How Modern Life Is Gnawing Away At Your Very Soul

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Published in ShortList Magazine (cover story) on 17 Nov 2017

Matt Blake on why your daily routine might be making you over-stressed and dangerously under-rested.

It’s been 10 minutes since I sat down to write this article, and already all I want to do is check my phone. I want to see if anyone important has emailed me – maybe about a job. I’d quite like to check the BBC News app, too.

I could just as easily check Twitter, of course. But then I’d have to tweet something witty about it for my followers. I’ll do that and check in an hour to see if I got any likes. I’ll just check Facebook and Instagram while I’m here, too; see if anyone’s put pictures up of the party they say they forgot to invite me to on Saturday. Bastards. Anyway, back to work. Where was I? Oh: anxiety.

Never has the human brain been so busy. In 2012, scientists at the University of Southern California released a study that revealed the average human mind receives 175 newspapers-worth of information a day, compared to just 40 in 1986. Now that figure is surely more – a blitzkrieg of facts, fake news, hearsay and jibberjabber, all masquerading as legitimate information. Cutting through the clutter is exhausting, not to mention navigating the countless platforms on which we receive it.

Then there are the hundreds of decisions we’re forced to make every day, from how to reply to a text to which sandwich to buy at lunch. “In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000,” writes neuroscientist Daniel J Levitin in his 2015 book The Organised Mind. “Yet the average person gets 80-85 per cent of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.”

Constant access to email means work never stops; we have an app for everything; technology monitors our every move, both in public and at home; social media is always on. Never has the world moved so fast.

“We consume more information in a day than a man in the Middle Ages would have known through his entire lifetime,” says Dr David Lewis, a renowned neuropsychologist, author and founder of mental health website “We’re living in an age of anxiety amid a glittering haze of information and misinformation. We are not volunteers; we are being compelled to ingest this stuff, as if we’ve fallen into a well of information and we don’t know how to get out.”

This story was originally published in ShortList Magazine. To Continue reading, click here.