Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It

“Because of the digital revolution, our lives are being transformed by three grand bargains. The intellectual bargain: we have more knowledge but less capacity to concentrate and focus. The social bargain: we are much more available but much less attentive. And most importantly, the emotional bargain: we are much more connected, but much less empathetic. When we trade away skills for power, attention for availability, empathy for connectivity, and quality for quantity of relationships, we sign up to a Faustian pact that we do not even know exists—one that gives us more control over the outside world, but less control over our inner world.

What then is to be done? What shifts in thinking and behavior will help us reverse course?

1. A philosophical shift: Less choice, more freedom…[essentially, a variation of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory. The longer you travel down a path and narrow your scope, the more interesting the path. More options means you are in a space more people travel.]

2. A cultural shift: Attention over availability…Our humanity should not be measured by how much attention we attract but by how much attention we devote to what matters. [Or, as has been said elsewhere, “Focus on nourishment rather than poison.”]

3. Remedial technologies [and behaviors. The idea is to train an incompatible behavior. It is possible to turn Airplane Mode on your phone, a remedial technical solution. But, turning your phone off and reading a book accomplishes the same thing and removes technology from the equation. The Amish might be a good reference point.]

4. A Talmudic shift…Jews are expected to be conversant with all sides of a controversy, but in their lived behavior they are expected to follow one position among many. Such a culture ensures that one’s intellectual world is much more expansive than the world of one’s lived practice. [Or, don’t let your politics define the ideas you are allowed to engage with.]

—Micah Goodman, “Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It.” Sources. Spring 2022

Excellent essay, all the way around. Recommended.

Happy People Tend to Stay That Way

* “[X], were you satisfied with your life before you met [Y]?”

* “[X], were you free from depression before you met [Y]?”

* “[X], did you have a positive affect before you met [Y]?”

Researchers have found that people who answered “yes” to questions such as these are significantly more likely to report being happy in their romantic relationship. In other words, a person who is happy outside their relationship is far more likely to be happy inside their relationship, as well…

…If I had to sum up, in one sentence, the most important finding in the field of relationship science, thanks to these Big Data studies, it would be something like this (call it the First Law of Love): In the dating market, people compete ferociously for mates with qualities that do not increase one’s chances of romantic happiness.

-Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “People Are Dating All Wrong, According to Data Science.” Wired. May 10, 2022.

The net on this is that the qualities that people tend to look for in selecting mates are not the qualities that lead to happiness. But, the argument presented here is ultimately a bad one. Just because some approach is bad, does not make its opposite good.

If I had to sum up the lesson of this article, it is that people that are happy in their lives tend to also be happy in their relationships. If you want to be happy in a relationship, perhaps the secret is to be happy outside of one and look for someone who is also happy in their lives before they met you.

No. 1 Rule: Keep Your Shit to Yourself

“A day before I sent Malcolm the email saying I wanted to break up, I came across a term online: solo polyamory. It described a person who is romantically involved with many people but is not seeking a committed relationship with anyone. What makes this different from casual dating is that they’re not looking for a partner, and the relationship isn’t expected to escalate to long-term commitments, like marriage or children. More important, the relationship isn’t seen as wasted time or lacking significance because it doesn’t lead to those things.”

-Haili Blassingame, “My Choice Isn’t Marriage or Loneliness.” The New York Times. April 2, 2021.

It starts with an email that reads like a PR piece for an event. It has talking points. She’s trying to sell it.

This piece seems to be generating a lot of discussion on Twitter, to the point I’m hearing about it, and I don’t use Twitter. And, sure, it’s sophomoric and stupid. You don’t break up with people you are in relationships with over email. She’s adopted the passive voice of the corporation to try to spare herself, and perhaps this man, some pain.

The effort is inept, but I think the heart of it is kind. They graduated from college, and they lived on opposite coasts. This man was her first boyfriend. They’ve been together for five years. While there are a few exceptions to how this plays out, the normal course is a breakup, typically within a year. This is obvious to anyone with any life experience.

Another thing that becomes obvious to everyone over time is that relationships are defined by limits. She says:

“My entire girlhood had been consumed by fantasies that were force-fed to me. Love and relationships were presented as binary, and in this binary, the woman must get married or be lonely (or, in classic novels, die). The path to freedom and happiness was narrower still for Black women. Even in our extremely loving relationship, I had felt confined.

ibid.

To be in a relationship is to be confined. But, it is through constraints that we open up other kinds of freedom. Infinite options are just another kind of confinement. At some point, you choose or time chooses for you. Even in polyamorous relationships, there are limits. In fact, I’d wager that there are more limits in polyamorous relationships simply by virtue of the fact that there are more people involved, even if those limits may not apply all the time. But, there are limits because relationships imply limits.

It’s easy to crack on the naiveté of the author of this article. But, there’s an important lesson to be learned. When you learn something new about yourself – your needs, your wants, your desires, your thoughts about who you are – keep it to yourself and the people that care about you, at least for a few years. Integrating insights is hard work, and it takes time, particularly when they are part of the process of identity formation and how we define ourselves.

In general, it’s a good idea to work with the garage door up, to share your thoughts and processes in how you think about the world and how you do whatever it is that you do. But, your feelings, your sense of identity and your issues, and we all have issues, are not where you do it.

When you close the door to go to the bathroom, everyone knows what you are doing in there. There’s no need to throw open the door and put yourself on display. It isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all yourself.

So, close the door. Keep that shit to yourself. Work it out. Flush when you’re done, and as a courtesy, light a candle or a match on the way out, so the person behind you can focus on their business and not yours.

Brook

“The reality is that societal stigma limits young people’s ability to take control of their sexual health, enjoy healthy relationships and explore their identities.

We are committed to changing attitudes, challenging prejudices and championing equality so that all young people can lead happy, healthy lives.

https://www.brook.org.uk/

Relationship and sex education that seems inspired compared to what is the norm in the United States.

Older and Living Apart Together (LAT)

Open Question: Does living alone position people for having a broader social support network?

“I don’t want to take care of anybody. I want to take care of me,’ said Nadell, who divorced her second husband two decades ago. ‘You want to be friends and get together, when I say it’s okay to get together? Fine. But to be in a relationship where I have to answer to somebody else? Been there, done that, don’t want to do it again.'”

As these solo dwellers age, the question becomes what happens when they grow frail and need someone to lean on. DePaulo argued that those who live alone often maintain broader networks of support than married couples do, pointing to a raft of international research. Partners who live separately for some portion of the week still tend to each other in sickness, and are well-positioned as caregivers because “we have our own place to recharge our batteries and avoid the all-too-frequent caretaker burnout,” said Hyman, 57, who has lived away from her partner for 20 years.”

-Zosia Bielski, “The new reality of dating over 65: Men want to live together; women don’t.” The Globe And Mail. November 26, 2019.

Suggestions for Good Health

Blue Zones is a good place to start. However, if I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d focus on:

  • Sleep: Get a full night’s sleep and take a midday nap for a total of eight hours.
  • Food: Limit eating to four consecutive hours a day. Eat mostly plants. Drink powdered psyllium and water to stave off hunger feelings in the off hours.
  • Exercise: Walk/run for 16,000 steps a day or 8 miles, incorporating a full range of movement. Include some weight-bearing activity or physical training twice a week.
  • Social: Cultivate a social environment for flourishing among family, friends and your larger social circle. Be a positive, creative person and look for the same in others. Relentlessly prune relationships that are predominantly negative.
  • Being & Doing: Find something to do that leaves the world slightly better than you found it and promotes good sleeping, eating, exercise and social habits. The Buddhist idea of the Noble Eightfold Path is a useful model of how to be and what to do.

Polyamorous Relationships

“More people than ever are pursuing polyamorous, open, or swinging relationships. With the growing number of polyamorous relationships, we need to get serious about analyzing the costs and benefits of polyamory—not just for individuals, but for families, cultures, and nations…

…Polyamory, at best, offers a new ethical vision of sexual relationships that prioritizes radical honesty, sexual sovereignty, freedom of association, and social networking.”

—Geoffrey Miller, “Polyamory Is Growing—And We Need To Get Serious About It.” Quillette. October 29, 2019.

So uncommon a term, polyamory wasn’t in my dictionary. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. Trying to get most of our needs met by one person over time is a difficult proposition. But, on the other hand, more people means greater instability and more complex social dynamics. The result might very well be more people choosing to be alone.