I have always enjoyed philosophical debates and pondering big problems and questions in the world. If you are ever unlucky enough to get involved in an extensive, in-depth conversation with me about anything related to finance, fitness/nutrition, physical therapy, or the current state of our society, you better watch out. Fortunately for most, this torture is usually only bestowed upon Whitney or the occasional unsuspecting patient trying to engage in casual conversation. I often find myself thinking very in-depth about broad questions, and for some reason this occurs most frequently in the gym. There is something about suffering through a grueling set of heavy deadlifts that makes me reflect not only on myself and my life but the world around me.
With all of that being said, here is what I was thinking about today through most of my workout and a topic that I have thought about extensively in the past. Why is there so much unhappiness, hatred, and violence in our world today? Although I haven’t been around a long time (I’m 27 right now), it seems to me that our society has been deteriorating in the past decade or so. I realize that there were points in time when things were probably much worse than they are now (for example the World Wars), but I feel that there has been a steady decline in happiness and an increase in violence in my lifetime. It seems like there are daily reports of some new tragedy in the world involving the deaths of multiple people. Much of this is blamed on terrorism, and probably rightfully so, but what about all of the other evil acts that seem to be commonplace? It is obvious that part of this is due to the fact that these crimes get more media attention than ever before, but I don’t think that is the full story. I find it extremely ironic that with all of the modern conveniences that we have these days, which make our lives easier, quality of life and happiness should be at all-time highs, but from my perspective that is clearly not the case.
My theory on this revolves around technology itself. I believe that technology which is made to improve our lives has actually done the opposite for many people as time has gone on. This may sound crazy to you, but hear me out. In the past, our predecessors had to constantly be working to meet their basic needs. They did not have nearly as much free time as we have today with all of our modern conveniences. This leaves us with a lot more time to think and reflect on our own lives (possibly at the gym like me J).
When I begin thinking about things like this I am always reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The two largest building blocks of his pyramid include physiological needs and safety. These are things like: food, water, clothing, shelter, etc. For most of us (living in the United States and other first world countries) these needs are met for us throughout our childhood and are relatively easy to meet in adulthood. In the past (200+ years ago) meeting these two levels of the pyramid could be very difficult and often involved significant amounts of time and effort. When those needs are met, we then move up to love/belonging. This is where I believe technology is having a detriment. I would imagine that I am in the majority when I say that face to face communication skills are fading quickly as people move toward text and social media conversations. It is not uncommon to see a family sitting at a restaurant with everyone completely quiet while looking down at their phones. This simply would not have occurred in the past. I understand that digital communication would also count as communication, but I have to believe that text messages do not create the same feeling of connection and belonging as face to face interaction. I believe that this can easily lead people (especially teenagers with raging hormones and emotions) to feel disconnected, misunderstood, and like they don’t belong. I also think that all of this is only a small piece of the puzzle.
When all of our basic needs are met and we don’t have any “real” problems (lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of clean drinking water), our insignificant problems seem to be a huge deal. I may not speak for everyone, but I know that I have gotten very frustrated due to traffic, upset because of a poor internet connection, or disheartened by a poor workout performance which puts a damper on my entire day. In the grand scheme of things, those problems are extremely insignificant, but they seem very big to us because they are at the forefront of our mind and all of our essential needs have already been met. We fall into the trap of not being able to see the big picture and how fortunate we really are for all that we have in our lives. So even though the biggest problem in our life is that our phone is slow compared to 500 years ago when the biggest problem was having not eaten for several days, we still get very stressed about these small problems. I don’t know what the solution to this is besides very frequent reminders of how fortunate we really are and taking time to stop and reflect on how insignificant our problems are in reality, but this is often neglected. But what else feeds into this?
So you might think, many of our modern conveniences have existed for several decades, so why would you claim that things suddenly have gotten worse in the past 10 years? This is very true; we have had more free time for a long time now, probably since the industrial revolution when daily tasks began getting easier. Why would there be more anger and violence now than there was 50 or 100 years ago? I think this again comes down to technology, but more specifically social media. In the past that extra time was likely spent with family, friends or learning, but now it seems that most of the extra time is squandered on useless superficial internet interactions. The amount of time wasted on social media itself is bad enough, but I believe that there is an even bigger issue with social media. For most people (myself included) social media is a highlight reel of sorts. This is not on purpose, but mostly by design. It is much more accepted and appreciated when people post positive things than when they post negative things. I frequently post pictures from weekend trips and cool places I visit, but I don’t post all of my daily inconveniences or problems. I believe this to be the case for most people. What this leads to is a news feed full of your friends’ best moments, which you then compare to your everyday life. This is not a fair comparison and leads to jealousy and feelings of inadequacy because your life is not as great as your friends’ lives seemingly are.
One more factor that I would like to mention is that with increased reliance on technology, there is a steady decline in activity levels. This leads to several movement issues that I deal with on a daily basis in the clinic, but it also leads to a decline in health and happiness from things like weight gain, minimal/no endorphin release from exercise, poor self-image, and chronic fatigue. It is no secret that the world as a whole is now faced with an obesity epidemic, and it is getting worse by the generation. Anyone that lives an active lifestyle knows how good it feels to exercise and be active not only because of the physical and health benefits but also from the sense of accomplishment. Sedentary people seem to not understand this or quickly forget this while citing the fact that they don’t have enough time to exercise, likely due to spending hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching TV.
I don’t believe that the problem is just one of the things that I mentioned but a combination of all of them. Extra free time is great if it is spent in positive ways but is extremely detrimental when spent comparing oneself to others, especially their “highlight reels.” Conveniences can be beneficial in the context of a busy, active life but are terrible when they lead to less activity and ultimately obesity and health problems. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with people but can also be a slippery slope to attention seeking behaviors, comparisons to others, and depression. With all of these things combined, I can see how people would begin to feel disconnected and not good enough, which can easily lead to lashing out at others in varying degrees.
I have a bleak vision of the future, and I can’t see things getting any better as technology continues to advance and these problems are compounded. I honestly can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel on the path that our society is on, but I desperately hope that it is there somewhere. What is your opinion on this matter? Am I completely off base with my theory? I would love to hear differing opinions on this matter!