RUN TO THE RHINO – Holly Foster Media

RUN TO THE RHINO

Around the time I was in high school, my two older brothers and their significant others provided me with nieces and nephews. I loved being an aunt, and have many fond memories of the times I got to spend with them. And now, all these years later, I am enjoying the privilege of being a great aunt to their children.

During a recent visit, one of my great nephews told me he was afraid of a picture I had hanging on my wall. Immediately, I recalled a story that has helped me face my fears and decided I would share it with him and his brother.

In the wild, hunting to eat is a necessity. Smaller animals, like antelopes, are the primary source of food for lions. When lions hunt they work in concert with each other. When an antelope approaches, the older and weaker lion roars, causing the antelope to turn and run in the opposite direction. What the antelope fails to realize, however, is that younger and stronger lions lay waiting in the opposite direction. The antelope would have had a better chance of survival if he had faced his fear and had the courage to “run to the roar.”

Despite my attempts to try to dissuade my nephew from his fear of the picture, he continued to bring it up.

Later that day I suggested we watch a movie, and it happens to be one of my favorites. James and the Giant Peach is a movie that was released when my daughter was a child. It’s the story of a young boy who learns to confront his fear, which manifests itself in the form of a rhinoceros.

When you’re a child, sometimes things are scary. Come to think of it, things can be scary when you’re grown up too.

One of the scary things for me is the long-term effect of how dependent I have become on technology. The separation anxiety I feel when I inadvertently leave my phone behind is a concern. Not to mention how devastating it feels when the network goes down at work or even at home. I feel the need to be connected.

When my daughter was born, the internet was still in its infancy. By the time she was in high school, it quickly became the source of great concern to many parents. Would increased screen time eat away at our children’s study time? Would our children be able to control their desire to spend inordinate amounts of time on Facebook?

Today, more than ever, we are choosing to ignore the addictive nature of the media that inhabits the phone we all carry around in our pockets.

In a recent article from The Guardian, Paul Lewis gives details of six former Silicon Valley employees of Google, Twitter, and Facebook who are shining a light on the addictive nature of our phones, social media, and the internet (2017).

One of those six is James Williams, an ex-Google strategist. In a TEDx talk Williams said: “This seems to be a crisis of design ethics; a crisis of self- regulation.” We need to “start asserting and defending our freedom of attention” (TEDx talks, 2017).

Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist at Google and founder of the Time Well Spent movement urges us to realize that technology is not neutral. It is driven by advertising, and the advertisers’ goal is “getting attention at all costs” (Cooper, 2017).

In a recent 60 Minutes episode, Anderson Cooper interviews Mr. Harris, who warns that Silicon Valley is “engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked” (Cooper, 2017).

Anderson Cooper: You call this a “race to the bottom of the brain stem. It’s a race to the most primitive emotion we have? Fear, anxiety, loneliness, all these things?

Tristan Harris: Absolutely. And that’s again because in the race for attention I have to do whatever works.

So what exactly does the brain stem do?

“It controls breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Furthermore, it controls almost all other physiological process(es) and involuntary activities without which you wouldn’t be able to survive” (Mindvalley, 2019).

“The closer the tech companies can get you to fear, anxiety, and loneliness, the closer they are to winning the race for your frequent attention” (Tabaka, 2017).

If you spend any time at all with the articles or information I have included in this blog, I’m sure you’ll feel the same sense of fear I experienced while reading them. Like the antelope (and my great nephew), there’s a big piece of me that wants to turn and run away.

While he was at Google, Harris wrote a 144-page presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.” It’s a wake-up call imploring us to recognize how apps and emails are “destroying our kids’ ability to focus.” Most importantly he observes that “humans make different decisions when we pause and consider, vs. when we react immediately” (Harris, 2013).

So instead of running away, I am choosing to do what James Williams suggests. I am choosing to assert and defend my freedom of attention.

I choose to pause and consider the importance of my precious time and how I spend it. To control the itch to constantly check for that latest e-mail, see what’s happening on Facebook, or check who has updated their Instagram post today.

I won’t abandon my digital presence, but I will run toward the roar knowing what lurks in the shadows behind me.

I will channel my attention so that I can produce “deep work” instead of chasing fleeting messages that don’t mean much in the big scheme of things.

I choose to spend more time with people rather than machines. People like my nieces and nephews. Children like my great nieces and nephews.

Children are wonderful beings. They see the world with new eyes, and there is wisdom wrapped up in the gentle way they view the world.

When my great nephews left, I wasn’t sure they got the message I was trying to send. But later that day I received a text from their dad. It was a video of my great nephew telling me to “Run to the Rhino.” He embraced both messages … the story about the lions, and the movie about James facing his fear. He made the connection. With four simple words, my nephew became a messenger with me as his sole listener. And now, I am sharing his important message with you. Run to the Rhino!

until nxt time …

References

Cooper, A. (2017). Brain Hacking [Television series episode]. In Bast, A., Campanile, G. (Producers), 60 Minutes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awAMTQZmvPE

Foer, F. (2017, September 8). Perspective | How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/how-silicon-valley-is-erasing-your-individuality/2017/09/08/a100010a-937c-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html

Harris, T. (2013). A call to minimize distraction & respect users’ attention. [Powerpoint presentation]. Retrieved from: https://www.scribd.com/document/378841682/A-Call-to-Minimize-Distraction-Respect-Users-Attention-by-Tristan-Harris

Lewis, P. (2017, October 6). “Our minds can be hijacked”: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopia

Mindvalley. (2018, December 22). Everything you need to know about brain stem function. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.mindvalley.com/brain-stem-function/

Tabaka, M. (2017, April 12) Brain Hacking: The possible cause behind your smartphone separation anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/brain-hacking-why-you-have-smartphone-separation-anxiety.html

TEDx Talks. (2017, September 12). Stand out of our light | James Williams | TEDxAthens. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaIO2UIvJ4g

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