It’s getting back to basics that makes it a wonderful time to appreciate the modern world we live in today, but mostly – a powerful and necessary detox for overused brains.
Getting in the mud (literally), riding a bicycle (an old one, if possible), digging in the sand with our bare hands while staring out at sea, can’t compare to the best website, movie, or video game.
Because it’s a one-way, solitary, physical action that doesn’t have any hyperlinks or scroll buttons; problems screaming for solutions, implications begging for interpretations, and questions awaiting responses.
It’s the simple act of riding – of left pedal, right pedal.
Of you in nature.
Of nature in you.
That is not to say I’d go and live in a cave, or, in an abandoned house on top of a cliff (nothing against those who do), but one of the best vitamins for our overtaxed brains – from all the multimedia and multitasking tasks in our lives – is going back to nature.
So many writers I read recently explain the usefulness of and suggest brain detox.
And they’re not offering it as in “do you take milk with your tea”, research and experiments confirm the vital necessity for us to switch off if we want to keep going on.
Overused, overtaxed, intoxicated brains.
The internet – access from smartphones, computers, tablets, and anywhere else you could think of – provides incredible quantities of content.
Content of all kinds – audio, visual, moving, still, written; one that prompts you to click, answer, play, scroll, shift, delete, peal, swipe, save, change, and again, click, click, click, scroll, scroll, scroll.
The activities that we’re prompted to exert thanks to internet are overwhelming just by trying to list them all.
From answering emails, to changing Facebook statuses, to downloading music, reading magazines and newspapers, to searching, booking, buying, selecting, watching, calling someone, it’s never ending.
One task overlaps another.
We multitask and jump from one thing to another.
A phone rings or a sound from our laptop announces an incoming email and we’ve jumped onto yet another three new tasks, abandoning the previous two.
Or, was it three?
The joggle is constant, continuous, overlapping, overwhelming, ever-changing and never-ending.
And, if your iPad and smartphone (or less smart, who cares) happen to be next to your bed at night, the multitasking, ‘surfing’, and checking stuff over the internet is likely to continue.
As Trafton and Monk say in “Task Interruptions” (questia.com), interruptions weaken our memory, scatter our thoughts, and create tension, none of which is likely to lead to acquisition of knowledge.
As Nicholas Carr, in his brilliant book “The Shallows”, says, “every time we shift our attention, our brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources”.
By the end of the day, we’re exhausted, still nervous that we may have missed on something on the Net, with no clear memory of what we were supposed to do earlier on and no clear direction of where to go next.
How is the problem any different from before the Net was born?
This is not to say that the Net is the culprit to all our shallowness or stupidity.
In fact, I don’t even think that we’re getting any more stupid than we’ve been before, if we ever were.
Or, if anyone is suspecting me of implying that.
The way there were opponents of the book at the time it went mass market, who prophesied about the dumbing of the society (because having everything in a book didn’t require societies to remember anymore; the shift from oral to written culture), the same way, there are today those, who fear that the internet will make us ever more distracted, unable to concentrate, learn in-depth, and, ultimately, develop.
Barnabe Riche, for instance, back in 1600, said that “one of the great diseases of this age is the multitude of books that doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought into the world”.
Every medium that has taken over its critical mass has also met its opponents, its Luddites, who would criticise it and presage its evil effects on society.
The difference in all of this is that the book is proving to be the lesser evil so far.
Reading a book – having no other distractions around – affects the brain in a way that we manage to learn with more depth than when we read on the internet.
In the first case, our brain is not as strained and active as in the second.
In the moment of such fairly relaxed state of our brain, the information manages to travel deeper and settle into our long-term memory.
We’re likely to come out of it not as tired, knowing that we’ve finished a whole book, and probably would have remembered quite a bit of it.
Meanwhile, the internet provides all sorts of distractions.
It engages many sensors – we navigate the mouse, read, and hear at the same time (with the book we only turn the pages).
On the Net, our brain exercises cardio blast activities.
The Net overcharges our brain’s capacity to store anything long term, exhausting us way before we’ve reached the end (if there is an end on the Net).
We’re only likely to come out of it drained, debilitated, and depleted.
And ever more curious for clicking for more.
(for a brilliant explanation on the above, read “The Shallows”!)
No other way
True, our professions may require a lot of web browsing, while constant phone calls, text messages and other digital announcements distract us in the background.
Our brains still won’t last long and function optimally, unless we find a way to cleanse ourselves of the useless trash we accumulate unintentionally or otherwise.
Dr. Larry Rosen, for example, in his book iDisorder, mentions many research experiments that prove that being in nature increases “our brain’s ability to process information”.
Most of all, cleansing our brains – and building a habit of doing that – is a good thing to teach our kids.
As Dr. Rosen explains, babies are born with neurons that lack myelin, the element required for transmission of nerve impulses between nerve cells as well as between the body and the brain.
Myelin helps fast transmission of information, 50 times faster than if it wasn’t there (as in babies, teens, and young adults).
That’s one reason why young people aren’t very good at long-term planning and taking grand life-concerning decisions.
Myelin is formed long after the teen years, sometimes even in the person’s late 20s.
For that reason, Dr. Rosen says, “the brain is even more distractible in children, teens, and young adults, which means they need more frequent brain resetting than adults”.
Finding a balance in life is such a cliche, but when I jumped on that bicycle, right behind my husband with his cool retro bike/kid carrier (see photo above), I literally surprised every single brain cell of mine (and thigh muscle, too).
Riding along the Brighton seacoast was the best brain detox I’ve ever tried.
And I’m sure my husband and kids loved it, too.
Dr. Rosen, Nicholas Karr, and so many researchers, propose similar ‘exercises’ to detox our brains.
A research was conducted with two groups of youngsters once to see how different environments influenced their learning capacities.
Both groups were given material to memorise, nothing microbiology or atomic physics, but something general knowledge.
Group 1 was then sent to a downtown area to walk about for an hour or so in the busy streets, among people, shops, noise, pollution.
Group 2 was sent to a green park, nothing but nature and its colours and sounds accompanying their idle one-hour walk.
Right after that break (downtown for Group 1 and in the green park for Group 2), both groups took a test to assess what they have learned earlier.
Group 2 got the best results.
And it wasn’t on this one occasion but several other similar research experiments have been done that led scientists to believe that we need to unload our brains – detox – before we load them with new information.
It sounds logical, general knowledge even, but how many of us really do it – how many of us go out there, with our kids, to the forest, with nothing but a bottle of water and a jacket.
No phones, no internet, no buzzing distractions.
And how many of us do that regularly?
Try it out.
Go out in the nearest forest, forested park, or something that doesn’t have wireless internet access to go with it, too many people, or even a place to sit, except for the ground.
A good reason to do it is your kids.
If not a reason, then, an excuse?