Are we too addicted to our tech? The answer is “yes and no”. Dr Gloria Mark is a professor at UCI and her studies show that people decompress with the use of social media. I didn’t expect that. Email on the other hand? Super stress inducing.
I decided to run a little experiment. I called Cliff Hodges who taught us wilderness survival for the Origins movie and had him run a day-long class for some of my internet media friends. Dave Asprey, Abel James, Kevin Gianni, Michael Lovitch, Amish Shah, and several other joined us for 5 days in the woods where we had no cell service or TV.
We learned to make fire by friction and how to build shelters. It was great fun and very rewarding.
Interview Notes From The Show:
– Welcome to The Urban Monk. I’m Pedram Shojai and today we are talking about technology. We’ve got phones, we’ve got computers, we’ve got stuff all around us and it’s like this barrage of information. What do you do with it all? Every time you look up there’s somebody walking around staring at their phone. You’re driving, you’re at a light. The people next to you are texting at the red light and it’s become this overwhelming thing that we all live with. So what do we do about it? How do we find some balance and how do we get back to some normalcy in life? And let’s face it, we need this stuff. Technology is here to stay, but how can we live in balance? Today we’re going to talk about just that. How do we coexist with this stuff, and let’s start by talking about a good tech cleanse. Let’s get into it. With me now is Gloria Mark. She is a professor of informatics at the University of California Irvine and the author of the new book, Multitasking in the Digital Age, welcome.
– Thank you.
– So we’ve had so much of these conversations bubbling up as a culture, obviously, because this stuff is starting to get overwhelming. Kids texting at the dinner table and all this. And we’re starting to see anxiety, and we’re starting to see people having signs of some overwhelm and I know this is the body of research that you do. So what are we seeing?
– We are seeing exactly that, absolutely. So you know I’ve been looking at people’s technology use for over 10 years, and consistently we’re finding in our data and people are reporting how overwhelmed and how burnt out they are using information technology.
– Are you seeing this anxiety in everybody across the board? Are the millennials better at it?
– Well that’s a great question. So I look at people in the workplace. I see a lot of anxiety in the workplace. With millennials, you know millennials grew up with the internet and they don’t know what life was like before the internet. So it’s very, it’s a different experience for them.
– What are we seeing? I know you have some preliminary data on some of the work, and you have some other work coming that we can’t talk about yet, but it’s just fascinating. So so far, what can you tell us that you’re seeing?
– So, so one of the first studies we did using sensors was back in 2012, and we had people in an organization that cut off email for one work week. We had them wear heart rate monitors, so we measured their stress and we found that in comparison to a baseline, when you know they were using email the way they always did, they were significantly less stressed without email. They also had a significantly longer focus of attention when they used the computer, and also as you might expect they switched between different applications less frequently. New work that we have coming out tells us that there is a correlation between the amount of email that a person does, and the amount of stress. So a little bit of email doesn’t cause a lot of stress. A moderate amount of email causes a moderate amount of stress, but a lot of email creates a high amount of stress.
– Is it the same with text? Is it the same with social? I mean are we seeing the same stuff?
– So social media actually seems to have a different effect. So we’re finding that social media can actually mitigate the effects of the stress that people get from email and other kinds of technology. So the more social media that people use, the less stressed they are. In fact we did a study in the workplace and we found that in comparison with face to face interaction, if people had, the more Facebook interaction they did, the happier they were at the end of the day.
– Are we seeing this across the gamut in age? Or what was the population that you studied?
– So we studied information workers who are mostly between the ages of 25 and 45. But we’ve also done studies with the millennial generation, with college students, and we find that the more social media they use, the less stress they have. So social media for college students has a particular function.
– I’m sure 2,000 years ago, a conversations were happening around oh you and your automobile or you and your telephone and it just keeps evolving into further technology and so are certain people being Luddites and you know this fear of technology is actually unsubstantiated? Because it sounds like in social at least.
– Well there have always been Luddites in any technology age.
– It seems like we’re multitasking more. It seems like our attention is being splintered into multiple apps and windows and devices and all that. What do we see with multitasking in terms of efficiency at work or efficiency at school?
– Right, so measuring productivity among information workers is really tough, and so far we haven’t cracked that problem because for example with software developers just simply writing more lines of code doesn’t mean you’re more productive. So what we can do though is we can ask people if you feel that you are more efficient. Did you spend your time wisely? Are you satisfied with your work? And basically people who switch their tasks, or switch their activities on the computer, or switch between offline and online, don’t feel as productive. There’s a cost. Every time you switch, a cognitive cost, ’cause you have to reorient your attention.
– Mhmm, attention deficit disorder. Kids are all over the place with it.
– Yeah but it’s not really attention deficit disorder. It’s a kind of conditioned response that I think has developed as a result of, I mean it’s a result of many things and one of the things is that we have access to so much information so rapidly more than we ever had before in our lives.
– So what are we talking about in terms of separation? I mean if I just stop checking email in the mornings, is that going to help? Does it take a week tech cleanse? Like do we even know what’s going to be a toe into recovery here?
– We don’t know, but I think that we have some pretty good guesses. So I think for example, if email could be batched it would change people’s habits quite a bit. Now batching means that email comes maybe several times during the day into your inbox. But I don’t think that an individual themselves is going to be able to, to solve this problem. The organization has to play a part as well whether it’s a university, whether it’s a company, so that they send email at certain points during the day and then you know well the email’s not coming until 11:00, so it’s senseless to check it at 10:00am.
– So there’s this there’s FOMO right? The fear of missing out, and then there’s kind of the repulsion is like the joy of missing out, but the fear of missing out is actually driving this really big phenomenon of just this shortened attention span it seems like, ’cause I have to check. I don’t want to be the person that’s left behind. Are you seeing that with millennials? Are you seeing it with all generations?
– Yes, absolutely. In fact it’s really a really interesting result that we found is that the attention span of millennials is significantly shorter than that of people in the workplace. And I know it’s not fair to compare people in the workplace and their use of digital technology with millennials. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyways, and we find that millennials have much shorter attention and if we look at people in the workplace. You know, I started looking at attention spans over 10 years ago, and we find that they’re becoming significantly shorter over the years by a–
– [Pedram] Across the board.
– Across the board, and that by attention span I mean the amount of time you spend your attention is on any particular computer screen before switching to something else.
– That’s fascinating, and I know you’re looking at some of that and we’re going to do a followup on this because there’s some really interesting data that we’re going to stumble upon at some point. So I want to thank you ’cause this is just great science. This is what the world needs. It’s what everybody is wondering, and you’re actually doing it in a university setting, so thank you for the work that you’re doing. I’d love to have you back.
– It was my pleasure.
– Excellent, and from here we are actually going to an undisclosed mountain location with some of the captains of digital media, and doing a tech cleanse. So let’s go. All right, we are at a remote mountain destination for our tech cleanse. We have some of the champions of internet out here, and I am with my good friend Cliff Hodges, nice to see you.
– Yeah great to be here, Pedram. Thanks for having me.
– Man, it’s always a pleasure being out here with you. I feel like I learn. Cliff is one of the top wilderness experts in the world. He worked with us in our Origins movie and is here to take this group of people back to the original technology. So tell us what we got planned.
– Exactly, so we’re starting with some basic wilderness survival training to kick this tech cleanse off, so I find you know these skills are original Earth living skills, primitive living skills. Building shelters, starting fires, so we’re gonna start getting rid of all that technology and moving at the pace of nature and have a great day out here.
– That sounds great, let’s get into it.
– All right let’s do it.
– We are, we have a little outdoor classroom site set up. My name is Cliff Hodges. I teach primitive wilderness survival for a living. You’re directly descended from people that built and lived in earthen shelters, started fire by friction, hunted and gathered for their food. I don’t buy it that human beings are the only animal that weren’t given this knowledge inherently. I don’t buy it. That’s what we’re trying to do here. I’m trying to get you guys in touch with your intuition. Depending on the conditions and in inclement weather, we can only survive up to three hours without shelter. The human body is extremely susceptible to exposure be that heat exposure, be that cold exposure. You can die really really quickly if your body isn’t properly thermo-regulated. So this is what provides our insulation. Now it’s not as good as down, or some synthetic insulation. We need a lot of this. That’s step one, step two I started laying what I call the ribs. Just kind of like a skeleton right? And the ribs are these larger pieces that run the whole length of the shelter, and they create if you were to cut it in half they create like a triangular cross section. So after I’ve run ribs up and down each side of the whole shelter, I start laying what I call a lattice work, and then the one last thing I haven’t talked about is a doorway. So right now I have a doorway right here that I would slide feet first in. I think a lot of this is knowledge that’s already inside you. Use your ingenuity, you’re all very smart people. There’s entrepreneurs here, there’s people who can think on their feet.
– I can’t break that.
– [Man] Go inside?
– Why did you guys choose this area? So when I look at a location, the couple things I think about location. One is is it high and dry? So water’s always an issue. The second thing in location is proximity to materials. This one’s pretty darn good. You guys got all your debris, it was right here. It was right on site. And the last thing in picking the location I think about it safety, right? Am I like at the base of a hill, where there could be falling rocks? I mean, the overall structure’s good. It’s kind of textbook debris hut, it’s just enormous. It’s you can fit, yeah you could fit a 12 foot tall… It’s like Manute Bol’s debris hut. So water and fire came next. We’re going to skip water for now, and we’re going to come to fire first for multiple reasons. One, in many situations in North America you need fire before your water anyways because you need to purify your water. And also fire’s really cool and it’s like usually why people take my class, so. So we’re going to go into fire. We’re going to go straight into fire right now. Fire by friction is what I’m about to teach you. For me it’s one of the most absolutely amazing skills that you can ever learn. It’s super primal. Human beings are the only animal on this planet that have learned to create and control fire. Fire really, for better or for worse, right it’s the beginning of why human civilization rises up. So I’m gonna set up kind of a demo spot here. So we have several major pieces working together here. The two most important pieces are what’s called our fire board and our spindle. So our fire board is a piece of wood, the spindle’s a piece of wood, and the spindle spins in the fire board. So fire board and the spindle are the same kind of wood, preferably a soft wood. I’ve got some tinder, so out here I’ve imported tinder for you guys. This is a natural material. I have a bow, basically just a stick. I’m using a synthetic cord as my cord for teaching. So this goes faster for you guys. And lastly I have a hand hold. My hand hold is another piece of wood that sits on top of the spindle and holds it still. I’m gonna put a little bit of tinder underneath my fire board to catch that coal. So I hold the bow, if I’m right handed I hold the bow in my right hand. Hold my hand holding my left hand. Now I’m up on my knee, right? I’m up on my knee because this allows me to bring my torso over the top of the kit. By bringing my torso to the top of the kit, I’m able to apply downward pressure on the kit with gravity and my body weight as opposed to if I’m back here, trying to push down with my arm. My arm is floating out here in space, I’m gonna get tired really quick. This is not gonna go well. Gonna start slow. This is an activity of technique much more than brute strength. There’s my little coal. So I can tell I have a coal by the fact that it’s still smoking, after I stop moving. Yep I’m not touching the coal with my hand. I’m just trying to get it out of the fire board into the tinder. Just gonna try giving it some air. It’s, it’s not it’s too wet. Fire, gonna stamp it out so we don’t start a forest fire.
– It’s a guy and a girl? Wow.
– [Man] Now we’re getting pretty pointy.
– [Man] It ain’t over ’til the eyebrows catch fire. Come on come on come on you got this, you got this. Come on you got this!
– Oh yeah!
– [Man] No we don’t actually want a fire.
– First of all, a round of applause to everyone. Not an easy thing to do. I don’t know about you guys, but in my life all the things that I’ve ever done that I really got felt just like great satisfaction from more the things that took a long time and things that took practice.
– Right, so we just made fire and it was pretty special. A lot of people were surprised at how hard it was, and they were also surprised at how cool it was, what a great feeling it was to actually make fire and you see this all the time don’t you?
– Yeah you know the making fire, it’s like the original human innovation. It’s for especially for these people that are tech entrepreneurs I think it’s a great way to kind of hook them in and ground them to some of these skills is to tell them and show them like this is what makes us different as people. We’re the innovators, we’re the toolmakers, we’re, this is the reason why human beings rose up and were able to build civilizations. We could live in inclement weather and make tools and cook and preserve food and it all starts with this original human invention of fire.
– You see people at the airport looking down. You see people standing at a street corner, a crosswalk, immediately like I have a free moment, I’m back into my tech. And without that here, it’s funny watching everybody right, because they don’t have that thing to reach for, and how long does it take usually when they’re doing your course? A day or two before the discomfort turns into something else?
– Yeah you know the tech cleanse aspect of any of these courses or any of these workshops I’m teaching comes into play because we bring people out here and whether they like it or not, whether they knew they were signing up for a tech cleanse, they’re getting it ’cause nothing works out here and you know you see that initial withdrawal period and there’s a few hours up to a full day, sometimes even two days, where people, they’re constantly doing the pocket check. Where’s my phone? And sometimes they even start to pull it halfway out and realize this isn’t gonna do anything out here, and they put it away and but after that day or two, initial day period, you just start to see I guess what I would call actual real human behavior. People stop and take time to actually converse with one another and look people in the eye. They take time to look around and feel the breeze on their face and the sun on their skin, and it’s a pretty magical thing.
– It’s interesting ’cause time out here is so slow and in urban environments it’s just super compressed, and the technology helps us be more efficient and you know just faster and better and better and better. But there’s a price to pay, right? And so how long, like you see people come out here and actually transform and have experiences that they take back. What do you think that is? Like what are they taking back in that time?
– It’s, you know, it’s kind of like they’re taking back a new, a new heart rate. A new pulse, they’re slowing down to the pace of nature. I can’t tell you how many times I get some sort of comment from a client or a student on the first day of a program like this and they say that was the longest day of my life!
– So you’re, you’re a superhero, but you’re also a regular dude. I mean you have a house, you drive a truck, you got a wife. You have a smartphone right? So how do you integrate and blend all this? I mean I know when you’re out here, you’re out here, but how do you walk with this path?
– I mean so you’re right. I’m just a normal guy. Like I do this, I work in the outdoors for a living, but I live in a house and have a cellphone and that’s part of running my business is I need to be online sometimes, but I think I’m lucky because I do spend so much time out here that I’ve learned to create that space in my daily life, but don’t be fooled. You have to create that space.
– Interesting, and so you give the initial experience which gives you a connection to the land and then I mean there’s parks, there’s local hikes. I mean there’s a lot of places to access this. You don’t have to go on some far off journey right?
– No, you don’t and I mean a prime example is when I was in college. I went to school in Boston, and I used to make time at least once or twice a week to get out to the Jamaica Plains Arboretum. It’s just an arboretum, you know. It’s got cement walkways, but there was nature and trees and places where I could sit on the grass and feel like a human being again. And so the opportunities are really all around us.
– You’ve come from a pedigree where you know what the cubicle farms feel like and the halogens feel like and I can tell you man, this feels so much better.
– It feels way better.
– Hey you know I think it’s a healthy dose of good medicine for all of us. You know Richard Louv talks about nature deficit disorder and it seems like we’ve all got a dose of that. So I want to thank you for being here.
– Yeah, absolutely.
– Fantastic. Great to see you as always, and thanks for doing the work that you do.
– All right, let’s face it. Our technology is here to stay. I couldn’t do what I do without that technology. Making movies, having a website, all these things keep me plugged into my world, but does my technology run my life? Or do I use it as a tool? When we first started this technology game it helped us along, and if the technology is heavier than what it does for you, it’s a problem. So what are you doing to disconnect from technology and just catch your breath in this life? That’s what The Urban Monk wants to know. Let me know what it is on social media. I want to thank our guests, it’s been an amazing show. We learned a lot, and for the urban monk in all of us, I’m Dr. Pedram Shojai I will see you soon.