Last week, I shut down my computer, packed a small bag and headed for the mountains to hang with my dear friends and let my brain stop aching. I felt like I was coming down from a serious binge and had to heal from a heavy hangover. What was the drug? Social Media; a “drug” that will prove to become toxic if taken in frequent and/or large doses.
Many of us spend hours and hours daily posting on a plethora of pages, blogging, tweeting, linking, commenting, uploading, downloading, sharing, responding. This activity is like a contagion and we drag it along everywhere we go: our cell phone, lap top, desk-top. Pretty soon it will be accessible on our wristwatches. Maybe it already is accessible on a wristwatch and I have not kept up!
I know am not alone. Every day, millions of people enter a virtual reality and operate in that alternate reality in a way that changes the structure of the brain and intensifies stress levels. Operating in this virtual reality seems to be moving from a pastime…to a habit…to an obligation…to a pressure…and finally to a consistent, gnawing fear of being left behind. Please; let’s stop the madness!
I call the new syndrome, already widely researched, Virtual Vexation. Virtual is a term which has been defined in philosophy as “that which is not real” but may display the salient qualities of the real. Many of us are operating in our real stressful world and, at the same time, in a quasi-world that has no boundaries or predictable structure because it is constantly changing. The quasi-world will further elevate our stress levels and produce more lethal cortisol in our bodies.
Nicholas Carr already wrote about several research studies in his article entitled “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains”. Psychologists refer to the information flowing into our working memory as our cognitive load. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories. We can’t translate the new material into conceptual knowledge. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains weak. That’s why the extensive brain activity that scientists discovered in Web searchers may be more a cause for concern than for celebration. It points to cognitive overload. Cognitive overload creates stress and anxiety. Repetitive stress and anxiety will make us sick.
In the real world, weekends serve as our downtime for relaxing and stress-recovery. The virtual world also needs to include downtime. Make a deliberate and conscious decision to limit your virtual experience. If after doing so, you find you can not abide by your own self-created limits, you may be experiencing Virtual Vexation. If this is the case, you need to turn everything off, detoxify and allow your brain to recover. What good is being social if it can make you sick? Think about it.