology and not present are not only not as happy, but “even worse, in their always-connected, constantly distracted lives, children may not learn what real happiness is and where it comes from,” and he goes on to say, “Children have come to mistake stimulation, momentary pleasure, and that neurochemical high gained from being always connected for real happiness.” Thus, more research points to mindfulness techniques, flow experiences and positive technology as an anecdote to the distraction addictions of technology.

It seems clear that there are many concerns, worries, and alarming statistics about technology, but there are also strategies, counterbalances and hope for this distraction addiction that has become ubiquitous in today’s youth culture.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 3, 2014 is "TextLess Live More" Day


We all know that texting and driving is dangerous. It is the leading cause of death of teen drivers. In a recent article, “Driving to Distraction,” in Mindful Magazine, the author stated that “At any given daylight moment across America, as many as 660,000 drivers are staring into, or manipulating, their electronic devices. In 2011, 23% of all auto collisions involved mobile phones, and a study showed that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking while driving.”

It takes 4 seconds to read a text. What we may not know is that on July 2, 2013, it took one driver 4 seconds to take his eyes off the road, read a text, and not only kill a young biker, Merritt Levitan but also injure 6 other bikers in a caravan as well.

Tomorrow, July 3, is National TextLess Live More Day.






A day for everyone to put their phones away, leave the texts and communications with those out of one’s physical vicinity, and pay attention to the interactions and activities with those in physical proximity. A gentle digital detox for the day to enjoy family and friends at the start of a long holiday weekend.

A day created in honor of Merritt Levitan who was killed by a texting driver while on a cross country bike trip.  After Merritt’s parents and friends founded Merritt’s Way, three of Merritt’s close friends from Milton Academy and family began a campaign to encourage tech free days at Milton which has accumulated into this national campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving through social media and technology, and contribute to the eradication of the “deadly combination of getting behind the wheel and texting and/or streaming.”

A day devoted to shifting our awareness from our technological communications through digital devices to our real time activities and interactions with those near to us. Put your phone away, let go of the urge to check email or text a friend from afar, and focus on what is right in front of you. Live in the present moment, “text less” and “live more.”

This National Campaign is supported by avid social media exposure through Facebook and Twitter as well as two Public Service Announcements hosted by Giancarlo Esposito, Gus from "Breaking Bad.” The statistics claim that the average person spends 3.2 hours a day on their phone, thus the video asks what you would do with those three hours. Another video asks you to talk about the person you care about most, and then consider what your life would be like if they were no long here. It only takes 4 seconds. Watch here.

Although the TextLess Live More campaign is designed to prevent texting and driving, the founders claim they want this movement to be bigger than that: “our goal is to decrease excessive phone-use and encourage people to focus on the interactions taking place right in front of them.” In essence, they hope to shift the culture away from the technologically driven communications and relationships to the more humane ones. It's not the abolition of technology, texting and digital devices, but the integration of them for a more present and aware existence. 




Friday, May 2, 2014

Dangers of Pedestrian Texting


How many times have you walked down the street only to be jostled by a distracted pedestrian looking at his cell phone, texting or reading emails? Even worse, how many times have you found yourself walking along doing the exact same thing? I have. Too many times to recount, and research shows “the body's reflexes and movements change when texting or reading.” The participants of a study walked slower, swerved more and moved their necks less than when they walked without texting or reading.” It’s no wonder texters bump into people, trip over obstacles in the road, or fall down the stairs, and these are the less serious consequences.



Researchers at the University of Washington observed 1000 pedestrians and discovered that over 1/3 were distracted by their mobile device as they crossed high-risk intersections. In addition, texters were less likely to look both ways or obey the lights. Those who walk into the street have been said to incur pelvic fractures, lower body injuries, especially when they are thrown onto the hood of a car. Head injuries are also common when a pedestrian’s head hits the windshield. Of the 41,000 pedestrians treated yearly for injuries, up to 15% or 6100 involve cell phones which makes it a little less surprising that that there are more accidents with pedestrians texting and walking than those who text while driving.

After reading several articles on the dangers of pedestrian texting, I began to observe others' behavior. My first venue was at the airport on my way to California. I can’t say what the percentage of distracted pedestrians (a common phrase these days), but there were several including myself. As I walk to my gate I texted with my daughter some last minute reminders. When I became mindful of my behavior, I stopped until I got to the gate, but I realized my justification was that I needed to get this information to her because I was going to be out of reach for 6 hours. What does this say about my reliance on this communication device? As I’ve become more mindful of my addiction to my iPhone, I’ve begun to tell my daughters when I was going to be out of reach. This brings up a whole new topic of what I call “Emergency Parenting.” Why do I feel the need to be available immediately when my daughter needs something? I’m not sure about that one, yet, but I have used it as an excuse to text and walk. When my daughter texts, often, instinctively I will answer her even if I’m walking into Crosby’s Market or CVS. I often find it odd for someone to be talking on the phone or texting while shopping, but isn’t it the same as texting and walking. So many of us, or at least I, have an impulsive urge to respond immediately to a request, a question, or a concern, but I digress.

So what about our teenagers who endanger themselves with their distracted walking? It’s been said that 16 to 25 year olds are the most at risk for cellphone related injuries while walking. It’s been observed that “as soon as school is dismissed, students are out the door and the first thing they do is pull out their phone.” Some have proposed awareness campaigns in high schools, but it has not been implemented in very many schools.



Students aren’t the only ones. Assemblyman Harvey Munford of Nevada claimed, “When I’m driving up and down the strip in Las Vegas where the resorts are on the Strip, I see everyone on their phone. It’s like a drug. People are addicted to it.” He proposed a law that made it illegal to type or text while crossing a highway. 5 other states have attempted to pass such laws, unsuccessfully. Too much government intervention, but there have been some public service campaigns put into action. In San Francisco, after three pedestrians were killed while using mobile devices, the local government launched the “Be Nice, Look Twice” campaign. In Maryland, safety officials put stickers on the sidewalk that said, “Look Up.” Many suggest public service campaigns similar to drunk driving ones.

So what is the solution? I'm not sure but awareness of the problem both in ourselves and society seems to be the first step. When one practices mindfulness, one learns to practice living in the present moment, paying attention to what is, sensation, emotion or thought, but not attaching to it. Letting it be as it is. When texting and walking, there is little awareness of what is, and pedestrian texting, emailing, or reading takes us out of the present moment. We are no longer aware, alert, or cognizant of our surroundings further endangering ourselves and others. Similar to many suggestions for parents, the key seems to be to model early, as well as talk frequently about the dangers of distraction, both while walking and while driving. 





Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Candy Crush Detox


Candy Crush Detox Delete seemed to be the only way for me. I confess that when I first wrote about Candy Crush Addiction on March 25, I had only played the game for a couple of days. I claimed quite truthfully that it was for research because it was. It is now April 15, and after reaching Level 95 on the original game, and Level 45 in Dreamland, I deleted the App from my iPhone. I had become obsessed, addicted, lost in the game too many times, though I didn’t delete it from my Facebook account initially because if I did that I would lose my entire account. If I decided to play again, I would have to start over.

I knew I was really addicted last night when I woke up around 1:30 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I blamed it on the full moon, and the intense energy I felt circling around me, but was that really the truth? I decided to go downstairs and get my computer to play a couple of games of Candy Crush. What could it hurt? It hurt. At 3:45 a.m., when the moon was at its fullest, I was still playing. A true addict. At that point I deleted the game from my Facebook account, thus it is gone. I suppose this is like giving up drinking or gambling when one decides it’s time. There isn’t a Candy Crush-aholics Anonymous yet, but there is Internet Gamers Anonymous, which falls into this category. Clearly I am not the only one suffering from this affliction.



That is not to say we are all addicted. There are non-addicted players who actually find some positive aspects to the game. My good friend Patty has been playing it for three years because it helps her fall asleep. She plays until she runs out of lives and sometimes she even falls asleep while playing. When she gets stuck on a level too long, she stops playing for a week or a month. I, on the other hand, get completely wound up by the game at night and play longer because I am no longer tired.  Leslie, another friend, is the one who inspired me to go cold turkey. When she realized that throughout her day she spent more time on Candy Crush then work, her family and other things that were important to her, she deleted it. She is 40 days Crush free.

My first blog entry on Candy Crush was prompted by the IPO that did not do very well, given the fact Wall Street saw it as more of one hit wonder. I relayed the astounding statistics of this phenomenon. Over 500 million people downloaded it last year, and play more than 1 billion times a day. In addition, the company makes roughly $900,000 a day on the game, and an astounding 493 million in 2013. At the time I had not experienced the addictive qualities of the game first hand. Now that I have, the research is compelling to me, as well as the suggestions for treatment. As I said I took the abstinence route this morning, but it remains to be seen if I can stick to my conviction.

In an article Candy Crush Addicts Come Clean, the statement, “To be an addict, by definition, is to habituate to something compulsively or obsessively?" There are other types of media addictions including television where one may begin to watch an entire season of a show in an addictive fashion by watching one after another into the wee hours of the night. This can be thought to be synonymous with the way we play just one more game of Candy Crush, only to be lured into another and another until we’ve spent 2 hours pushing candies around on a digital screen. I speak from experience on both of these. I admit to watching Mad Men in sessions of multiple episodes, but not the four seasons of Downton Abbey. I was able to pace myself to no more than one a day, and I succeeded. I wanted to relish every moment of the series. With this success one might think I would be able to do it with Candy Crush, but I admit in the 21 days I played the game the length of time I played and the intensity of neglected tasks increased. I suppose this could also have something to do with the dopamine hit that comes from the congratulatory sounds and music as well as the exclamations of excitement with the words, “Super Crush!”

One of the distressing statements by some programmers of the game was their desire to create addiction, “There’s an intriguing possibility that may appeal to Candy Crush addicts. Can we profit from the millions of hours humans spend solving Candy Crush problems?” These same programmers are creating a problem that will be examined in another blog entry which is about the danger of pedestrians walking and texting, emailing, and playing Candy Crush. Have you ever walked down the street, texting or playing Candy Crush, only to bump into people or things with an embarrassed, "Excuse me." I have, but again I'm not the only one. Research on the dangers of texting and walking is an addendum to texting and driving.

So how does one counteract this addiction similar to other Internet, digital device, and iPhone addictions. It begins with mindful awareness that there is a problem, but even though some people realize this, it doesn’t mean that they can stop. Given the statement by some of the programmers, it’s no wonder that people cannot stop, for it is one of the intents of the game to keep people playing and spending money when they run out of lives or need to buy boosters or more moves. It is a very sneaky way to lure people into spending their money.

Some tweets reveal humorous, and not so humorous, confessions on Twitter: “I refuse to be a slave to you! #CandyCrush,”  “I never had heroin, but I assume it has a similar effect to Candy Crush Saga,” “I think my Candy Crush addiction is curing my Facebook Addiction,” and “Finally submitted my grades, I can now go back to playing Candy Crush.” Keeping names anonymous there are some teachers at my daughter’s school who are on levels in the 500s. I’m sure they only play after their schoolwork is done. I hope we can say that about students who play the game, for there are many.

If awareness doesn’t work, then there are boundaries one’s spouse, family or friends can put on them. Just like screen free zones at dinner, at a restaurant, and other socializing times, this needs to include Candy Crush. There are other times when it is a time sink hole keeping people from doing necessary things like work, car pool pick ups, and spending time outdoors, to name a few. The most emphatic continues to advise, “Life really is too short for sliding candies around. DELETE, MOVE ON, spend your time on something else!”

Wish me luck in staying on the Candy Crush wagon, and my one piece of advise is don’t download the App! Don’t play on someone else’s phone or computer! Find mindful alternatives like walking in the woods, gardening, cooking, or reading. With reading, I mean a "real" magazine, newspaper or book. The screen could be too tempting for it holds the key to the addiction as well. Only one step away from the download. This is my advise to myself as well.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Present Moment?




What is it about uncomfortable feelings that cause us to run away from them and grab something else. A cookie or Facebook. Another potato chip out of the bag or the iPhone, searching for some type of notification. Is it the dopamine hit or the fact that technology has become a panacea for boredom, sadness, or frustration. 

One of the benefits of mindfulness is that it helps us stay with our present experience, no matter what it is, and be with it. More and more people tend to "run away" from these feelings or experiences with some type of distraction. When the tendency to escape becomes extreme, it can be said to be an addiction. Food, alcohol, shopping, television are all options for the person who wants to leave the present moment, consciously, but more often than not unconsciously. One of the benefits of a formal meditation "practice" is we practice being with these experiences when they arise, and because we are practicing meditation, we cannot run away from them with another activity. We can follow thoughts out of the present moment, but the meditation practice is to come back to the breath when we notice we are not in the present moment.

How does this apply to technology? One of the ways we move away from the present moment is to unconsciously check our phone, find ourselves on Facebook, check email frequently or open the Candy Crush app. I speak from personal experience, but I also know that this is a common practice for teenagers who are often distracted from schoolwork, walking and talking with the friends they are with, and lying in bed texting when ideally they would be sleeping. Social media and digital devices have become a new addiction, a method for leaving the present moment.


So the question becomes... What do we do?





Tuesday, April 8, 2014

ThinkGive and Yoga Reaches Out


This blog on mindfulness and technology is called Mindful Media Musings because it combines my own personal experience, research and its application to youth culture, but I am not writing formal essays or articles. Rather I am relaying the research from the experts as I ponder and question these issues. One of the reasons I'm writing this blog is because I think the fast pace of technology is creating a distracted and less mindful youth culture. I began this endeavor as I watched and became aware of my own technology use, the times I was using it productively, efficiently and purposefully, and the times I was not.

It was an interesting progression as I began to change my patterns in the mornings. I used to wake up and grab my iPhone before completely opening my eyes. I would begin to read emails, texts, Facebook, and whatever else caught my eye before I was even consciously awake. I've tried to change this behavior, sometimes more successfully than others.  Instead of grabbing my phone, I committed to writing a gratitude list and meditating for 10 minutes. As I wrote my gratitude list day after day, I realized I wanted to do something with that gratitude, so our ThinkGive project has been wonderful! ThinkGive’s mission is to inspire young people to make giving a way of life. For 21 days kids give something away that does not necessarily mean an item or money. Instead, it is an act of kindness. It could be a compliment, a helping hand, appreciation, or love. I am participating in ThinkGive as a parent, and it has been a wonderful experience thus far. Gratitude to Kindness to Giving seems to be an inherently natural progression.


In the last two days the gifts I've chosen have really chosen me. They have been about Yoga Reaches Out, an organization and event to raise money for Children's Hospital and Citizens Schools, through a day of yoga. I am SO grateful for yoga every day of my life. I'm training to be a teacher with Rolf Gates, an Internationally known master teacher, and he is also the lead presenter at the event Yoga Reaches Out at Gillette Stadium on April 27. It's my Yoga Marathon, and I'm thrilled to be able to participate.

I signed up to be part of this team several weeks ago, but I chose to write my fundraising letter yesterday, so that when the question from ThinkGive yesterday was about doing something for the community, I had instinctively already chosen it. It was a wonderful feeling to write this letter because I am truly combining my passion and belief in yoga for a greater service. Likewise, when the question from ThinkGive today was about receiving a gift, one of my greatest gifts has been receiving donations for my contribution to Yoga Reaches Out.

This is a very long winded way of tying together the work that I'm doing with technology, recognizing the distracting aspects of it, or ways it takes us from conscious gratitude, kindness and giving. By consciously choosing to start my day by writing a gratitude list rather than unconsciously beginning my day with my iPhone, I began to reap the benefits of other gifts including the desire to be kind and give, which in turn seems to have given me the opportunities to do so in an almost synchronistic way. The ThinkGive Project and Yoga Reaches Out both seemingly fell in my lap at the same time, and I couldn’t be happier participating in both.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Can We Be Mindful Without Meditation?


I am currently training to be a yoga teacher with Rolf Gates, a phenomenal yoga teacher who has a fabulous practice with a large following of teachers he has trained. He also has a group of readers who have learned from his book Meditations from the Mat. In his book, Rolf teaches the different principles of yoga through a focused intention and lesson for each day. He is currently writing a book on meditation practices, which has raised an interesting issue between us.



Rolf and I have an ongoing dialogue about mindfulness, and he frequently challenges me with the following question, “Can you really have mindfulness without a formal meditation practice?” In my mind, especially in light of my research on technology and mindfulness, the question becomes: Can we really counteract some of the distracting consequences of the digital age without following a formal training of meditation that includes an intentional practice, a time and space for meditating? Can we be mindful without learning this formal practice?

My initial response is yes, I do think we can be more mindful without a formal practice. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it’s a start. To some, the thought of meditating feels too foreign a concept, too hard to do in the busy-ness of their lives, but the suggestion to be aware of one’s thoughts and actions seems more palatable. In a current article on mindfulness the thought that if we can teach people “to keep their attention focused on whatever they’re doing at the present moment, whether it’s eating, exercising or even working,” we can say that they have moved into mindfulness. Usually, this starts with formal meditation, but to some the thought of sitting down to meditate for a prescribed amount of time causes them to negate the entire notion completely. I often hear people say, “I tried, but it wasn’t for me,” or “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t settle down; I’m too restless,” These same people might have a different attitude if they were simply asked to just be aware of themselves, to watch their minds as they talk to a friend, walk down the street, or work on the computer.  I don’t disagree with Rolf that formal meditation practice is most likely the preferred method for living in the present moment, but I think we can start where we are and go from there.

As I write this, I realize that perhaps a differentiation between formal meditation practice and informal mindfulness is needed. My fear, if we say we can only be mindful if we have a meditation practice is we’ll lose the people who may need awareness and focus the most, the teenagers whose lives involve more distractions and opportunities to be unmindful through the very nature of their interactions with technology.

It is much more effective to ask a teen about her technology use, rather than tell her she uses it too much. The first step, as in any parenting technique, is to ask questions. When we ask teens to simply watch themselves when they check their iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, rather than stating they use it too much, we’re creating an opportunity for presence, focus and self-knowledge. Once there is an understanding that we can live in more present moment awareness, and that presence becomes desirable, then there may be more of an opening for a formal meditation practice to enhance and further this state. When it comes to technology, though, once someone realizes they may overuse technology, or perhaps be addicted to it, there is an opportunity for change, but the awareness is essential.

To Be Continued…