We live in the digital age, where everything is always on and there are more ways to connect with people than ever before, yet we feel more disconnected than ever. Why? Social bonding is a deep need for all humans–we are wired to want to belong, to connect emotionally with individuals, and

to be a part of a group. But our world today, with burgeoning social media and other digitized connections, results in a massive metamorphosis in our relationships with depressing consequences, according to Dr. Carl Marci.

Dr. Marci is a physician, scientist, entrepreneur, and author of the book, Rewired: Protecting Your Brain in the Digital Age.  He is currently the Chief Psychiatrist and Managing Director of Mental Health and Neuroscience at OM1, a health technology and data company based in Boston, MA.  He is a board-certified psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a part-time Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.  

Dr. Marci received his B.A. with honors from Columbia University, his M.A. from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and his M.D. with honors from Harvard Medical School. He completed two NIH fellowships in neuroscience and has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed science journals, holds seven patents, and gives lectures nationally and internationally. 


In Rewired, Dr. Marci talks about the importance of deep social connections and strong bonds for our well-being and how superficial online social networks drain our time and attention. We are being rewired in ways that are detrimental to our mental health and to our communities because human beings are social creatures.  We form deep connections with our children, friends, and family. We work in communities and we build societies. This fact makes it all the more important to understand how the digital age is leading to the downfall of not just individuals but contributing to the downfall of society. 

Dr. Marci and I discuss the core premise of his book, which is how the ability for us to connect with one another is being disrupted by technology. It is widely expected today that everyone will have a supercomputer in their pocket, and the ability to connect via phone, text, and social media with anyone at any time. It is difficult for anyone to survive in a world where adults are reachable 24/7, to be inundated with endless amounts of information and entertainment.  But Dr. Marci reminds us that the brains of children are even more vulnerable because they are still developing.

Brain Development and Technology

Our understanding of the developing brain influences what we, as a society, allow children and teenagers to do. Dr. Marci talks about not allowing a child to drive until age 16 and needing to pass a driving test, eye test, and cognitive test, and their insurance rates remain high after that for years until about the mid-20s when the brain finally fully matures. However, we give an 11-year-old a smartphone connected to the entire library of what’s in the world and there are no regulations, training, and no understanding of how to manage and think about that.  

“It’s a bad idea,” says Dr. Marci.  In so doing, he argues we’re exposing children to user-generated content and algorithms with the sole purpose of keeping their eyes on the screen and directing them to more videos. And it works.  But when children of any age digitally distract themselves from the activities that truly feed their brain — face-to-face interaction, exploring the real world with friends and family, receiving real-time reciprocal feedback from others – then the necessary connections needed to reach a healthy neuromaturation go missing and their brain development pays for it. Dr. Marci discusses studies that show for every hour of screen time exposure a young child from ages one to three has, their risk of ADHD at age seven goes up by 10%.  And we see rising rates of ADHD, anxiety, depression, and loneliness at every age. 

We learn to use media as a mood regulator and our attention spans are getting shorter as social media allows us to go from one titillating digital tidbit to another in rapid succession. We start to think we can multitask, putting Netflix on in the background while we complete a work task, watching a video on our phones while we sit at the park with our children, and texting while driving our cars. We run the risk of missing the consequences before it is too late.

The Illusion of Media Multitasking

According to “Multi costs of Multitasking,” a study by Mador and Wagner published in Cerebrum, in April 2019, “The scientific study of multitasking over the past few decades has revealed important principles about the operations, and processing limitations, of our minds and brains. One critical finding to emerge is that we inflate our perceived ability to multitask: there is little correlation with our actual ability. In fact, multitasking is almost always a misnomer, as the human mind and brain lack the architecture to perform two or more tasks simultaneously.” Yet we all engage in media multitasking with increasing frequency.  

The digital age is one that humans were not created to easily traverse. Information flows faster than we can process it.  There are virtually no regulations for it, wisdom is not governing it, but greed, money, and bad political actors are ascendant, which is contributing to a more polarized America. With artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, our likes and the places we visit online and offline are getting stored and used to press our hot buttons, especially with elections. Dr. Marci talks about the 3 D’s: we are more distracted, divided, and depressed.

One solution?  We need to create a common digital literacy, which includes the ability to avoid being recruited or radicalized online, to avoid the trap of misinformation and the myriad compulsion loops and superstimuli that are so pervasive in the digital age. In a world where our devices are becoming more and more powerful, digital literacy is paramount to combat the mind control that can so easily snare anyone who isn’t paying attention to the fact that social media has been weaponized. 

Lone-Actor Terrorism

It is no longer required that one attend a rally or be accosted on the street by a member of an authoritarian group. It can be done by one person on the other side of a screen. In the book Lone-Actor Terrorism: Understanding Online Indoctrination, I have a chapter in which I talk about the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control and the influence continuum to assist readers in understanding how easily undue influence can be applied by lone actors to replace the in-person recruitment and inclusion. The vulnerabilities created in the digital age make the virtual social bonds people are creating online nearly as influential and powerful as an in-person social bond when it comes to radicalizing individuals. 

These issues are explored in three excellent documentaries, “The Great Hack“, “The Social Dilemma“, and “People You May Know”, which I wrote about in my blog, Social Media, Cyber Warfare, Data Mining and AI Used to Target, Manipulate and Control People.

Rules for a Healthy Tech-Life Balance

With the infiltration of the digital age in our daily lives, how do we combat the negative effects on our social bonds and lives? In Rewired, Dr. Marci suggests 10 rules for a healthy tech-life balance, all of which are informed by the same accessible brain science presented throughout the book. The goal is to make healthier brains, and the rules include ways to stop multitasking, think before you post, and prioritize strong social bonds. The other rules are listed in Chapter 9 of his excellent book, which should be read and discussed by all of us as we are all subject to the landscape of the digital age and its many pitfalls and perils. 


For more information visit:  www.rewiredthebook.com


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