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Three Myths of the Modern Age

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Three Myths of the Modern Age

Debunking three common myths will help you escape the rat race of modern life.

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We counted 21 meteors in an hour. The streaks of light were part of the annual Perseid meteor shower that my wife and I recently observed.

Sitting under the glorious night sky, I realized it had been too long since I had stared at the stars. I felt as though I was forgetting the vastness of Creation, with its innumerable orbs of light, planets and galaxies.

Just a few short minutes of silent stargazing brought me to terms with the smallness of my existence. The uninterrupted moments allowed my mind to decompress. I realized I was missing out. It felt as though I had been living one long, hectic calendar of events—with no way to stop it.

The meteor shower was a stark contrast to today’s fast-paced society. Yet it took “jumping off the treadmill” to remember how fast I was moving.

What if I had instead watched the live Internet stream of the meteoroid shower hosted by NASA? What insight would I have gained? I probably would have just become frustrated that the feed was glitchy or not in high definition.

I am not alone. The daily grind that is modern society is causing many to lose touch. Millions flit their eyes from screen to screen throughout the day—from smartphone to tablet to computer to television. We sometimes barely even stop to look at the person next to us.

We think: If only I could become more resourceful with my time. I could get more done. I could relax more. We try to multitask more efficiently, but to no avail. More tasks pile up.

A new god has emerged in the modern era: The God of Productivity. And this god requires sacrifices—time, money, family, mental energy, effort.

How has it come to this? Three dangerous but popular myths of the modern age are to blame. Here they are—debunked!

Myth 1: We Are All Busy

Late nights. Early mornings. Hair-pulling stress. Cup of coffee after endless cup of coffee. Tired and overworked, like a pinball bouncing between obstacles or a gerbil in a cage, spinning a wheel but never making any real progress.

Millions of Americans feel this way—completely overwhelmed, rushing from one activity to the next, one appointment to the next, one phone call to the next—with no breaks. Kids, school, work, meetings, lunch engagements, doctors, bills, exercise, groceries…it never ends.

You bump into a friend at the store and ask, “How are you doing?” They respond with, “Busy.” You nod and respond, “Same here. I’m slammed!” You both go your separate busy paths.

One writer summarized the situation this way (emphasis added): “The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game” (Slate).

This balance of presenting yourself in control while also “swamped” is nearly impossible. Most find themselves falling into the “crazy busy” category. They like to think they are organized, but usually portray a frenzied picture to others.

The article continues: “These are not exactly humble brags. They are more like fretful brags, and they are increasingly becoming the idiom of our age. In her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte calls this cultural epidemic the ‘overwhelm’…‘Always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door’…waking up in a 2 a.m. panic to run over the to-do list, and then summing up your life to your friends—in the two seconds you dedicate to seeing your friends—as ‘crazy all the time’ while they nod in agreement.”

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We can all relate. But what we may not realize is that, in doing so, we breed in ourselves a sense of self-importance. A busy person is an important person. Those who do not have a lot going on must not be in demand. Having time on our hands is often subconsciously looked down upon and seen as a sign that one is unsuccessful.

Many today are now even proud they are “busy” all the time. A researcher who Ms. Schulte tapped for her book examined the shift in words used in holiday cards over the decades. She found that people gradually began using words like “hectic,” “consumed,” “on the run,” “crazy” and “whirlwind” to portray their lives.

The researcher “realized that busyness of a certain kind…became a mark of social status, that somewhere in the drudgery of checklists and the crumpled heaps one could detect a hint of glamour…‘[P]eople are competing about being busy,’ Burnett realized. ‘It’s about showing status. That if you’re busy, you’re important. You’re leading a full and worthy life…’” (ibid.).

When did the feeling of being overwhelmed by all that life throws at us turn into a badge of honor?

More Leisure Time

While we all feel busy, studies of Americans’ time show we have more free time available compared to all previous generations.

A CNN article showed how much leisure time Americans truly enjoy: “It’s a common complaint: You feel like you’re working constantly, and there’s never enough time to enjoy life. But as a whole, Americans are working far less now than they did a generation ago, and have more leisure time than ever. The average work week has gone from over 38 hours in 1964 to under 34 hours in 2013—a drop of nearly 12%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics…”

“And we’re working a lot less than our grandparents, great grandparents and earlier generations. The average work week for a manufacturing employee in the 1860s was 62 hours, according to a paper from Robert Whaples, an economist at Wake Forest University.”

The research also showed that Americans have more leisure time today than compared to 1965. Fifty years ago, people had around 35 hours of extra time. The number jumped to 42 hours in 2012. For instance, the American Time Use Survey for 2015 showed that the average American spends 2.8 hours per day watching television.

So we are not nearly as busy as we think we are. But we still feel overwhelmed! What are we to do?

Experts recommend the first step is to stop saying you are busy all the time. This will slowly give you a feeling of control over your life. You will begin to feel that you are the captain of your own ship—that you can make choices about how you spend your time.

A Washington Post article offered this advice to the frantic masses: “Summing up your life as ‘busy’ doesn’t acknowledge all the good things you are doing. If you really feel like you need to sum your life up in one word, try using the words ‘active,’ ‘eventful,’ ‘involved’ or ‘lively.’ These words have a more positive [connotation] and many times it’s what you mean anyway. Before trying to figure out which responsibilities you should cut out of your life, try removing this one word [busy] from your daily conversations. It just may happen that life starts to seem a little less hectic.”

Myth 2: Multitasking Is the Key to Productivity

For decades, people have assumed that multitasking is the best way to get many things done. Hold a conversation with someone on the phone while writing an email, sipping coffee, and looking over a new report that was just handed to you. In the modern office environment, multitasking has been the expectation for years.

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Yet few stop to ask if they are actually getting more done by taking this approach. This is on top of asking if it is even possible to multitask.

Surprisingly, science reveals that our brains are unable to think about more than one thing at a time. Multitasking, therefore, is trying to do the impossible.

“I know it’s popular to think that you are multi-tasking, but the research is clear that people actually can’t multi-task…” Psychology Today reported.

“The research shows that people can attend to only one cognitive task at a time. You can only be thinking about one thing at a time. You can only be conducting one mental activity at a time. So you can be talking or you can be reading. You can be reading or you can be typing. You can be listening or you can be reading. One thing at a time.

“We fool ourselves—We are pretty good at switching back and forth quickly, so we THINK we are actually multi-tasking, but in reality we are not.”

Another article revealed this about how the brain works: “Since the 1990s, we’ve accepted multitasking without question. Virtually all of us spend part or most of our day either rapidly switching from one task to another or juggling two or more things at the same time.

“While multitasking may seem to be saving time, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are finding that it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.

“Although doing many things at the same time…can be a way of making tasks more fun and energizing, ‘you have to keep in mind that you sacrifice focus when you do this,’ said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of ‘CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!’…‘Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls’” (The New York Times).

Much time is lost when people endlessly switch between tasks. For example, it was discovered that people change tasks every 11 minutes, with it taking 25 minutes before they start working on their original project or task. Other research showed that multitasking causes a 40 percent drop in productivity!

Multitasking can also be deadly when people drive while sending text messages. Studies have also shown that even talking on a cellphone while driving has a negative impact, such as slower brake times. The article concluded with the admonition to try learning the art of singletasking. Focus on one thing at a time for maximum productivity and less stress.

Research proves multitasking is not possible. Those who try are fighting the way their brains were designed.

Myth 3: Technology Is Making Us Better

Technological advancements promise increased efficiency, more productivity, and peace of mind. Yet much has been written and debated about whether they have delivered. While technology has certainly allowed mankind to accomplish amazing things—think of medical advancements, the wonders of the Internet, vastly increased efficiencies—research reveals it comes with negative side effects in the fine print.

For instance, it can make us more distracted and destroy our ability to focus. It also offloads our memory to devices, which dulls the mind’s powerful abilities to remember information.

While it supposedly makes us more connected to one another, many, in fact, report they are more depressed and lonelier than ever through the use of social media.

An article in the British newspaper The Daily Mail revealed this stunning fact regarding smartphone use: “Researchers from the University of South Maine found that people were distracted by their mobile—even when it wasn’t in use. People who couldn’t see their phone scored 20 per cent higher in a test than those who could see it. Just the presence of a phone was found to severely limit reaction times. Lead author Professor [Bill Thornton, a social psychologist at the University of South Maine,] said such behaviour is typical of ‘behavioural addiction’ and ‘diminishes our ability to maintain attention.’”

The article strengthened the case that most are addicted to their phones and screens (emphasis added): “Students spend up to ten hours a day on their mobile phones, according to a study published in September. Some even said they feel stressed if their phone is not in sight. A team at Baylor University in Texas found that female students spent an average of ten hours a day texting, emailing and on social media while their male counterparts spent nearly eight. Lead author James Roberts said the idea of becoming addicted to using a mobile phone was ‘an increasingly realistic possibility’” (ibid.).

Many smartphone users check their phones as the first thing they do when waking up and the last thing they do before going to sleep. One study revealed that the average smartphone user checks it 150 times per day and cannot go 10 minutes without playing with the technological device.

Losing Empathy

Extreme use of technology is also causing normal social graces to be abandoned faster than old software can be replaced with updates.

I will never forget what I saw on a trip to Puerto Rico with my wife. We were dining at a restaurant on a hotel resort. Tables were filled with families and friends enjoying meals together. One table stood out. A group of 20-something young men were at a table eating and drinking.

But were they talking? No. Each used his phone throughout the entire meal and only occasionally did one of them look up at another, say a brief sentence, and then resume staring at his screen.

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I was stunned! How sad that we no longer seem to care about simply talking with one another.

A CNN article showed that an overabundance of technology even hinders young people’s ability to develop empathy: “…8- to 18-year-olds on average spend 11½ hours a day using their technology. Their brains have become ‘wired’ to use their tech gadgets effectively in order to multi-task—staying connected with friends, texting and searching online endlessly, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Many people are desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills…”

“In a 2002 study published in Brain and Cognition, Robert McGivern and co-workers found that adolescents struggle with the ability to recognize another person’s emotions. The teenage volunteers in their study had particular difficulty identifying specific emotions expressed by another person’s face.

“These young people were at an age when they are still developing the capacity for empathy, the ability to understand another person’s emotional point of view. In many ways, the young teenage brain is non-empathic.”

The piece went on to show the damaging role technology is playing in this trend.

More Negative Effects

A Business Insider article outlined more of the serious downsides to being continuously connected to devices: “We spend 13 hours a week on email and unlock our phones 110 times a day. What is that doing to our brains? The short answer is it’s making them worse, according to the Harvard Business Review and other sources. Here’s the science:

“It saps our time: Every time you get interrupted—like when your phone buzzes with a new email or your Gmail tab compels you toward the inbox—you lose 20 minutes. According to a University of California-Irvine study, that’s how long it takes to reacquaint yourself with the details of what you left.

“It makes us dumber: A psychiatrist at King’s College London University found that fussing with your email leads to a functional drop of 10 IQ points, more than smoking marijuana.”

Studies also show that students in a classroom who handwrite their notes benefit much more than those who type on a laptop. A Scientific American article reported the conclusions of the latest research. Two groups of students were tested on memory, comprehension of concepts in what they were reviewing, and their ability to summarize and condense the knowledge. What researchers found was fascinating. The students who wrote notes by hand had “a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.”

Surprisingly, the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, whose company invented the popular iPhone, put strict limits on his children’s use of technology. He told New York Times journalist Nick Bilton, “They haven’t used it [the iPad]. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

The journalist observed that a number of other business leaders in technology took a similar approach: “Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home.”

Mr. Anderson said, “…we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

So what was family life like in Steve Jobs’ “low-tech world”? Every night at dinner they spent time talking to each other, telling stories, and discussing history or life lessons.

A growing number of studies reinforce the theory that smartphones are making people dumber. We no longer have to think for ourselves, which is causing us to lose the ability to do it. Instead, we are offloading mental thought processes to computers.

People today, especially the younger generation, seem to be almost allergic to thoughts. I knew someone who was always either listening to the radio or music, working or talking on the phone. She told me she did this so she would never have to be “alone with her thoughts.”

During the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant faced a crucial decision about whether to continue pursuing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Grant had just lost a tremendous number of troops in recent battles.

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His options? Fight on or rest. He sat down and thought hard about what to do. Alone. In quiet moments. He did not turn to the Internet blogosphere to consult the pundits. He did not check his Twitter account. He did not survey the troops or take a poll. He meditated. Eventually, it was his decision to keep attacking General Lee that caused the south to later surrender and the war to be won.

Imagine the outcome if Grant had not made a regular habit of deeply contemplating his next move…

Myth 3—that technology is making us better—has been debunked. Despite technology’s many benefits, the latest research shows that overusing it has serious side effects.

With these three myths scrapped, we are now ready to examine the solution.

Way Out

My experience watching the meteor shower reminded me of a verse from the Bible recorded thousands of years ago by Israel’s King David. He once looked up at a majestic sky filled with stars, planets and galaxies and observed: “When I consider [or see] Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man, that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You visit him?” (Psa. 8:3-4).

Could David have deeply pondered life’s great questions while watching a live streaming NASA event, and simultaneously checking his email and texting a friend?

Of course not! God never meant for us to run around and serve a god of productivity while trampling social graces and losing our ability to think. Even though technology has its place in our modern age, we must learn to use it in a balanced way while never forgetting the wisdom given to us by those of past generations.

In passages unknown to most, the Bible has much to say about how people should approach their daily routines, including their work lives. Notice this about the importance of maintaining a proper schedule, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so He [God] gives His beloved sleep” (Psa. 127:2).

Even though people could think this does not apply to our society now, slaving away to achieve the maximum amount of output invariably causes one to “sit up late” and then “rise up early.”

Many try to cheat the system by scrimping on sleep. But God plainly states this “vain” pursuit leads to sorrows. The Hebrew word for “vain” brings greater meaning: “evil (as destructive), literally (ruin) or morally (especially guile); figuratively idolatry (as false, subjectively), uselessness…vain, vanity” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).

God emphasizes that He gave mankind sleep so it would be able to recuperate after a long day of work. Numerous studies and documentaries have discovered the devastating effects lack of sleep have on people’s mental and physical health.

In addition, Jesus asked His disciples, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?” (John 11:9). This rhetorical question was to make a point about productivity. There are limits to what we can accomplish in one day.

We all have a certain amount of time to get things done and Jesus knew the value in managing priorities. But many today ignore this important principle, causing needless anxiety. They stay up late and rise early, all to try to get ahead of the curve.

Christ also warned His disciples about stressful worrying in Matthew 6:34: “Take therefore no [anxious] thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Jesus understood the importance of living “in the moment” and not becoming caught up in the stresses of life.

The real casualty of the modern rat-race existence is the inability to think about the big things in life—the real purpose behind our existence. Instead, we have become too caught up in the day-to-day issues in our lives to devote time to ponder why we are here. So many have outsourced their thinking and memory to machines, external hard drives on computers or phones. Computers think for them. But we saw this comes with dangerous side effects.

In a New York Times opinion article titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” the author emphasized the importance of having time to think. After going to a private place, he wrote (emphasis added): “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done…”

Take back control of your life! Strive to lead a balanced life. Make a habit of giving yourself more time to think. Pull back from the daily grind that is the modern society. Think about what really matters in life. Take time to spend with family and friends. Enjoy meals together without allowing technology to cause interruptions. Ponder the deeper questions.

To learn about the true purpose of your life, including your incredible potential, request our free booklet Why Do You Exist?


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