In this episode, my friend Chris and I had the chance to rant about one of our favourite topics, technology and the overstimulation it creates in our mental patterns and behaviours. In specific, we dive into our view of how modern dating is impacted by smartphones, dating apps, and hookup culture, a topic we’ve recently collaborated on for a hopeful creative project. In his work life, Chris is a renowned videographer known for his work in the music industry covering events and directing music videos. Give this episode a listen to catch up on Chris’ views on all of the above topics as well as success, happiness and his personal story of career expansion in the world of cinematography.
I was recently chatting with a friend about the current state of the world. In particular, a few specific aspects of modern culture that seem to be particularly noticeable in big cities like ours. People are postponing marriage longer. People are postponing committing to a career longer. And people are postponing moving out of their parents homes longer. At this point it all feels like a pretty normal phenomenon. For the most part, millennials are holding off on the traditional lifestyle our parents grew up with. Despite the fact that this pattern is happening nearly everywhere, there’s still a very powerful and strange pressure to have your life figured out at a really young age. Sorry to the traditional narrative but we are trending in the opposite direction, and that is totally alright.
For myself personally, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to have my shit together. It’s a familiar feeling I’ve had looming over me since the end of high school. Up until just recently, it was constantly jabbing me in the side, trying to convince me to do things I knew did not feel right. It convinced me to try jobs and lifestyles that did not turn me on, and it influenced me to make a lot of decisions based on the expectations of others. The pressure to succeed and progress actually put a significant delay on my headway toward the things I knew I wanted deep down. Giving in to this pressure obstructs the natural and agile flow of our lives along their proper path, and I’m glad I learned this early on. It took me a lot of life experience to realize what this pressure was doing to my success, and my situation changed tremendously when I chose to adopt an alternate perspective.
You don’t need to have your shit figured out. You just need to be doing something.
It’s a really simple concept that carries a powerful message. We all believe we need to have our career solidified, a well established relationship and savings or a home by our mid to late twenties. We’ve been told this our entire lives, and it’s not our fault if we give into this mindset from time to time. With that being said, I believe that expectation is pretty much bullshit. You don’t need to know what will happen ten years from now, and really, you shouldn’t. Anybody who requires that kind of control to be happy is on the wrong path anyway. What you do need is purpose. You need something to work toward because that is what keeps you in gear. It’s what keeps you level headed, and its what keeps you in the present. Purpose gives your actions meaning and it will ensure that you make decisions based on your values, not desires or fears. You do not necessarily need to know where you are going, only that you are going somewhere. Every bit of progress and learning empowers you to do better at the next stage.
As many people have said before, your speed does not matter. Forward is still forward. Accepting and embracing the uncertainty of the process is a skill in and of itself. Uncertainty can be a beautiful thing.
I have always had a curious edge to my personality. Though I’ve been affirmed of this since I was a child, it was later on that I truly came to understand the presence of this trait in all areas of my worldview. This idiosyncrasy sat in the driver seat for most of my adult life, steering my world in every which direction, until at a certain point, the path became slightly more clear. My explorative nature fostered a tendency to delay aspects of life that many people deem important, though this same habit provided me with a vibrant form of clarity I may have never found elsewhere.
The self understanding that curiosity has provided for me is truly invaluable.
Taking the time to travel has humbled me. It has forced my mind wide open, throwing me beyond outer reaches of my comfort zone. Pursuing a list of passions has made me realize what personal success means for me in specific, and what genuine dedication feels like. A highly assorted work life has taught me the meaning of hustle, while demonstrating to me which kinds of duties cause me to disengage. It has shown me a new set of interests, skills, and exactly how I can shape a professional life that truly excites me. Dating has taught me which qualities and tendencies I value in others, which I do not, and how I want to act as a partner. It has shown me how to demonstrate strength for the sake of myself, for the sake of another, and how to let go of pieces that may not fit in my puzzle. Each and every one of these lessons has taught me how to move forward with courage and a ‘take action’ mindset on the leading front of my desires. All the while, utilizing careful discernment for when my gut has something important to say.
Experience truly is a moving force.
Quite recently I’ve began to recognize a set of new qualities in myself. I notice that I have come to observe and pilot my actions through new guidelines, ones that lack the ambiguous nature of my old tendencies. I see a path forward and what I would like to create, a vision I previously neglected to consider. I understand what red flags mean, while regarding the green ones with equal importance. Right now, I feel as though I am entering a stage I’ve seen many others arrive at before me, and I’m sure to see many others enter later. A stage I’m choosing to call: the crossroads of everything. It’s the point that lies at the juncture of confusion and certainty, where things suddenly begin to make some sense. I’m about to turn 27 years old, and right now, the world looks like a big ole’ oyster.
“I don’t know what my path is yet. I’m just walking on it.” — Olivia Newton-John
I remember the days when my friends and I would run home from our bus stop to continue chatting on msn. I can recall sitting at my screen, messaging friends and waiting for my crush to sign in so that just maybe, if I felt courageous that day, I could send them a little heart (before it was even called an emoji). Fast forward through myspace and dial up internet to the emergence of Facebook, and the internet was booming. Spending time cruising feeds and profiles was actually a satisfying delight, at least for me. I went online solely because it was super fun, and not for anything else.
I used to log in less than a few times a month. That same action very slowly turned into a weekly, daily, and often times, an hourly habit. When I open Facebook or Instagram now, it certainly does not feel as though it comes from the same desire as it once did. More likely, the action is sparked by a strange craving. An odd desire for validation, relevancy, and stimulation.
I talk about this topic a lot. This ongoing conversation of mine is quite likely due to one fairly simple reason: this trend scares me. I for one, can describe a noted change in the function and patterns of my mind since reaching the point where my technology use could easily be described as ‘chronic’. I am certainly more distractible than I used to be, constantly requiring a noteworthy source of stimulation to feed off. I notice the very real attachment to my phone, opening and closing apps constantly, an action that is often void of any true purpose. Of course, this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the trend is very real and I know I am far from the exception. I remember watching a Simon Sinek interview a couple years ago where he mentions that if you are spending time with real people and looking at your phone for no particularly important reason, you are not a technology user, you are a technology addict. I can admit that this action often describes myself, and this is nearly every millennial I know. We are consumed by our technology, and this is not necessarily good.
An interesting yet concerning trend I often consider is the growing propensity for young adults to suffer from depression and anxiety. This tendency seems to coincide quite well with the concurrent emergence of cell phones, social media and the internet. We could simply blame apps and cell phones, but how can we assume that these are really the source of the problem? In actuality, apps are helping us connect more than ever. A common argument is that we are inherently social creatures, and these platforms have created the ability to interact in ways our ancestors couldn’t even think of in dreams. From this perspective, it makes little sense why these apps would be the potential cause of the largest anxiety epidemic in history. On a biological level, our social behaviour is absolutely evolutionary. We require interaction. It makes us healthy, it makes us happy, and it aids our survival. Pack animals need to be able to get a long, and our minds have changed to accommodate this. However, does a text message really satisfy that biological craving for social communication? In my mind, even a phone call is pretty far off from the multi-sensory stimulation of an in person conversation. I’m willing to put money on the fact that the human subconscious would agree.
“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” ― Clay Shirky
Something interesting to consider is the drastic difference in child rearing strategies of parents who work in silicon valley and the world of tech, and parents who work in unrelated industries. Recently, the web has been littered with articles outlining this polarity in parenting styles and why it may be happening. Contrary to popular belief, tech parents are far more restrictive when it comes to their children’s time and exposure to technology than the average family. Consider the fact that this information is trending online only shortly after multiple confessions from ex Facebook executives about the platforms chilling effects on the human dopamine response. Many of these tech moguls are in fact publicly announcing their discontinued use of social media all together. With all this information coming into the public sphere, one must stop and ask the question: what exactly do these people know that we do not? I can tell you one thing for certain; they know a lot more than we do, and they are pretty freaked out.
At which point did our appreciation shift away from momentary presence, toward the endless highlight real of our own individual reality? When did we stop caring about things that actually made a difference? Things like interactions, passions, skills and learning, instead opting to share that third post about our recent snack, or the fifth snapchat of our cat. I think we sometimes forget that there are actual people out there living life so well that you never hear from them. People who don’t feel the need to post, people who don’t feel a desire to share, people who don’t login without a purpose. I’m not talking about the people who have fallen behind, I’m talking about the people who simply have different priorities. To the online world they seem irrelevant, like ghosts who have fallen off the social grid altogether, but to themselves and the people around them, they are vivid, full, and conscious. These are people who look you in the eyes when you speak to them, and listen to your words. These are people enthralled in their reality. These are people who are so unforgivably themselves that they don’t need your “likes” to feel special.
These are people worth appreciating, and this is a lifestyle worth living. It seems to me that right now we have it all backwards.
The human mind is an incredibly complex machine. Compared to our knowledge about the other functions of the human body, we have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to understanding the brain and how the world around us is constantly affecting our thoughts and behaviour. In the prehistoric era, our cognition was a tool for survival. Instinctual responses are dictated by hormones and the evolutionary psychology behind them. Each one has a designated purpose, and we are just beginning to realize the value in understanding these reasons more clearly. Brain chemistry is certainly a relatively obscure topic in the world of personal development, but the value in grasping how these primal processes affect our behaviours in a completely modern world is highly interesting and in fact important.
Dopamine is essentially the reward hormone. It is great for us in a variety of ways, the most basic of which is that it makes us feel good. It is the driving force behind our motivation to do almost everything. We feed ourselves because of dopamine, we socialize because of dopamine and we go after whatever it is that we want because of dopamine as well. It reinforces a positive feedback loop and trains our mind to identify good circumstances from the bad. In this way it is easy to see how valuable this tool was when we were still primates. While this may have been a highly advantageous trait thousands of years ago, there is a dark side to the modern sources and uses of dopamine in our lives. Dopamine is in fact highly addictive. It is the same hormone that triggers impulsive dependency upon drugs, alcohol, sex, food, or anything else. We live in a world where the use of this hormone is significantly less necessary than it was in the past, yet it seems to find a way into our lives through forceful and more frequent means than ever before. We are blasted with dopamine on a daily basis, reinforcing behaviours and thought patterns that, in actuality, may not be the best for us. In essence, we have become too smart and have outwitted the chemicals of our own mind, which struggles when adapting to conditions that were not present in ancestral times.
“A Happiness key: Maintain something to be enthusiastic about. Small/frequent goals = Dopamine hits that propel success.” – Steve Maraboli
The brain loves novelty, which in fact is the main source of this problem. We can achieve novelty at our fingertips, at any moment of any day, so we do. In fact, we cannot help this impulse, and our brain continues to tell us that we shouldn’t stop. Most of us, millennials in particular, are entirely guilty of this, but it really is not our fault. We have been force fed dopamine blasts since before we could even make rational decisions. Many millennials don’t even know what life was like before the emergence of handheld technology. I, for one, feel very fortunate to have grown up at the perfect time to have experienced the era before cell phones. With that being said, understanding how to utilize the behaviour of our mind to our advantage can be a pretty incredible tool. It is an ability that can help us become responsive in our actions, instead of playing the slave to our primal, outdated psychological processes. The research is out. Our prevailing addiction to cell phones and instant stimulation is throwing off our brain chemicals. These habits provide us with a constant series of short highs, resulting in a flat-line that is even lower than normal once our dopamine spikes come to an end. The act of simply checking an app gives us an unnatural boost that we slowly develop a reliance upon to feel good. If this isn’t obvious enough from personal experience, just take Sean Parker, a co-founder of Facebook’s word for it. Sean has come out publicly on multiple occasions to announce the dangerous implications of the feedback loop of social validation that social media is in fact strategically designed to foster.
A topic that is stamped as taboo and avoided in similar discussions is internet porn. The harsh reality is that researchers on the topic struggle to find ANY young men who haven’t had or currently do have a porn habit, so lets not pretend it isn’t a real issue. The extreme boosts of dopamine that this kind of content provides is completely unnatural and throws off the chemical balance of the brain in a scary way. Similar to social media addiction, chronic porn use is now being linked to attention disorders, low motivation, depression, anxiety, and is even being discovered to cause atrophy in certain areas of the brain including the region responsible for self-control. If that isn’t enough to scare us into reconsidering some of our bad habits, I honestly don’t know what would. There is a rapidly growing community of men and women who claim that removing porn from their lifestyle has in fact completely changed their lives, mental state, and relationships with the opposite sex for the better. This is mostly attributed to a rewiring of the mind in a way that it can utilize the surplus dopamine that would have otherwise been depleted.
It’s 2017. We are bombarded by stimulation nearly every minute of the day. Our over consumption of instant gratification and temporary validation is causing a skew in how we perceive a variety of processes that are absolutely long term in nature. Things like satisfaction with our jobs, relationships with others and the formation of lifestyles that we are uniquely happy with. Developing entities in our lives like these requires investment of time and effort, two elements that are critical to forming trust and security with people and circumstances. Regardless of what we would like to believe, all humans are primal creatures at our core. The quick fix may be fast and satisfying for a short period of time, but obviously it is not always good for us. The feedback loops inside our mind are designed to help us, and perhaps the best way to use them as a tool instead of a detriment is to understand how they work. The meta learning of understanding why our minds do what they do can go a long way toward shaping better habits and knowing which ones to avoid. In the end, I love social media and I love smart phones. We are living in the craziest time to be alive and it’s exciting. This technology is certainly able to provide us with some pretty amazing abilities, although I mostly believe in the intended purpose of it all: to connect us. Overindulgence in anything is generally not good for our mind or body, and this certainly applies to technology as well. Instead of being scared by the science on these new and surprising trends, we should embrace this knowledge as a reminder to curb habits that do not serve us any good. To consider waiting until later in the day to check our Facebook notifications instead of doing so the minute we wake up. To focus on person to person interactions instead of prioritizing our online social profiles. To take action, instead of dwelling on our lack of results. Very simple acts like these are known to be the foundation for shaping a new habit. By setting tangible goals for ourselves, we can flip the script on dopamine by using it to our advantage. When we see our end goal in the distance, every step in that direction will become a reward, with a healthy dopamine boost included. Dopamine is the reward hormone after all, and doing this allows us to harness it’s motivating potential. I personally believe that our thoughts are one of the most powerful tools we inherently possess. Understanding the little details of our mind can be a valuable insight when it comes to controlling our behaviours, actions and happiness.
If you don’t master your dopamine, it will become your master.
I truly enjoy analyzing the personal habits of myself and those around me. It’s a character trait that somehow, most of the in depth horoscopes out there seem to predict very well. I don’t do it to be judgemental, but to understand the motives, mindsets and rationalizations behind people’s actions. It is what creates most of my ideas for content and helps me to empathize and understand behaviours I see in myself and others. This past weekend I was driving on the highway with a good friend of mine when an incident occurred that sparked up a long and creative conversation that lead us onto a variety of topics. While blasting down the road far above the speed limit, we changed our lane to let a car travelling even faster pass by. For whatever reason, this lady drove past us with all kinds of fingers in the air and what lip reading told me were some pretty aggressive comments. Her scowl didn’t help. The question of how is it that any individual could be so offset over our 15 second highway interaction was mind boggling to both of us. All that anger and stress just to end up 30 feet ahead of us in traffic. While there was no way for us to know the personal situation of this woman, we both agreed that the given circumstance was likely a first world problem at best, and our chat proceeded down a similar path. It is sometimes wild to think of how much unnecessary complication we throw into our lives in the form of stress. Life is much more simple than people living in the developed world often make it out to be.
There are communities around the world where the inhabitants are poorer than we can even imagine. They live in third world circumstances where the concept of entering a “workforce” doesn’t even exist. Their version of getting a job is simply to hustle and brainstorm whatever method they can utilize over the foreseeable future to stack a few pennies. The ironic thing about this, is that these individuals are often happier than most anybody in the first world. They don’t feel pressure to live a certain way or accumulate a massive bank account. They are able to simply enjoy and appreciate whatever it is that they do have going for them. On my first big trip abroad I noticed this trend everywhere. Locals in these towns lived more simply than I had ever seen before, regardless of their financial status. Those considered “wealthy” by local standards simply had a driveway, a better lawn, or maybe a newer surfboard. They didn’t crave a luxurious home or car, because they didn’t need it. Their families were together and they lived near the beach. Those two things alone were often enough.
As young adults in the modern day, we are living out a social phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me. The complication that technology brings into our reality is still incomprehensible, but it is certainly apparent. Everywhere we look, the world is stimulating us in new and perplexing ways. Our attentions have shrunk and our addiction to the short fix is now beyond control. We are like crack addicts, except with Snapchat, Instagram, and nicer shoes. I have the same millennial ADD as the rest of us, and it gives me the creeps to realize how significantly my cell phone use can affect my mood. At times I catch myself constantly checking for any kind of notification, as if this action has become some kind of subconscious auto-response, programmed from years of time wasted on social media. Sometimes deleting apps from my phone entirely seems like the best option for breaking this pattern. These feelings and habits are based upon a literal addiction to the quick boost of dopamine received from external validation. We have come to appreciate short lasting highs as a feeling that is actually real and of substance. Hint: just like all the sugar coated content we see on our phones, it isn’t. Instant gratification is now an expectation and we are beginning to falsely attach these brief hormone spikes to our understanding of processes that are absolutely long form in nature. I am beginning to prescribe to a small belief that our subconscious obsession with stimulation is causing us to detach from the seemingly boring nature of real life progress. I may be simply imagining the thought that complacency is prevalent among millennials, but if this turns out to be true, I would put money on the fact that technological bombardment is a major variable. The thing nobody realizes about constant dopamine spikes, is that they eventually come to lower our baseline hormonal levels. A phenomenon that is now being linked to a whole host of personal and mental issues. If you have ever read into it, this is the exact argument behind the growing modern anti-porn movement.
There was a time when everything in life was a long term game. People actually migrated to countries like our own, signing their lives away to work like slaves building infrastructure and railroads. They found comfort in the thought that one day, though closely followed by death, their foot would finally be in the door. Of course this is a drastic comparison. The world has changed tremendously since times like this, but things like love, success (however you personally define it) and happiness still rarely ever happen in the short term. They are not derived from a collective series of short highs, but from long term experience and learning. Real connection with anything, or anybody takes time to develop. It is part of a process where we are constantly leveling up, learning and understanding more about these things as we go deeper. The media and advertising world has taught the public to value quick solutions in areas of our lives where they simply do not belong.
While the life throws at us are likely a lot more simple than we realize, they certainly have no quick fix. Don’t let that dopamine boost fool you.
Recently, to pass some time before the start day of a fresh work opportunity, I became an Uber drive. Ever since my initial and hesitant sign up to simply cover my expenses in the short term, I’ve realized how fun of a job it actually is. Driving Uber is a blast. It’s an incredible way to meet new people and have interesting conversations with strangers on a daily basis, especially considering the majority of riders are close to me in age. One thing I’ve noticed immediately is the somewhat hilarious tendency for people to treat their Uber drivers as if we are their therapists. For whatever reason, riders open up to us about their lives, their struggles and really, whatever is troubling them at the time. This is dependant on the rider, of course, but it does happen a lot. Last week I drove a business executive home from the city core, while simultaneously receiving an earful about the regrets of his professional and proverbial “climb to the top”. It was simple, but insightful, and I decided to put it on some paper.
It is a chronic millennial tendency to prioritize life over work in the work-life balance paradigm. Maybe it is that we are simply learning from our parents mistakes, or maybe we are just pre-conditioned to this perception from growing up in the technological era where we are constantly bombarded by imagery of “the good life”. In the end, regardless of where it has originated, this view on work-life is a common trend in the millennial mindset and it seems many people from other generations actually do appreciate the fact that we possess this perspective.
“Millennials don’t want to be managed, they like to be led, coached and mentored. This generation is on fire and ready to go. Are you ready to change the world?” – Farshad Asl
My Uber rider was established, highly paid, and powerful in his work life, but he lamented the incessant drive for material wealth he prescribed to for most of his life. It brought him no additional happiness, something he believed he would achieve with each coming promotion and raise. He outlined to me his plan to leave his company to start a unique business of his own over the coming years. His advice to me was simple and not unique, but it really was interesting hearing it first hand, instead of in some lame motivational book. “That additional money they offer you for a promotion is almost never worth the personal deficits you will suffer if you hate what you are doing. You need to find a work life and a lifestyle that engages you, or you will have a lot harder time finding satisfaction. We struggle to manage millennial employees for this exact reason, you guys don’t hope to enjoy your job, you expect to. That is something many people my age didn’t figure out until our mid life crisis”. I wrote down his statement immediately after dropping him off at his massive home in the suburbs.
It might just be me, but I feel bombarded by so much “how to be happier” type content that I honestly don’t even know what is legit anymore. What I’ve come to realize makes me happiest seems to fall into a few simple categories: Consistently striving toward personal betterment, prioritizing my passions and health, and in the long term, I believe shaping a work-life that I enjoy is imperative to all of that (or that is just my inner millennial coming out). The millennial dilemma is that we posses an overbearing expectation for instant success, in terms of happiness and career. This stuff simply doesn’t happen overnight and most of the time it requires some good old fashion hard work. Each of us figures out our needs and goals at different points in life. In my opinion, any progress is good, as long as it is happening. However, as my Uber riding friend affirmed, it is important to consider what real progress actually means for our individual situation. Is it actually getting us where we want to be going, or not.