Digital Altruism

Cultivating compassion in the 21st century.

Media Saturation & Your Health

Mindfulness and moderation are keys to healthy living in a media saturated world

Now more than ever our lives are saturated with media—from email to Twitter, Facebook to Instagram, Linked-in to Netflix—television, video games, instant messaging, and web-surfing. Even our youngest children are busy swiping their way across e-readers, i-Pads, and tablets. Through our willingness to adopt these technologies, we are willingly engaging in one of the largest experiments in our evolutionary history—an experiment with biological, social, and ethical impacts.

At the recent Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, (APA), I met with colleagues in the Society for Media Psychology and Technology (Division 46)— to review current research and scholarship in this burgeoning specialization. For readers unfamiliar with this area, media psychology includes research and applications dealing with all forms of media technologies:

Traditional and mass media, such as radio, television, film, video, newsprint, magazines, music, and art as well as new and emerging technologies and applications, such as social media, mobile media, interface design, educational technologies, interactive media technologies, and augmented, virtual and blended environments.

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Two important “take aways” from the meeting include:

  • Expect a continuing escalation of media saturation. The launch of the Google Glass in December is expected to usher in the “era of augmented reality.” You might have already seen or purchased children’s books with this technology. If not, here’s a sample. Expectations are that Google Glass will be replaced by augmented reality “contact lenses”. 
  • While we continue to conduct and compile research on the impacts of various forms of media and interactive technologies on both adults and children (including television, video games, smart phone use, augmented reality, etc.) across a variety of dimensions (biological, emotional, social, ethical, etc.) results are inconclusive. Expect the situation to remain this way for some time—scientific studies must be replicated and longitudinal studies take time.

Instead of waiting for scientists to provide definitive answers to the impact of media and interactive technologies on your health, I recommend taking a holistic approach by practicing mindfulness and the tried and true virtue of moderation. Mindfulness involves bringing conscious awareness to your media use habits. For example, when someone is talking to you don’t let “apps” come between you, especially where children are concerned. These are “monkey see monkey do” moments—give your children, and other family members and friends your full attention and expect them to do the same.  To mitigate potentially harmful biological effects from electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) don’t sleep near your smart phone and/or computers.

Mindfulness also involves an awareness of the restorative power of the natural world. For millions of years humanity has evolved and flourished through being immersed in nature. Nature’s textures, colors, sights, and sounds, are familiar to us. They have a calming influence—color science shows that shades of green and blue are the best hues for living rooms and bedrooms because they induce a state of relaxation. The science behind colors is used in marketing (here’s a good post by Leo Widrich on the topic). One experiment at Stanford’s Calming Technology Lab involved covering a desktop with organic grass (living lawn grass) to test its potential as a stress reducer. You can use color science and balance your interactions with technology by making time to go outside, spending time in your backyard, or a local park—sitting in the green grass, and gazing at the blue sky.

A healthy life—one in which you, your loved ones, and members of your community, are flourishing, involves being mindful across a wide range of human activities. We need to eat organic food whenever possible, engage in a regular program of exercise, and practice relaxation and meditation techniques daily. We need to share intimate moments with family and friends—moments in which we shake hands and share hugs. All of these activities reduce negative stress and support wellbeing.  We can make use of apps and programs designed specifically to help us monitor our respiration, heart rates, and achieve a state of self-regulation and calm (for example, b-Life and GPS for the Soul). 

In the grand scheme of things, media technologies are new (television wasn’t found in most US homes until the mid-1950’s and video games weren’t widely played until the 1990’s). The American Psychological Association’s, Society for Media Psychology & Technology wasn’t even founded until the 1980’s. Longitudinal research takes time and research must be replicated – until further notice – say, fifty or a hundred years hence—the best approach to healthy interactions with media and media technologies is a conscious approach involving mindfulness and moderation.

 

Notes

American Psychological Association, Division 46 http://www.apa.org/divisions/div46/

Augmented Reality, Contact Lenses: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/the-computer-screen-of-the-futur...

Augmented Reality Books. http://augmented-reality-in-education.wikispaces.com/Augmented+Books

b-Life (2013). http://stressless.myblife.com

Google Glass: http://www.google.com/glass/start/

GPS for the Soul: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gps-for-the-soul/id586099254?mt=8

Moraveji, N. (2013) Returning to Your Senses, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHzjbajq5VU

Stanford's Calming Technology Lab (2013). http://calmingtechnology.org

Widrich, L. (2013). http://www.fastcompany.com/3009317/why-is-facebook-blue-the-scien...

Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., a visiting scholar at Saybrook University, is an integral psychologist specializing in the use of arts and media to promote altruism and compassion.

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