March 7, 2020

How Culture and Our Environments Are Changing How We See Ourselves

By: Joel King

When it comes to shaping our brains, culture and our environment play big roles. In fact, it’s the ‘thinking’ in response to our environmental experiences and interaction with our world that actually shapes our brains. Have you ever found yourself looking at a magazine and accidentally thought to pinch and zoom? Have you noticed that we’ve slowly begun to outsource our brain to technology because it’s designed to make everything easier? No longer do we remember phone numbers; we’ve replaced our mental maps with GPS, Calendar alerts take the place of actually remembering where we need to be. We use a calculator now for the simplest of mathematical calculations. Technology has changed the way we do things, but it’s also changed the way we feel about ourselves.

Vulnerability is criticized in a world that teaches us to share only our best. We’ve been trained by society and the ever-evolving landscape called technology to believe that our ordinary, normal life isn’t good enough. We need to have the right filter, the right caption, the right lighting…. but this list could go on. Have you ever had “caption” brain fog? Have you had anxiety over what to say about your picture, how you can be funny or relevant? What’s going to get you the most attention? We strive for attention and we want to matter, but at what cost? Should we really care what others think about us? Has technology given us an identity crisis? Did we already struggle with an identity crisis prior to the age of social media, so now it’s just exacerbated?

I would say for most of us our past can play a major role in our identity, in our feeling of value or worth; but some may also struggle with anxiety about the future. I come from both. I’ve addressed the past, but I continue to struggle with the future. I’m future-focused and it begins to give me anxiety. The question is: how do we address this? How do we combat what society and culture have made the new normal? Research has shown that 10-year-old kids today exhibit anxiety behaviors at the same level as psychiatric patients committed in the 1950s. Has technology and a consumerist mentality caused this? I believe that it plays a role. We could discuss many different ways to address what is taking place but let’s just focus on one.

Vulnerability: Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, says: ”Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never a weakness.”

Could it be that we’ve decided to carry all the baggage from our past or carry the worry of the future for so long that it’s weighing us down?  We’ve been told to be tough, pull up our bootstraps, and don’t show weakness, but maybe that’s causing more harm than good. It’s time to be bold and share our struggles, face our fears, talk about our anxiety, address our hurts from the past so we can finally heal. It’s time to come to the table, literally, without our devices. It’s time to have conversations again with our family and friends. If neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury) has made us this way, why can’t it happen again? Be vulnerable and allow authentic conversations to help ignite transformation. The concern is that if we don’t learn how to control technology, technology will continue to control us and if that persists, we will continue to misalign our priorities, lose our grip on reality and most importantly lose our sense of value in this world. Let’s think about who we are, and who we want to be, and let that form how we use technology.

“Because what you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to. For those who give their attention to the 24-7 news cycle of outrage and anxiety and emotion-charged drama or the nonstop feed of celebrity gossip, titillation, and cultural drivel. (As if we “give” it in the first place; much of it is stolen by a clever algorithm out to monetize our precious attention.) But again: we become what we give our attention to, for better or worse.” –  The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

Here are some book recommendations to support this idea:

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

This post was written by Joel King. Joel is an associate pastor of Capital Church in Idaho. He has been married to his wife Allison for 18 years and they have 6 beautiful children together. His passions include spending time with his family, impacting people, and spending his summers backpacking in the Idaho wilderness.