Digital Pandemic

Hidden cyber age dangers

Who Stole the Right Side of Your Brain? Grinch—or Santa?

How are Santa and the Grinch the Same? Both Right-brainers

I have referred to Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary in previous writings. McGilchrist worries about the increasing control of the left hemisphere in our lives and what that means for our future culture. I agree. I have written about some of the negative effects of technology as related to the left and right sides of the brain in my book, The Digital Pandemic.

For you souls out there who aren’t up on left-brain and right-brain strategies, the left brain’s focus is on detail and control. It tends to atomize our world and our culture. The right brain is open to new experiences and brings us the richness of imagination and creativity. Both sides of our brain are involved in our thoughts and behaviors, I hasten to say, but some of us rely on characteristics of one side of the brain more than the other. This difference gives us a wholly distinct take on the world.

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McGilchrist fears that left-hemisphere thinking is becoming dominant and we are tending more and more to see the world as a heap of intrinsically meaningless fragments. “The left hemisphere, ever optimistic, is like a sleepwalker whistling a happy tune as it ambles towards the abyss.”

I have had concern about these meaningless fragments, these “sticks and stones,” but I never thought the right hemisphere would be whisked away by a jolly old man in a red suit –– Santa Claus. Yes, Santa Claus! I reached this conclusion after thinking about gifts he would leave the children on Christmas day. Right-brain, creative, imaginative gifts or left-brain precision technology?

Forgetting gifts for a moment, it's easy to see how the whole concept of Christmas has moved from a spiritual –– and some would say fantasy –– holiday, to that of a colorless celebration with little emotion, except perhaps for the very young. For centuries, Christmas has been a religious celebration invoking the name of St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop. Manger scenes filled our parks, and the Christmas story was sung and told in public school auditoriums across the land.

It then shifted to a happy little guy named Santa who could touch his nose and take off like a rocket! How sad that Santa is now a marketer's ploy to promote the sale of goods, even on Thanksgiving Day!

The next step in the transition from spiritual to secular eliminated color, because the left hemisphere is not crazy about creativity or colorful things. They get in the way of an objective, scientific approach. They muddy the waters and confuse one's thinking. Rationality is king, and colors and lights are distracting. They’re not welcome in the palace of objectivity. That's why the most stylish decorations today are not colorful. Silver, grey and white are used to give the impression of cold weather and snow, and that’s as it should be, according to some, because after all, Christmas is merely a celebration of the winter solstice. And be careful. Don't dare say “Merry Christmas.” The politically correct handle in stores everywhere is “Happy Holidays.”

So what about the gifts? I researched newspaper ads and what did my eyes behold? No Donner and Vixen, but plenty of Samsung and Kindle. A Kindle Fire was on sale for only $379.99. It featured “an astonishing light in its quad-core 2.2 GHZ processor.” Oh man, that warms my heart. Also, the Samsung Android Galaxy Tab 3 Tablet for only $359.99! Or how about a Polaroid 7-Inch Kids Tablet with over 70 apps and games?

I continued scouring the ads, about to give up, when I touched my nose and found a Toys "R" Us catalog. Guess what? I found a Flutterby Flying Fairy Doll for only $29.99. Did I say fairy? My, that does warm my heart. So does the Cra-Z-Loom Shimmer and Sparkle Bracelet Maker for only $12.99. And a couple of boys are shown riding an All-Y-Volution Carver Scooter for only 100 bucks. I even saw a Batman costume and a Lone Ranger doll. Wow!

So the right brain may be in retreat, but it has yet to fall over the abyss –– at least for younger children with less disposable income. Yes, there might be some advantages to being quite young and un-rich. Little ones can still enjoy the spirit of Christmas through the right sides of their brains because our schools and society haven't yet sat on their imaginations. I visited a park near my home on Christmas Eve and envied the little children talking to Santa Claus. I knew, at 6'4" tall, that Santa wouldn't want me on his knee while I recited my list of requests. But I enjoyed looking at the faces of the little ones. That was gift enough.

Thanks, kids. And Merry Christmas!

Mack Hicks, Ph.D., is a psychologist and author of The Digital Pandemic: Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic Age.

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