Cell phones, the internet, opioids, workaholism, all with steadily rising rates of anxiety and depression. What’s going on here?
America seems to be moving steadily down a rapidly darkening path, one of addiction, social isolation, anger, and general unhappiness. Why might this be?
Connecting With Our Screens, Instead of Each Other
We are distracted, even obsessed with our devices. This, contributing to the breaking down and diminishing of quality in-person connections. So, while people are more connected electronically, they are more disconnected than ever on a personal, emotionally deeper level.
No one looks at each other anymore. At least, not for long. Instead, they are all ever looking at their screens. Take a look down the length of inside any train car, public bus, even inside a cafe or a street corner. Everyone’s gazes are trained down, on the device and screen in hand. Scrolling. Tapping. Staring, blank-eyed. We are becoming a culture of the living dead. Our faces, perpetually cast in a blue pallor, aglow by screens, sucking away our awareness of others, our sense of empathy, interest in others, our souls.
Just this morning, my attention was jerked to the side as a young woman walked, smack dab, smashing into a signpost. She cried out, embarrassed and wobbly. Where had she been looking? She’d been staring down at her cell phone, with zero a glance elsewhere. This is fodder, folks, and symbolism in that singular moment, for America today with regard to our phones.
This addiction to our screens comes packaged along with the issue that our new medium for the majority of our information gathering is done via cell phones and the internet. As a result, our attention spans have grown shorter, more fragmented, and shallower.
People are less capable of focusing for a couple of hours on the person right in front of them or say, on reading a book. Instead, spending much of their downtime now filling their minds with intellectual empty calories and nothing stuff on YouTube and Instagram. Surfing the feeds of nearly naked, self objectifying women (because that’s still the primary value of females via our cultural mindset- how they look, and thus, their feeling the pressure toward the molding of their sexuality for the pleasure and desire of men), or whatever the most outrageous or silly video of the day is.
None of this adds any richness, knowledge, or depth of meaning to our lives.
None of it gives us, in essence, something to chew on mentally. Instead, we scroll and stare, half brain dead, onto the next thing and the next. Devoted to our devices, at the cost of each other.
Entitlement and Narcissism Are On the Rise
From the pages of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Janet Twenge, she reflects on the fact that narcissism — an inflated view of the self — is everywhere today.
Public figures say it’s what makes them stray from their wives. Parents teach it by dressing children in T-shirts that say “Princess.” Teenagers and young adults hone it on Facebook, via selfies and Instagram, and celebrity newsmakers have elevated it to an art form. And it’s what’s making people depressed, lonely, and buried under piles of debt.
In just the last 24 hours, I’ve watched a man park right where buses pull in at a subway station, the only designated bus area (from which cars are prohibited), and then leave his vehicle to go into Starbucks. Unhurried and without a semblance of care, while the bus behind his car honked and honked, full of people. The bus, now unable to pull in and transfer those people off and allow new ones on until this one self-centered jerk got his mocha frappucino with whipped cream. The guy could not care less about holding up 75 people for what he wanted. His wants and feelings, far more superior and important.
I’ve watched at least five people during my commutes just yesterday and today, get onto an otherwise quiet bus or train car and proceed to blast music aloud from their phones, or, to conduct a phone call during which they set it aloud to speakerphone, for all of us to now enjoy listening to both ends of the conversation now.
(Why, people? Why must all of us now be forced into hearing the electronic, crackling, disembodied voice blare forth from your cell phone? In addition to you talking as well. What happened to holding the phone up to one’s ear?).
Thus, everyone surrounding had their peace infringed upon because these people cared about their wants and feelings, and no one else’s. Their desires were top, with zero consideration, thought, or care for anyone other. And, if these types are confronted (as I have done cautiously and gently in the recent past), the response is almost always either aggressive or dismissive.
People in America today care about me, me, me, and you? You can go suck it.
Addiction is often sparked and fueled by feeling a sense of misery and distress in one’s emotional environment and thus, seeking to escape it. As our culture grows less hospitable, more self-centered and inconsiderate, well, it makes sense that this would add to the incentive for substance abuse.
Our current political climate over the last couple of years has been, in short, insane. The person we’ve selected as the leader of our country says much about our feelings towards women, racism, the LGBTQ community, and how we consider as well as approach the treatment of our fellow humans (especially those who might be different from us) in general. Our leader(s) today are cruel-hearted, misogynistic, dishonest, and nasty. This circus in the white house dividing and splintering our country into polarized corners.
Work, Work, Work it
Careerism and workaholism have become touted as badges of honor. While many people may seemingly work forty or fifty hours a week, in actuality, they work far more. The concept of home life, of protected time outside of work, this has blurred and been rubbed away. We’ve lost our sense of boundaries between work and play.
Now, people are ever available, ever reachable. Work emails and texts, popping up on our phones at all hours. Jerking our attention away from whatever we might be engaged in apart from work. Work, the siren call we’ve grown unable to ignore. And for some reason, people feeling as though they have a duty toward answering these around the clock.
It was my understanding that work was generally, in the simplest sense, a nine to five, forty-hour a week thing. The purpose of which, to obtain funds to fuel the rest of your life. To be able to live, and fill your life with other adventures, projects, and passions. A job is a means by which to fund the rest of your life. Keywords: the rest of your life. Where has that gone?
It seems we have forgotten this. That now, we believe it is our duty to be ever available to our work and bosses, or else. We’ve lost sight of the point of a job, and the seeking of our personal growth and fulfillment of life outside work. This is resulting in one-dimensional lives that revolve around work, something which can be, in essence, a sickness of sorts.
Status seeking and perpetual comparison are adding to our sense of insecurity and unhappiness. Scrolling through one’s Instagram or Facebook feed, one is met with a sea of vacation photos to exotic locales, white sand beaches, perfectly toned and curated bodies, couples who are oh so in love, cute dogs and cats, the most mouthwatering of meals that people are whipping up on a random Wednesday night, you get the idea.
It’s no wonder we feel boring and less than by comparison. That we feel ugly, uninteresting, and as though our lives are lacking. The carefully curated comparisons are designed to make us feel that way. It’s like the airbrushed images in magazines, same deal.
Further, today we tend to regard fame and celebrities as something the everyman and everywoman can obtain. That fame is just beyond our reach, if only we look a certain way, or do the “right thing” to get noticed.
This puts people on a perpetual chase for acknowledgment, validation, attention, and ultimately pits them to feel as though if they cannot achieve this outer response, they must be doing something wrong and are a “failure.”
Pain as the 5th Vital Sign…Or Is It?
Within the medical community, opioids are being way over prescribed, which has and is resulting in rampant, widespread addiction. These powerful pain killers used to be prescribed for end of life, cancer type pain only. Now, they are commonplace and given out almost willy nilly, for anything a busted knee or twisted ankle, even for headaches.
I highly recommend Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Hooked America by Beth Macy for a jaw-dropping, eye-opening, world-changing read on this topic that is a mountainous issue in our culture today.
The marketing tact and tagline of “Pain as the 5th Vital Sign” is a significant part of why opioid addiction had exploded and spread like wildfire. We’ve come to decide that any degree of pain in one’s body is unacceptable and unnecessary. Thus, just numb it, blot it out, you need never feel pain. This mindset is contributing towards the over-prescribing, as well as substance abuse mindset.
So, Why Might We Be Struggling So Much With Addiction Today?
Dr. Bruce Alexander, an American psychologist, conducted a study in the 1970s dubbed “Rat Park.” He placed rats in a cage with essentially nothing else and two bottles of water. One bottle of water that was laced with drugs (heroin or cocaine) and the other without. Within this scenario, the rats drank from the drug water almost continuously until they overdosed or died.
He wondered, however, what might happen if the atmosphere of the cage was changed. This is where the rat park came in. Dr. Alexander filled the cage with all manner of tubes in which they could wander, fun toys, and other companions with whom they might play.
Dr. Alexander, wondering what might happen if the situation were made different. Might the outcome also be different?
It was. When the rats were given access to rat park, they preferred, by far, the plain water over the drug water. And even when they did imbibe from the drug-filled bottle, they did so intermittently, not obsessively, and never overdosed. Thus, a scenario of meaningful social connections, as well as activities in which they felt engaged, was far more compelling than abusing drugs.
When people have a life in which they want to be present, they tend not to want to abuse substances. They turn towards life instead of away from it.
Yes, addiction does involve a physical component of the body later coming to rely on the substance.
The initial seeking out of abusing substances and trying to lose oneself in the blur of substance use, people have done this kind of thing since the dawn of time. Using drugs in order to (to their mind) help them cope with, escape, and put aside for a time, what can be the emotional distress of life.
However, it is interesting, compelling, and concerning that within our culture today, depression and anxiety are at all-time highs, and that opioid addiction has been called the crisis of our current day.
Death by drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in America for people under the age of fifty. Just a few years ago, that was instead, things like heart disease, smoking, and physical inactivity closing in among the front runners.
It is huge, unignorable, that the leading cause of death in this country is drug overdose. It’s a national and human crisis. And it shouts at the state of mental and emotional wellbeing (or, lack thereof) of its citizens.
Something is very wrong here.
Could It Be That…
Our screens and the ignoring of the person right in front of us for our phones is creating a wider and wider gulf between people emotionally? That choosing to connect with our screens is disconnecting us from each other? And as a result, making us lonelier?
People living with themselves as the utmost priority in mind (LYBL, self-care to the max, “you do you”, and all that garbage) is actually making us less happy? That our overblown self-focus and selfishness is shrinking our hearts, hardening us towards one another, and actually diminishing our life joy?
We are who we choose as a leader. Thus, as it appears right now, we seem to be quite a misogynistic, racist, hateful society.
Working out lives away and being ever available to our bosses, with no room left over for our own hearts passions and our own personal projects of meaning, is leaving us unsatisfied and empty inside?
Status seeking doesn’t fulfill us at all and instead, keeps us on a stationary treadmill of ever running towards something which we are almost certain never to reach? That instead, this junk value is serving at filling our heads with unrealistic expectations for ourselves, that it keeps us in perpetual comparison mode with others, that it causes us to dislike ourselves and feel as though we never measure up?
We are more anxious, depressed, and addicted than ever because we are living in ways that are hurting us deeply, that are creating rifts and divides both inside of and between us, rather than aiding towards a life of actual meaning, joy, generosity, and kindness towards others, emotional and physical health, and personal growth?
This article of mine was originally published on Medium.com, where I write all about health, relationships, friendship, family relations, psychology, self, feminism, and culture. If you’d like to take a gander, I’d be honored and thrilled to have you as a reader.