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Opting for a low-tech holiday season

I could be wrong, but it seems that with each passing year, it becomes harder and harder for us to properly reflect on the true meaning of what that good old holiday spirit signifies. Such reflection can be essential in realigning us with our spiritual selves and is an integral component to maintaining overall wellbeing.

A sign of this disconnect can be seen in our dwindling loss of a sense of empathy. According to one study from the University of Michigan, today we care for others about 40 percent less than people in the 1980s did. In today’s digital era, from Twitter to Facebook and everything in between, rudeness has become the new normal.

The problem is that those on the receiving end can take it so personally, despite the fact that, in reality, rude attacks say far more about the sender than the receiver. “People appreciate diplomacy. People appreciate being respected and heard. That’s why rudeness has such an effect on us psychologically,” says bestselling author on the subject Danny Wallace. “We feel immediately dismissed, put-upon, disrespected … Rudeness spreads like a cold,” he adds. “Even witnessing rudeness is enough for us to become infected.”

Wallace adds that, as a threat to mental and physical health, we have yet to take rudeness seriously enough. It is a concern that the men who invented the internet 50 years ago would likely now agree with. According to a report in Fast Company magazine, they are not very pleased with their creation today.

Fifty years ago, the first permanent link between computers at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute was formed. This connection would grow into a large network of research and military computers and would later become the public internet we know today. A UCLA professor named Leonard Kleinrock developed much of the theoretical groundwork for that first digital network and forerunner to the internet.

The one thing Kleinrock says he never saw coming was the rise of social media and social networks. He told Fast Company’s Mark Sullivan that this is where many of the internet’s biggest problems have surfaced and gathered strength.

Kleinrock believes that the inherent fault of social spaces is users’ anonymity and lack of accountability. Kleinrock’s view, as expressed by Sullivan, is that “online, people make statements and take actions without having to take personal responsibility for them … They often don’t have to put their reputation on the line in the same way they might in a physical public space … Because of their anonymity and flimsy relationship to others, it’s too easy to throw rocks, or spread ideas that aren’t factual.”

Kleinrock says the internet began as largely a “one-to-many” communication platform and early on, the internet’s populist instincts were apparent. By the 2000s, it had rapidly become a “many-to-many platform,” where people could publish and curate their own content. During that development, there remained a formative spirit of self-governance. Nobody was thinking about how it could be so misused today.

What Market Watch has referred to as a “tectonic and fundamental shift taking place in the tech sector” is the development and realization of the new breed of smartphones, epitomized by Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

A nationally representative survey by Common Sense Media of smartphone use among children ages 8-18 shows that teens today spend more than 7 hours a day on these devices. “Tweens,” ages 8-12, spend nearly 5 hours a day.

As recently pointed out by Brian X. Chen of The New York Times, people are, by nature, information-seeking creatures. “When we regularly check our phones, we are snacking on information from devices that offer an all-you-can-eat buffet of information,” he says.

According to the research of Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist and co-author of the book “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” “Our information-foraging tendencies evolved from the behavior of animals foraging for food for survival … Studies have shown that our brains feel rewarded when we receive information, which drives us to seek more.” This cycle can become addictive.

There is a great deal written on the traffic toll of distracted drivers on their phones. Now add to this a new category: distracted walking. The situation has reached such a point it now has its own formal term: “twalking.” We’ve all seen it — people with their eyes glued to the screen as they walk across the street, often into traffic.

According to the National Safety Council, last year, pedestrian deaths in the United States were at their highest point since 1990, with distracted drivers and bigger vehicles as the chief culprits.

Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that evaluates tech products, tells The Times there needs to be a “broad public awareness campaign over the dangers of walking and texting in parallel with distracted driving.”

“You have distracted pedestrians and distracted drivers, so it’s the double whammy,” he said.

This holiday season, let us power down and make a commitment to take control of our personal technology rather than let it control us.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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