Advance Performance | Notes On A Nervous Planet
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Notes On A Nervous Planet

Notes On A Nervous Planet

As Matt Haig explains in his new book, this is a world of nerves.

Everyone is connected on a global scale within a nanosecond, and yet we are daily battling the rise of loneliness and disconnection within our own communities and even families. Notes on a Nervous Planet explores how our addiction to modern technology increases our anxiety and directly affects our mental health.

If you have checked how many Likes on your last Tweet, Instagram post or Facebook status in the past few hours, stayed up past 1 a.m. to check your ebay bids, been concerned how you appear in a social media image, or cannot leave your phone to recharge downstairs overnight, you are very likely to relate to the topics which appear inNotes on a Nervous Planet.

The author explores the highly topical issues of the fast change of technology and social media, the constant stream of breaking news and information, and the need to meet and surpass constantly rising expectations through filtered imagery. Haig discusses how we are responding to these stimuli by our rise in anxiety, nerves, and depression.

We are encouraged and expected to be on call on demand almost 24/7. This is our societal culture, and the constant buzz of notifications, the Likes, Retweets, Shares, and Comments have become our norm. Everyone seems to be checking their phone and has their phone beside them so it is acceptable. But it is also an addiction in the same way as alcoholism, drugs, nicotine, food consumption, shopping, or gambling are addictions. It’s just a more acceptable and more prevalent addiction.

Every time we receive a notification (that buzz on your smartphone), we have a boost of dopamine. The neurotransmitter surges when we open our social media, and again with each new Like or Comment – we are anticipating and receiving a reward just like feeding another addiction. When an unforeseen benefit enters our cognitive field—and a tweet or photo goes viral—the dopamine really spikes. However, just as in any other addiction, our tolerances build and it becomes increasingly harder to receive that dopamine boost – setting off the vicious circle of continuing to pursue the rewards and improve Likes, Retweets and Shares on our social media.

What would happen if we logged out and deactivated your social media? Dry January, No Smoking Months, The Fast Diet, and Meat Free Mondays test our will power to give up an addiction and features of our lives we pursue in excess. But could we delete our social media for a whole month or even permanently?

On 9th July, a Sub-Reddit dedicated to the villain Thanos of Avengers: Infinity War obliterated half of its community. This random, historic Reddit ban, successfully deleted more than 300,000 accounts. In the words of r/ThanosDidNothingWrong, balance had been achieved. 300,000 account users had to decide whether to start again or find a new interest.

It is a sobering thought in our rising connection to our peers and strangers through an online world – through data, algorithms, and the dependence of a remote server, a remote code worker – or a hacker.

As Matt Haig explains in his new book, by becoming aware of our dependence on certain technology or social media for its “rewards” and the dopamine highs means we can change our mindset. By being aware, we can change our behaviour, become less dependent on the online world and reconnect to the real world – people, animals, and nature. It is an ongoing process for Matt himself:

I am trying to be in tune with what it is about the world that makes me feel good. This is how we can live in the present. This is how every single moment becomes a beginning. By being aware. By stripping away the stuff we don’t need and finding what our self really requires.”

  • For more information on Matt Haig, check his website.
  • And listen to this week’s Guardian Books podcast which includes an interview with Matt Haig.