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Includes three useful guidelines on: 1. Maintaining a Daily, Healthy Mind Diet; 2. Steps to a Synergistic Media Ecology & 3. Selective Media Matters We Must Contend With. It’s all about time.

We live in a peek-a-boo world of pop-up gratifications, so to speak. One event pops into view for a moment—then vanishes back again into the shadows. Behind the dark mirrored screens on which we fondle each other’s images with our thumbs.

You get a bunch of “Likes” and Thumbs-up! and suddenly your central nervous system kicks this powerful neurotransmitter Dopamine into gear. This puts the spurs to your brain in such a way that ignites chemical messages between nerve cells. Playing a huge role in how our brains reward our personal accomplishments with feelings of pleasure.

It helps us to focus and find interesting things to do with our time, besides squander too much of it on childishness. Like abusing this ancient, sacred process of achievement and reward artificially.

The dopamine rush we get from achieving something of value we’ve earned satisfies our natural reward systems. But, like any addiction, repeated flooding of the brainwaves and dopamine receptors with undue, artificial sources of pleasure raises the brain’s threshold. (Unfortunately, as happened with an old friend of mine to the point where he became completely unable to make himself feel the least bit happy or worthy. That is, by any means other than relentlessly inhaling the fumes from inflammable cocaine sulphate.) The same can happen with any medium that has the effect of chemically bombarding our natural pleasure/reward systems to such an extent where they completely shut off. When those systems are the only means we have left to attain some tragic semblance of equilibrium and sanity.

Technopoly Vs. Human Teaching for Human Learning

In Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, educator and social/culture critic Neil Postman paints a picture of how very real corporate technocracies may be lacking a moral compass overall. By putting efficiency and economic advantage on a cultural pedestal, and by promising heaven-on-earth through the mere conveniences of “technological progress.” Corporations may have replaced classic, noble educational traditions with ongoing technical skills training—and gimmicky expertise at marketing tempting ecstasies of lawless consumption—but not without consequences.

Includes three useful guidelines on: 1. Maintaining a Daily, Healthy Mind Diet; 2. Steps to a Synergistic Media Ecology & 3. Selective Media Matters We Must Contend With. It’s all about time

We live in a peek-a-boo world of pop-up gratifications, so to speak. One event pops into view for a moment—then vanishes back again into the shadows. Behind the dark mirrored screens on which we fondle each other’s images with our thumbs.

You get a bunch of “Likes” and Thumbs-up! and suddenly your central nervous system kicks this powerful neurotransmitter Dopamine into gear. This puts the spurs to your brain in such a way that ignites chemical messages between nerve cells. Playing a huge role in how our brains reward our personal accomplishments with feelings of pleasure.

It helps us to focus and find interesting things to do with our time, besides squander too much of it on childishness. Like abusing this ancient, sacred process of achievement and reward artificially.

One of many dangerous social concerns has to do with predatory malefactors and numbskull cyberbullies sans any conscience. Other misfits may have simply self-selected into addictive behaviours—such as pornography and unbridled promiscuity—to the extent that love and sex appear to have been irreconcilably divorced for a growing part of society. With overall anxiety, abuse and depression as worsening side-effects.

While, rather surprisingly, there are as yet no clinically accepted criteria for diagnosing Internet addiction, researchers have identified five subcategories of specific types of dysfunctional syndromes: 1. Cybersex addiction, 2. Gambling compulsions, 3. Online relationship addiction/family negligence, 4. Compulsive data-seeking, and 5. Cellphone/gaming obsession. All I can say to this is to repeat Benjamin Franklin, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

On Maintaining a Daily, Healthy Mind Diet

It’s bad enough what prolonged couch surfing does to one’s bodymind. (Ask me how I know.) Based on an extensive review of recent neuro-leadership literature out of Notre Dame and the UCLA Center for Culture and Brain Development, researchers identified seven cognitive-physical-affective activities that each have different, beneficial effects on the healthy handling of our own minds. Provided they’re used in synch with each another. Here’s the list of neuro-cognitive activities that make up a healthy brain/body/mind diet.

  1. Sleep time. Most people with cell phones rarely get enough sleep. Sleep is necessary for refreshing our minds and our bodies (they’re connected!), and for consolidating significant memories. Subconscious dreaming also serves to work on problems you may have identified while waking, and toils away overtime to untangle parts of that for you while you’re sleeping.
  2. Play time. The thrill and joy of experimentation. Just fooling around. One of our natural emotional systems—similar to feelings of lustful expectancy, happy accidents, and the courtship of intimate emotional attachments—like true friendship and attraction to and for one another. Opportune timing.
  3. Down time. Disconnecting for re-integration, creative incubation and insight. Even a nap of just five minutes can do wonders. Sub- or semi-conscious thoughts and emotions can produce better decisions after staring out the window at nothing but sky for an hour, than when painstakingly deciding something important using nothing but the monomania of overtime, logical reasoning.
  4. Time inside-dimension. Time to go inside one’s own mind and make consciousness an object of itself for part of each day. Watch what your mind is up to while you’ve been all-consumed, or distracted, by the world that never sleeps all around you. Breaking free for a spell—to focus on what’s going on in the spaces within—putting on hold the constant, routine focus on what’s outside of one’s self.
  5. Connecting time. The healing power of social relationships. Ironically, during such wicked times as these, it’s not social distancing but rather closing-the- distance through personal interaction—that still has the most profound, beneficial effects on many aspects of our literal and figurative immune systems. That can be hard to see at first.
  6. Physical time. Improving the mind/brain’s plasticity through exercise. Strenuous, disciplined or recreational physical exercise has proven to have a significant, positive, systemic/synergistic impact on all of our physical-mental-emotional functioning and immune systems. Plus, it can be a lot of fun.
  7. Focused time. Attention management for high performance. A lack of sustained stimulation (boredom) or sustained overstimulation (distress)—both lead to the impairment of executive functions. The mind and brain evolved for the purposes of concentration, thus time wasted on fruitless distractions needs reclaiming.

Steps to a Media Ecology

Canadian philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan refers to “media ecology” as the strategic arrangement of various media to enhance the effects of each other, so they won’t cancel each other out. For example, the use of television can be especially helpful in learning verbal and nonverbal languages. (Think Sesame Street meets Just for Laughs Gags/Montreal.) But just try having a serious conversation with someone over the phone while watching The Decline of the American Empire on CraveTV and see what happens.

Here are a few guidelines based on McLuhan’s reframing of American author Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Descent into the Maelstrom.” Three things—media wise—not to attach yourself to (unless you plan to be lost forever); and one thing for sure you must do to survive the inescapable Dark Star gravitational pull of the technopoly whirlpool.

  1. Refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of all work, love, and human relations. Work to be influential, constructive, and most of all effective.
  2. Do not regard statistics and calculation as an adequate substitute for sound, intuitive judgment. Be skeptical of most polls and standardized tests. Bureaucracies have proven a poor substitute for good government, if you can imagine or build a great state of a small city.
  3. Be on guard against the disconcerting glut of information. Do not confuse information with knowledge and understanding. Garbage in; garbage out. There is no evidence whatsoever that students will or can learn math, music, art or science any better with open access to the Internet on their computers— than they do with good textbooks and dedicated teachers. None.
  4. Do remain free to admire—and put into practice—certain technological ingenuities without mistaking them for the highest possible form of cultural achievement apart from all others. That’s the way out of the media maelstrom.

On Choosing the Appropriate Media Channel

Sometimes the temptation to use this new gadgetry is triggered by its novelty as much, or more, as by its utility. The decision to send and receive information through any particular medium affects the meaning of the message, as well as its effectiveness. Many people I’ve met in education, government, and business have failed to utilize any sensible strategy for choosing which channel of communication has the right characteristics that make it appropriate in some situations, not in others. Their “just winging it” costs us a lot of time, money, and other resources.

Media Matters to Consider

• Things like scheduling/bulletin boards, routine announcements and other impersonal information can be easily posted at physical locations, or electronically—but increasingly non-routine professional communications will require a richer and more personalized medium.

  • Telephone calls and texting through electronic mail may be a faster way of communicatingbut may leave issues requiring more personal contact unresolved.
  • Email and most other interactive electronic teleconferencing media provide rapid feedbackbut are missing the richness of nonverbal cues, such as we derive from eye contact, tone of voice, and body language. Sometimes those cues are necessary.
  • Professional memoranda, formal letters and reports can be more personally focused, but they take more time to produce, and feedback is delayed.
  • Face-to-face interpersonal communication is the richest medium we have— because we have the capacity to handle multiple information cues simultaneously. Not only are we able to facilitate instant feedback and establish a personal focus— but there’s no better way for us to communicate something unique, brand new, or of such significant importance that it requires urgent attention.

The media survival approach Marshall McLuhan introduced in his final book, Laws of Media: The New Science (1988)—is one where he suggests it’s possible to understand the effects of any technology—new or old—by applying four fundamental questions. To my knowledge, no research scholar I’m aware of has ever discovered or yet imagined, an invention, artifact, or new situation where these laws of media did or would not apply as keys to unlocking the New Science.

Especially relevant for our times is the fourth law, which begs the question: When pushed to or over its limits, what does the new medium reverse of its originally intended effects? For example, social media that was intended to bring people together, by overuse and dependency can actually isolate us from one another. Imagine four people at a table for lunch on somebody’s patio, who spend the entire time laughing, smiling, and talking to or staring at their own palms.

Last Word on the Rare Advantages of Certain Techno-Social Deprivations

In the past century—with the advent of electronic media such as the telegraph, radio, television, telephones, and computers—said Professor McLuhan, we have returned our senses to their pre-literate, tribal emphases on auditory and tactile senses. Versus the visual priority Western culture had during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Now it’s the singer not the song once more. Back to your infused sparkling wine, Dionysos, and mind you don’t trip up your mind at the next electronic CityPlace CyberDisco.

I’m neither against technological innovation, nor immune to its charms. I agree with those—like my dear and incredibly bright son Dylan—who foresee advances in communications technology as maintaining a vital role in our social evolution. However, I cannot conceive of this uncompromising over-exposure and addiction we have to electronic gismos as having the potential to replace enlightened engagement through face-to-face conversations, combined with erudite reading, writing, and rhetoric.

There must always be more than simply a metaphorical space for Live Theatre, Live Music, Live Lecture, Performance Art, Museums, and Art Galleries in our lives. In terms of the surrender of education to technology, it’s never too late for redemption. More skillful interpersonal communications can still be practiced and taught. But not by computer apps and programs, and not without more of us setting a better example.

Amor fati,
Peter Chiaramonté, PhD, CPRA President

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