Dean Adams is not a very busy man. He is twenty-nine, still lives with his parents, and works as a substitute teacher. After a day of socializing with middle schoolers, he decides to sit down and relax. He changes from his sweater into an ironic t-shirt and sweatpants, and contemplates eating something to satisfy his hunger. He walks to his kitchen and due to his lack of culinary ambition and absence of his mother, he microwaves himself a Hot Pocket.
With his zero-point-nine ounces CITATION Hot11 \l 1033 (Hot Pockets) of molten genetically modified goodness, he returns to the couch with his iPad and begins flinging Angry Birds at green pigs. Ironically for Dean, not only is he hurting his body with an easily-microwaved pocket of potential digestive problems, he is also harming his mind. Dean spends his evenings, with his iPad consuming information that is equivalent to a hot pocket;
momentarily satisfying, but without any nutrition.
The old adage “you are what you eat” also reins true on another front: your mind. We are starving our minds. When we do not fill our mind with things that make it think- it suffers. Dean doesn’t realize what he is doing to himself, yet continues to fill his stomach and mind with items that lack nutrition. Dean is just a drop in the ocean. One must understand how our mind becomes malnourished, the effects of the lack of mental nutrition and finally how to have a healthy mind-diet. But first, we must understand the similarities between our mind and our stomach.
Compare this to your stomach; if you eat junk food for thirty-three days in a row you will eventually adjust but your health will be in danger. But if you eat a variety of foods, and get your daily dose of vitamins you may feel livelier. You are what you eat. The processes of digestion and learning are one in the same, and the quality of the material
consumed is equally important. If we choose to consume intellectual Hot Pockets, we will have intellectual diarrhea. This is the issue at hand: our minds have molded to mentally digest material that lacks nutrition and fiber.
The mechanism behind this change is the theory of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the theory that the mind changes in all stages of life. Previously, only children were thought to have a mind that could be molded such that certain
habits, likes, and natures would forever be part of that child. As investigated in a January 3 2011 article in Newsweek.
Research proved that human minds are always changeable. Karl Lashley developed the theory and the coined term and the science has evolved since. Neuroplasticity simply means that our minds constantly change. Today, you are not exactly the same person you were yesterday and so-on. Lashley wrote that up to late middle age, the mind can shift wildly causing changes in all aspects of a person. We understand the statement “you are what you eat” but when talking about our minds, we are what we repeatedly do. This can be used to benefit ourselves. We can use neuroplasticity to shape ourselves into philosophers, linguists and sages. Or we can let it all fall apart.
For example, look at Dean Adams. Back in college he majored in history and challenged his mind. From the moment he graduated, his mind has slipped. Dean is not alone. We all have moments in which we are like him. But if we fall, we
will become doomed to an unfulfilling life of iPad apps, Hot Pockets and parental dependence. Just look around, it is happening quicker than we may think.
Modern popular culture is the mental equivalent of a bag of Doritos. Celebrities, sports, movies, romance novels, are all mediums that are mentally tasty, but lack any mental nutritional value. But the need for constant entertainment has become a part of our culture. We have become entranced in stuffing our faces and minds with genetically modified garbage. In a July 19, 2010 article in Psychology Today, the comparison between entertainment culture and addiction is outlined. Dr. Peter G. Stromberg writes: “I pay special attention to the emotionally powerful experiences we can have, when we become caught up in entertainment activities” (Peter G. Stromberg). Much like that a bag of Lay’s you can’t
eat just one. We are drawn in and we want to consume all of what there is to offer. We are what we eat; we are
also what we mentally consume.
Our minds will change and become unable to function. Remember neuroplasticity; neurons that fire wire together. Habits eventually become the people we are, if left unstopped. This can alter the way we perceive the world. Even to the point where we may ignore problems. In Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows: How the Internet is changing the way we Read, Think and Remember, the nature of the Internet is explained.
He writes, “The modern world’s relentless consumption of information is killing our capacity for reflection, contemplation and patience” (Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains). In essence, the internet’s existence is altering the way we think because everything is just a simple click away. When presented with a buffet of information, we will most likely choose to consume the kind that doesn’t require us to think.
The Internet is like an all you can eat buffet filled with a variety of foods that aren’t healthy at all. Perhaps the
greatest example is the growth of Google. The company constantly updates its products to be tailored for their consumers, and is meant to be as convenient as possible. With convenience, also comes laziness. We’ve all used Google’s
search-bar as spell check, and ended up with ten-thousand results for inevitable.
From there, we somehow end up on the Wikipedia page for Antarctica, and we never question how we got there. When we use it to make our lives even more convenient, we are letting ourselves ignore our minds. We need to question, “Is Google
Making us Stupid?”, as asked in an article of the same title by Nicholas Carr (Carr, The Atlantic) .
The Google-dependent become less able to focus on large amounts of text and their attention becomes easily broken. Oftentimes, it becomes another night at the digital buffet. The wealth of information makes it tempting to consume as much of it as possible, while the important thing is the quality of the information consumed. If Lady Gaga is more important to you than the socio-political ramifications of the Arab Spring, there is a problem. How can we be effective citizens? We cannot. It is unethical to become consumed in mentally digesting distractions.
Aside from being poorly informed, people who consume poor content may experience an actual medical side-effect— dementia. Lack of mental exercise and a poor mental diet aggravates the disease (Tufts). This issue affects every one of us, from the very young to the elderly, as reported in a January 2009 Tufts University publication.
Let’s face it. This issue is frightening. The worst part of it is that if we don’t act, we will lose the ability to think. Look into yourself; we are all guilty of feeding our minds with garbage. I included have wasted evenings watching gratuitous images of food on The Food Network®, and I often unnecessarily tweet puns. The understanding of the issue is a step in the right direction, accepting it isn’t. According to a May 31, 2007 article in The New York Times; the average full time worker doesn’t even start doing real work until eleven in the morning (Belkin).
That shows the extent of the problem; we have developed a culture in which it is socially acceptable to waste time at work. But when our staplers are incased in Jell-O due to a practical joke, a line is crossed. It isn’t just our office supplies trapped in a gelatinous limbo, it is our minds. If this is our minds at work, think about what our minds are at rest: ineffectual, starved and weak. Look what we have done. We must step back from our televisions, cell phones, and computers. We must rise from our sofas, recliners and spinny chairs. We must stop wasting hours of our lives on mental content that does nothing more than merely entertain.
If we do not, we are destroying the greatest gift given to humanity: our mind. As with most personal problems, the hardest part is starting. It is human nature to avoid change. If we choose to continue this, we must be willing to deal with the consequences. We must be fully cognizant of what we consume. Reversing our mental diets begins with restraining some of the poor intake first.
Rather than spending hours playing mindless games or watching Jersey Shore, pick up a book at the library. They are still there. Begin asking questions about deep concepts and try to challenge yourself mentally wherever possible. Due to the workings of neuroplasticity, every challenge we bring to our minds, shapes them for the
challenges of tomorrow. When this is achieved, not only will your mind be fit and healthy, your desire for those
mental Hot Pockets will be completely eliminated.
The proof is in the pudding. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, dementia patients who play piano, do Sudoku puzzles, and play board games show less cognitive decline than their peers. If this works for dementia patients, it will also work for you and me.
Our minds are starving from the lack of nutrition. When we consume content without any value, our minds suffer. We have discussed why this happens, the dangers of the issue, and finally how to solve it. Hope still remains, because neuroplasticity can shape our minds for the better. Returning to Dean Adams his mom decided to not purchase any more Hot Pockets due to his irritable bowel. Unfortunately, his equally dangerous addiction to Angry Birds doesn’t provide him with the same physical backlash. Dean Adams has the potential for change, just like the rest of us. If he realizes the issue at hand, he can improve his mind. All it takes is will.
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