by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
May is Mental Health Awareness month. In my mind, one of the major causes of mental health issues is our dependence on technology, especially social media. I'm not pointing fingers at anyone here, I'm as guilty as everyone else when it comes to social media use. However, I wanted to begin with a story about being tethered to a phone.
I used to have a job that I was on call for all of the time. It didn't matter what time of the day the phone rang or when a text came in to join another conference call, the expectation was that I was on the call. I missed a lot of my kids growing up because of this. The job took a lot of time that I should have been spending with them from me. I wasted too many years of my life on a job that was toxic because I didn't know any better or I was afraid of losing income. When I left that job and got another at in a healthy non-toxic environment, my life changed for the better. I regained a lot of time that I was then able to reinvest into repairing my relationship with my children and Freemasonry.
I went to a baseball game last weekend, and it amazed me to look around to see so many people on their phones. Now given the result of the game not being in favor of the home team, that might be the cause of it, but I challenge you to look around at any sporting event, concert, or another public gathering and count the number of people on their phone, either to record the event or just to distract themselves. Given the amount of money that tickets to either a baseball game or concert cost, don't you think that you should be putting the phone down and just enjoying the moment that you paid so much money for? Don't even get me started about Lodge. Like I said, I can't say that I'm innocent of either. I have posts of videos taken at concerts on social media, and I have taken my phone out at lodge during a stated meeting to check my email, texts, or social media. So much for leaving the profane world behind.
When I start to personally examine these behaviors, I realize something that is so hard to do at that moment. What I realize is that if I don't record the concert, somebody else is probably going to and put it on YouTube and that I should just enjoy the concert with the person or people that I'm with; because those are the moments that you can't get back. The same with the email or social media during the lodge meeting. The email, texts, and social media posts are going to be there after the meeting. But like I said, it's difficult to realize that at that moment. You probably have that feeling of ennui sneak in and you want so desperately to look at your phone even though you're really not bored. I'm having it right now, my brain is telling me to look at my phone, to check social media, and there's a conscious feeling of discomfort in my frontal lobe because I'm not doing it. It is akin to the feeling I used to get when I quit smoking cigarettes when I really wanted a cigarette and I had to power through that moment and resist the temptation.
While the American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize the condition of phone addiction, I can tell you as an ex-smoker that I personally know what the symptoms of withdrawal are from something that you are addicted to, and that I have seen the symptoms in myself and others around me when they are unable to use their phones. Am I saying that I'm addicted to my phone? No, but I am saying that I see signs that I am probably using it too much. So in order to give it a name for the purposes of the article, I am going to call it addiction.
According to the addiction center (https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/phone-addiction/) phone addiction may lead to the below (which is taken verbatim from the above site and placed in italics to denote this).
Chronic phone use can also cause other physical dysfunctions, like GABA (a neurotransmitter in the brain) dysfunction and a loss of grey matter in the brain, which are highly correlated to substance use disorders.
Chronic phone overuse is proven to change reward circuits in the brain chemically. One of the primary affected neurotransmitters is gabapentin (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that produces a calming or euphoric effect. It can even control fear and anxiety. The inhibitor plays a significant role in addiction by rewarding substance use and reinforcing addictive behaviors.
Research shows that chronic phone use can increase or decrease GABA production. Disturbances to the GABA system are proven to be a warning sign of addiction. In a study by the Radiological Society of North America, heavy phone use was linked to an upsetting ratio of GABA to other neurotransmitters. When the teen test subjects received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the disorder, their brain chemistry reverted to a non-addicted ratio.
Grey matter in the brain is connected to the part of the central nervous system responsible for enabling individuals to control movement, memory, and emotions. A recent study scanned participants’ brains with a phone addiction and discovered a change in their brain’s grey matter. According to the researchers, the physical shape and size of their brains resembled that of drug users. Grey matter volume among people addicted to their phones diminished in critical areas, a condition similarly observed in people with a substance use disorder.
It is important to note that there has also been a rise in depression and suicide among teenagers in recent years correlated to phone addiction. Adolescent girls are particularly susceptible to the risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010-2015, the suicide rate rose by 65%. At the same time, the rate of severe depression among girls increased by 58%. Many researchers believe the rise in suicides is a direct reflection of the negative effects of phone addiction.
Bro. Manly P. Hall prophetically saw the danger coming from technology in the 1960s. In his lecture, “How to Turn Off the TV in One Easy Lesson and Live Happily Ever After”. He stated when discussing watching television programming that: Nothing happens upstairs in ourselves, nothing is being developed as a factor in the growth of our own thinking. We are not thinking, actually, and if we are thinking, we aren’t doing anything about it because most of the thoughts are non-factual. So here we go, all through an entire lifetime surrounded by all types of information which we accept only through the eyes and ears and when the time comes we do very little to solve our own problems. A person whose mind is being used every day to find new values, accomplish new works, do new things that have not been done, improve the quality of living, solve the personal problems of his life – these are the things that help to exercise the mind, but to drift along from work to television to bed and then up and again the next day is not doing anything to make people, it is only continuing a humdrum which is only one step above animal existence. This means that in some respect we need creative programs. Now, a creative program is something that we do because, basically, we want to express ourselves. We do not wish merely to do what everyone else does, we want to do something that will satisfy our own inner impulses, but for the most part these impulses are not active enough to give us any positive directive. So it seems that one thing we have to do to get away from this "hypnosis of the tube" is to realize that we have faculties within ourselves that do not need to be subjected to this continual negative conditioning, that we are certainly capable of thinking rather than merely watching the antics of someone else.
In order to solve this problem and overcome the "hypnosis of the tube", He stated: Now, something has to happen to change our way of life from admiring the creations of others to the development of creative capacity in ourselves. So if we want to really have a great history, we can study our own inner lives, if we want great theatre, we can be both the audience and the cast, if we want any of the inner understandings which make for philosophy, mysticism and so forth, they are all available inside of ourselves. The only thing we have got to do is bring it out, and we bring it out by dedication, gaining strength in the inner life just as an athlete gains it by daily discipline; by the proper mental emotional disciplines we can become healthy individuals in terms of our minds, our emotions, our hearts and our jobs. These are the things we've got to work for and if it means that we must do it, we can with one quick twist of the wrist get rid of most of the corruptions of society and face the fact that these are imaginary corruptions. We’ve got plenty of real ones; we don’t have to build them up that way. What we have got to do is find out what corruptions are still lurking in us and correct them, and as soon as we correct the mistakes in ourselves, we begin to see better values in other people, because we see in others usually what we are ourselves focused upon. So, don’t let the great Big Bad Tube get you (laugh), be very careful about it and when uncertain – TURN IT OFF (big laugh), and you will find as you turn it off to do something interesting, beautiful or wonderful, you will never miss it again. You cannot turn it off successfully, however, until there is something you want to be, or something you want to do, right then and there, that is more important than the tube. If you think it out that way, I think it will all work out alright in the end.
I want you to think about what Bro. Hall says above, and how it applies to us and our work as Freemasons to turn the rough ashlar into the perfect ashlar. While he is basing his observations on the television which was the 1960s was still in its infancy, his words can be taken and applied to anything with a screen. Is it possible that the rise in mental health issues we have seen in this country is due in part to the changes that take place in our brain chemically due to a bombardment from television, video games, computers, phones? I can't answer that question as I'm not a mental health professional, but I would venture to say that it probably is a contributing factor.
What I worry about is things like how social media maybe causing our attention spans to shorten, and if we are and have unintentionally giving ourselves Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Again, I'm not a mental health professional, but continually scrolling through social media, especially platforms like Tik Tok where the maximum video time is 3 minutes has to be having an impact on us. When I put on my tinfoil hat, I often tell Midnight Freemason Senior Contributor Greg Knott my belief that Tik Tok was socially engineered by the Chinese to dumb down our population and lower our attention spans. Of course, I have no proof of this being true, and there are some really good people and Brothers to follow on Tik Tok, like my co-editor (RJ Johnson). There's also a ton of garbage on there as well, and the app is designed to allow you to scroll through the garbage to get to the good stuff or to customize your feed by only viewing the people you follow, but the point still stands that the endless scrolling through Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram, Reddit, or whatever your social media of choice is has to be having some effect. Or maybe I'm just a luddite.
What I wanted to do with this article is dispense some light and challenge the brethren that read the blog to do something radical. That challenge is to put your phone down and live happily ever after. Now given the nature of everything that our phones do for each of us in our modern society, I know it's difficult to even think about doing this, but I want you to do me a favor. I want you to look at your amount of screen time, or turn on the screen time monitoring on your device and go about your normal business for a week. Then I want you to go back and look at how much time you are spending on your phone, especially on social media. After you do this, I want you to think about that 24-inch gauge we learn about in the First Degree. Are you managing your time wisely? Are you spending too much time looking at your phone?
If you answered yes to the last question above, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to put the phone down and do something that doesn't require you to look at a screen. Yes, maybe this is hypocritical from the IT worker that is writing an article for the Midnight Freemason blog at 7:20 pm the night before it's going to go live. I've been staring at a computer screen for about 10 hours today. I get it, how can you take me seriously when I'm asking you to stop looking at your phone. I guess you can't. But maybe because you're reading this, and hopefully enjoying it, you will see I'm creating something for you to enjoy and you can give me some grace and listen to me. Look at the picture at the top of the article and do one of those instead of looking at your phone, or to spin it Masonically, pick some ritual and learn it. Replace some of that time you're spending mindlessly scrolling through your phone to improve yourself as a man and a Mason.
My point is to take care of yourself and those around you. Time is our most precious commodity and the sands in the hourglass are running. We don't know how much time we have left before we go to the lodge on high, so take the time to put your phone down more and really live life. Tell those people that you love that you love them as much as possible, and hug your kids, parents, pets, spouse or significant other as much as possible. Create opportunities to really connect with your family and friends, to have a face-to-face conversation. Declare the next family gathering you host a phone-free zone or your next family dinner. Make it a challenge or a game, and make those that look at their phone put a dollar in a jar every time they do it and donate that money to a charity. Whatever you're missing on social media, or in your email or texts will be there for you after you've lived your life unplugged for a few hours. Maybe you can turn that few hours into half a day, or maybe a whole day from time to time. Maybe you'll realize that you don't need it as much as you think you do. I want you to pay close attention to how you feel when you're away from your screen. As much as it might be hard to do at first, my guess is that it will become easier to do the more you practice doing it. I also suspect that the enjoyment of the other activities you're doing while not looking at your phone might help you to continue to do it. With practice, you might actually feel like you're living happily ever after, even if it's only for a few hours.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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