Feng Shui for the Mind is a series that exposes how tech companies exploit dopamine and variable rewards systems to influence our screen time and distort our sense of safety, plus specific steps towards autonomy, balance, and digital wellness. Part 1: Safety and Dopamine
Shelter-in-place amplifies the worry about technologies’ effects on all of us, especially children and families. This article will address resources and research for blending Digital Wellness and Feng Shui to balance work, school, and life in the age of technology.
The first step with digital wellness and feng shui is always to ask, “how do we feel?”
Are we content most of the time? In the twenty-first century, the answer is often “no.” Mental health has become a less taboo topic, technology has made us more connected than ever, but at the same time, more and more people report feeling depressed and isolated.
To reach content, we explore wants and needs. Feng Shui is very blunt and straightforward. There are remedies for all the basics “love, money, more friends.” Digital Wellness usually asks about how connected and present be well.
Usually, people want to feel “good.” Good can mean many things, but generally, people want to feel safe with themselves, safe with their thoughts, safe in their homes, and safe in the world.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be a useful psychological model for understanding digital wellness and feng shui needs. For families with children, often, the bottom tier is met simply by the habits and routines that ensure food, water, warmth, and rest for a child and themselves. Harder to regulate is the second tier, safety, especially in the digital age.
Feeling safe requires autonomy — the feeling that we govern our minds. Unfortunately, in the last few decades, our compulsion to scroll through social media or tv choices undermines our autonomy, sometimes compromising our ability to fulfill our basic physiological and safety needs. Think of staying up all night scrolling, watching tv, or playing a video game even when we know we need sleep. We know we need rest, and yet feeling like we can not motivate ourselves to do the action, even when it will serve us better in the morning. Furthermore, not being able to stop ourselves and unplug from the technological stimuli leaves up feeling out of control and unsafe.
We control how safe we feel. Luckily, since both technology companies and consumers influence technologies uses and growth, consumers can regain control of our minds.
Technologies’ early growth was motivated — like many things are — by money. To make money, technology companies learned to capture our attention and keep us hooked.
In Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked,” he discusses the science behind how companies keep us coming back for more. In “Indistractable,” he ironically presents ways to be unhooked, after realizing he was missing out on his five-year-old daughter’s life while addictively scrolling through emails and news feeds. The way Eyal puts it is in tech; it is not the best product, but the product that captures the monopoly of the mind that survives.
At first, this idea is infuriating. It often feels like someone else is supposed to stop companies from exploiting our minds for a capital gain, but the reality is that it is up to each individual to regulate themselves. One way that we can master the overwhelm and frustration with technology is to regain our autonomy.
One route to autonomy from tech is learning the evolution of technology and using it to make educated choices about how to incorporate technology into our lives.
For families, feeling safe with technology means imparting the evolution of technology to children early on so they can make choices about their tech-use fully aware of ideas like the attention economy and online-safety.
Teaching children that their time and attention is worth something, and is a valuable commodity that they get to spend both in the physical and digital world, often motivates more mindful tech use.
For older children, it may be helpful to explain the science behind how tech companies have gained a monopoly of the mind through dopamine.
Dopamine is an organic chemical of the catecholamine and phenethylamine families that functions both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. More specifically, dopamine is a chemical messenger that affects things we do and how well we do them. Dopamine encourages survival and breeding by rewarding the brain with good feelings for accomplishing necessities for survival, like finding calories and having sex. Dopamine is why our minds think a cheeseburger and fries are an excellent choice — more calories mean a higher likelihood of survival. What is important to note is that what is suitable for survival now is nothing like what was critical for our ancestors’ survival.
In the age of technology, it is essential to note that dopamine releases in anticipation of a reward i.e. the excitement for ice-cream compared to the feeling after ice-cream. Dopamine triggers a neurological reaction that provokes an action to obtain calories, sex, and success. Dopamine is not making us feel good when we have a snack, sex, or success. Our brains use dopamine to make us believe we will feel good when we see the cheeseburger or ice-cream because our ancestors needed more food to survive. The same also applies to sex; our brains release dopamine in response to sexual content because, in the past, the continuation of our species depended on having sex so our species would survive. Most of us are no longer fighting starvation or struggling to find sexual stimuli in the twenty-first century, but our brains still provoke us to actions as if we are.
In summary, thinking about how good something will make us feel is feels good. Dopamine motivates us to act, but the glitch in this physiological response is that our survival is no longer dependant upon calories and sex so that action is no longer helping us survive in the same way.
FENG SHUI FOR THE MIND
Educating ourselves about dopamine allows us to “hack” our minds, much like technological companies “hack” a computer to optimize its setting to suit their needs.
A more gentle perspective on how to shift the mind to support our goals is feng shui. Feng Shui teaches looking to patterns in nature in order to bring balance to our home, offices, and life. Feng Shui encourages shifting the environment to support our goals.
If our goal is to feel safer with ourselves and our tech (like social media, video games, and television) feng shui advises redirecting the energy away from what is zapping our energy and redirecting it towards something we can control.
In consultation, dopamine used to be a useful mechanism for survival, but in the 21st century, corporations exploit our dopamine drive to keep us engaged and attached to our screen (we will explore this more in Part 2). The first step in regaining out autonomy is knowing what we want, then learning more about the mechanisms in the way of that want, than fitting our wants fit into the tech-dependent society.
What we can control are our environments and our education. For more about specific environmental cures to enhance digital wellness, contact Nested Feng Shui. For educational remedies, continue to research dopamine and stay tuned for Feng Shui for the Mind — Part 2: Variable Rewards and Part 3: Steps For Moving Forward Fearlessly In the Digital Age.
Any thoughts on what dopamine addiction and a sense of self and personal safety means for generations born into cellphones and laptops are welcome.