My brother-in-law and I were talking today about clean nutrition’s relation to physical and mental wellness, while also discussing politics and technology.
And that got me thinking.
60-90% of the time I observe folks during waking hours, their attention is directed to a digital screen. It’s almost always a smartphone, because they’re almost always on you, even while pooping. The gateway to the Internet — the known universe.
The sights and sounds come from far away and maybe long ago. The delicious food on the cooking show is in no way cooked from the Gorilla glass, silicon, and lithium batteries that you hold in your hand.
You are receiving visual and auditory data that is streamed digitally to your portable brain tickling content delivery device.
For you to recognize it as anything but snowy static and white noise, the information has to be heavily processed into recognizable images and sounds. But it’s also heavily processed by the platform’s popularity algorithms: shaped by what sells time and attention.
Heavily processed from a health standpoint is kind of synonymous with highly suspect.
And many of us are now bingeing on that stuff — blissfully and without a thought — for the majority of our waking lives.
Some processing is necessary
There’s no way to transport the image of a Dutch tulip to Irvine without digitizing its shape, contrast, hue, etc.
But that’s been true since the 1950s. And the modern digital era is definitely not the 1950s plus 4K and Dolby Atmos.
Your smartphone, tablet, smartTV, and other connected computational devices deliver curated content: it changes based on information you consciously provide (search terms) and unconsciously provide (what images you linger over, which shows you watch, and which celebrities and influencers you subscribe to). You don’t have to settle for the quarterly news release about the newest Star Wars project when the major networks feel like it; you can get customized Star Wars content delivered round the clock, 24/7!
The system “learns” from your input and gives you relevant content instantaneously. And you respond to that delivered content, and the system adjusts and delivers a new round of goodies, with the cycle iterating forever. And repeated refinement cycles are a reliable way of getting a highly polished result in record time.
Is it a good polish or a bad polish?
That is a question that very few people seem to be asking themselves.
Let’s say someone entered your name into a sweepstakes, and Elon Musk presented you with the (digital) keys to a super high-end Tesla. Top speed 300 mph (if it had wings it could be a World War 2 fighter plane). Zero to 60 in 1.2 seconds (“standard” model BMWs do that in 5 seconds). Ground clearance 2 cm, built like a manta ray, corners like a hockey puck, steering augmented by onboard computers so sensitive that you hit lane bumpers with every heartbeat.
Would that be a good car for your 16-year-old? Or your 80-year-old relative with mild but definite memory issues? Or yourself if you park your car in semi-sketchy neighborhoods?
You’d be selective when it came to a motor vehicle choice, based on the temperament and situation of the driver. Driven incautiously, you could bend it and yourself around a tree, after all.
WHAT WE CHOOSE can now determine our realities
Not long ago our day-to-day existence was largely outside of our control. We dealt with the family we were born into, our workdays were determined by our education and workplace demands, and our relationships were largely with people within a 30-minute circle of where we were born.
Now, a majority of what we see and hear every day — the sources of most of our info about the so-called world around us — can be driven by our browsing habits. We can surround ourselves with select audiovisual input that can be driven solely by our own data searches and preferences. And if we surround ourselves enough, this input can mold our personalities as surely as eating ice cream and lasagna every day will mold our bodies.
But unlike food, every pixel and audio bit is entirely man-made and digitally enhanced. Processed, if you will.
And like food conglomerates, some of the most powerful corporations on Earth have made it their business to be expert at creating this digital content and appreciating how it can affect human beings for profit. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, and yes, even Apple.
It’s not all bad, just mostly garbage
But even if 98% of the volume of the information superhighway is poor quality poop, it’s curated and permitted to be there. Decisions are made on a daily basis to let content stay.
Is it better to have completely unfettered and unrestricted access to all forms of digital information, or a regulated system controlled by one or more authorities, to prevent society from imploding into civil unrest, or worse? Who decides?
Interesting questions. But I bring this up as a health matter.
You can eat whatever you want, and I’m certainly not going to stop you.
If a prime goal of yours is having a long and vital life free from metabolic, cardiovascular, oncologic, mental health, and neurodegenerative diseases, then eating whatever you want is inconsistent with your prime goal. Especially when there are professionals making unhealthy foods as irresistible as possible, because then you think you’re eating what YOU want, but you’re mostly eating what FOOD CORPORATIONS want you to buy.
You can watch and listen to whatever you like, and I’m certainly not going to shame you.
If one prime goal is to get ahead, then scrolling through social media posts until 2 AM without accomplishing anything is inconsistent with that prime goal.
If another prime goal is getting rid of a gnawing anxiousness, then watching soothing pet videos that leave the cause unaddressed is only temporarily consistent with that prime goal.
If a noteworthy prime goal is to be one smart cookie, hard to fool and thoughtful, then consuming content that makes you pound your chest because making good decisions is just so easy, being righteous feels so pure, and the other side is just so stupid is NOT CONSISTENT WITH YOUR PRIME GOAL.
Especially. When there are corporations with business models. To professionally curate the content that they create (or allow).
That you may be putting into your brain for most of your waking hours.
Not everything on the Internet is a conspiracy
But unlike an organic apple, everything on the Internet is processed.
For the sake of your health, which in my experience does not magically take care of itself, consume what you consume with caution.