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How to Handle Information Overload and Stop Doomscrolling

Join me, Kimberly King, for a profound discussion with Dr. Henry Venter, a seasoned psychologist and esteemed professor at National University, as we tackle the pervasive issue of news overload and the compulsive habit of doomscrolling. Listen in as Dr. Venter shares his insights on how the relentless stream of information, particularly negative news, can significantly impact our mental health, leading to increased anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. We explore the cultural narrative that portrays life milestones as unattainable, fostering a sense of despair among the younger generation. Dr. Venter stresses the necessity of striking a balance in media consumption to combat the isolation and loneliness that plague our society.

Navigating the modern information landscape requires more than just awareness; it calls for intentional media engagement and critical thinking. This episode unpacks the consequences of sensationalism in political news and its role in creating an apocalyptic narrative that can weigh heavily on our mental state. Together with Dr. Venter, we dissect the decline of critical thinking in education and the media platforms' role in encouraging passive consumption over reflection. Discover strategies to set healthy boundaries with media, from creating tech-free zones to embracing analog experiences like vinyl records, as a means to disconnect from the digital chaos and foster a healthier lifestyle.

The episode culminates with an exploration of the importance of diversifying news sources, engaging in thoughtful debates, and understanding both sides of controversial topics. Hear about the profound benefits of digital detox and community engagement, as well as finding purpose through hobbies and teaching. I also share exciting details about a course I'm teaching that aims to guide individuals toward fulfillment and direction in life. Tune in for a conversation filled with practical advice on how to maintain your well-being amidst the relentless news cycle and discover enriching life experiences beyond the screen.

Show Notes

  • 0:01:36 - Managing News Overload (74 Seconds)
  • 0:04:35 - Impact of Media on Youth Hopelessness (94 Seconds)
  • 0:08:25 - News Overload and Mental Health (130 Seconds)
  • 0:14:46 - The Importance of Critical Thinking (71 Seconds)
  • 0:25:41 - Mindful Consumption of News (67 Seconds)
  • 0:30:05 - Effects of Modern Technology on Society (57 Seconds)
  • 0:35:48 - Healthy Mind Embraces Opposing Views (59 Seconds)
  • 0:41:30 - Promoting Positive Mindset Through Hobbies (129 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we are talking about how news overload and doomscrolling can negatively impact your mental health and, according to psychotherapist and coach, Tess Brigham from Very Well Mind publication, doomscrolling is mindlessly scrolling through negative news articles, social media posts and other content sharing platforms. Essentially, it's reading one negative story after another, and that is what we're going to be discussing today on today's podcast. On today's episode, we're discussing how to handle news overload and doomscrolling, and joining us is National University's program director in the Masters of Human Behavioral and Psychological Department, Dr. Henry Venter, and Dr. Venter has been with us before he obtained his doctorate at the University of Johannesburg and has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years and a professor at National University for over 18 years, and we welcome him to the podcast. Professor Dr. Venter, how are you?

0:01:29 - Dr. Henry Venter

Oh, thank you, I'm good. Thank you for having me again. It's a pleasure to be here.

0:01:35 - Kimberly King

Great. Well, we're excited to have you back on today and we're talking about, I guess, a subject near and dear to my heart, about the change of how we handle news overload. But before we get to today's subject, why don't you fill our audience in a bit about your mission and your work before we get to today's important show topic?

0:01:55 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, the program we're running, the Masters of Human Behavioral Psychology, is really dear to my heart and we majorly have the adult learner, the returning learner, that is now working in organization and then need a Master’s degree to become a manager and a supervisor, and so that really empowers them to grow in leadership and the focus there is really on leadership and what we need in this world is leadership and I would say my driving force is really to help prepare new leaders for the world that we're in.

0:02:35 - Kimberly King

Well, I love that. And, of course, yeah, leadership looks different from when we were growing up to what it looks like now, doesn't it? I think we can all agree on that. So, as we said, today we're talking about how to handle news overload and stop doomscrolling. And can you briefly explain, Dr. Venter, news overload and doomscrolling are for our listeners, who might not be familiar with these terms.

0:02:58 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, they might not be familiar with the terms, they definitely familiar with the occurrence of what's happening and that's the overwhelming amount of information flowing to us. Since we are a technological world now, with our telephones being computers and everybody maybe has an iPad or a computer, from the morning that you open up, there is just information flowing. You know, we moved away from the years where there were just a news cast in the evening on one or two channels to having it flow through social media, through different other venues, just coming at us like an avalanche, and often these news are negative, distressing. Individuals then get or exposed to these various media channels that deliver a message, and those messages is not always just humorous, the news as we have seen. This message is often driven by an agenda that wants to convince people of their opinion, and often it is negative opinion. It is world over and people get inundated by this news.

Now, doomscrolling is that compulsive behavior- instead of stepping away from that, as in the past, and say, well, that's enough, Thank you, I need a break- I think we forgot that term- and now this compulsive behavior of continuously scrolling through negative news or social media feeds, which then heightens anxiety and often leads to hopelessness.

And so what do we find? For instance, in news nowadays, young people beginning to say, well, we'll never get out of debt, we will never own a home. Because if you go back the last couple of years, what's being in the media is homes are is unaffordable, the American dream is over, we'll never… And I've seen that because, you know, in this last three years I've done homes and stuff and young people just got into that. And it's not all really true. It's not necessarily true, because there are young people are buying houses. These young people who's actually paying off their debts- But it leads to such hopelessness that that we now live in a world that that a lot of young people refer to the giving up culture which is giving up, and that comes from the doomscrolling which they can get out of, because they fell prey of just being, get hooked on the negative message and not really balance their intake.

0:05:32 - Kimberly King

Wow, and it's true, I have a 25 year old and a 22 year old they were raised with, you know, the phones and things just really are getting more doom and gloom. And also we talked a little bit about before this interview we come from a news culture, a background. I was on the air but it was interesting because I could walk away and go home and not be in the cycle of news of what we were reporting. But now, it's true, it seems to be an addiction for our young kids growing up in that, and so I think taking that break and being able to walk away from it is probably a key element. But how does, how does constant exposure to news and information, especially the negative ones, as you're talking about, affect our mental health and our wellbeing?

0:06:18 - Dr. Henry Venter

Oh, absolutely. It affects us negatively that increased stress, anxiety and the illnesses. Remember, we are living in a culture of the world, of increasing loneliness.

And in the spring of 2023, the surgeon general brought out a white, a white paper called our epidemic of loneliness in isolation, and so a lot of people are living in isolation, young people and even older people and all connection there after the world is through the social media and the platforms that they're reading, and often this is very negative because remember, for a lot of platforms, negative news sells.

You know, if you send out news that everything is okay, we're doing fine, you will find a tremendous dip in in your in, in your news, media being consumed, and it's all in the new technological world- It's all about clicks, it's all about engaging. You don't want the customer to go away, Because the more they get engaged, the more they dare, the more you can sell advertising and make money, and so this leads to incredible increase in stress, anxiety and the sense of hopelessness, because a lot of this consumption is now not taking place in a community that surrounds you that can help you think differently.

We have the problem of isolation. In the biggest cities in the world, young people are the most isolated than ever before. So we have this tremendous increase in in mental health problems in any case, and so this overconsumption of negative news is definitely not helping, and it is just heightening stress and anxiety, and often it is, it is exacerbating existing mental health conditions, which is why you find young people that will often become completely devastated by the news that comes in and often lead to self injury, self harm, and so it is a tremendous problem if you connect it to the isolation that young people are experiencing.

0:08:23 - Kimberly King

Such a shame. It's such a different world. You know we would go out and play and you know didn't? We weren't tied to our cell phones. And you know, and even coming from the news business, we always say if it bleeds, it leads, which is just what you're saying with. You know, negative news cells in that cycle. Can you talk about what are the common signs that someone may be experiencing news overload or engaging in doomscrolling?

0:08:47 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, the, as we said, increased anxiety, irritability, difficulty, concentrating on something else they can't, you know, stop engaging socially because they just want to engage with the, with the, with the pattern of the news that they're receiving or whatever is happening… A constant need to check the news feeds or the social platform, and then it goes with this um pattern of what they call FOMO, fear of missing out, and so the, the, so it does lead to the, to the, to the deterioration of the social context, because, even if they go out, you'll notice young people and even older people sitting in a restaurant nowadays will be on their phones checking what are they checking?

And a lot of young people will report that they go to bed with their phone checking until they fall asleep and the first thing they do is check. So you find that, that inability to disengage with that, and then that that constant hook into, I need more of that. I need more of that. So this I think if the major danger is the withdrawal from normal social interaction, and this, of course, then leads to a lot of stress and fatigue, because consuming so much media until so late leads to poor sleeping pattern and so fatigue leads to poor concentration and overall to poor performance. So it is a it is a very negative cycle.

0:10:21 - Kimberly King

It is. I mean, I do think about the lack of sleep and stress. Those are that causes stress and just that distraction and the inability to focus. You mentioned FOMO. All of the above, I mean we see it happening in real time. Can you discuss the factors or the types of news that are most likely to contribute to information overload or induce doom-scrolling habits?

0:10:45 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, especially with crisis, disasters or sensationalized events, one thing will happen and it will just be. You'll be inundated, not just by what happened, by opinions about it and then calls to action. So you're beginning to feel this need to do something about something that you cannot really do anything about. If you talk about one example is climate change, there's not that much that a person can do on the bigger scale of things, but often you begin to feel I should do something. You become anxious because you feel the world is going to be done tomorrow, but in actual fact, there's not that much you can do other than your normal things. So that leads to some of these topics really get incredibly sensationalized.

Politics, of course, is one. We’re going into the next cycle of elections and that gets so overblown and there's so much negative news coming through that there is a tremendous overload of this is not just say, for instance, an election. This is the end of the world, and I've noticed that the terminology that it's the end of this, the end of that, and you're thinking, well, how can it be the end of that? The worst thing that can be is that, all right, this person comes in a couple of years, we can vote for somebody else. But you'll listen to the terminology and even before we talked about this topic for this podcast, I was noticing the top. It's in the politics. Politics, it's the end of this. This is going to be over. Vote for this person and everything is over Right Now.

It may be true not to vote for that person, it's not a good idea, but is it really everything over? Is it really the end of the world? But so you pick that up and go. Well, ok, this is, let me see if this becomes the key words for the future. And yes, you could see how, month on month, it becomes, a playbook, in other words.

And if you cannot step away from that and say, wait a moment, nothing, nothing is, then we've been in this country for years and years and go. And politics has always been a problem since the founding fathers said it was, it was founded with. The founding fathers have a problem with England and we still you know nothing is over. But you're a young person that listens to this. You begin well, I need to do something, it's over, and that it wants to tell people to do something. But when you can’t do something, you fall into hopelessness. So the sensationalizing of any event, becomes, becomes a huge problem, and that seems to be the going right now.

0:13:43 - Kimberly King

And it just it makes me feel like you're right, all of this sensationalism, it is crazy and people are feeding off of that, but also the lack of critical thinking skills that are not employed into our kids education any longer, being able to answer on both sides and actually not be canceled because you're having a conversation. Those skills are lacking, aren't they?

0:14:05 - Dr. Henry Venter

That's right. The, in fact the, these platforms don't want you to stop and think. They just want you to consume, right, lose you to go somewhere else. Because it's all about numbers. This push to- I need, we need numbers because, as we said, numbers helps them to sell advertising and, as you've seen, one of these new streaming platforms are all moving to advertising where we started always moving away from advertising and a lot of people bought into it.

Now it's moving to advertising because that's where the money is. They don't want you to stop and think, because to stop and to step away you're going to take time to think, and that's what they want you literally connected to the host all the time. And, yes, we need, we need strategies to step away, to think, to engage with other people, to get an opinion, because get another opinion is is the way that you can kind of figure out your own opinion. We are living in a world where that, that step, the push is to take that step away from us and to tell us you know, this is what you should think and that's that's all you need to do.

And in the corner and it seems that it's successful because they're, you're right, there seems to be a lack of just own critical thinking of where, of maybe, the, maybe the class they are advocating is correct, but the way they're advocating is consuming me I need to step away from because I can't. That cannot be my life completely. I need to. But that critical thinking is that that you know, it's seemingly the pushes to take that step away from me.

0:15:48 - Kimberly King

Right, I mean, how boring would it be if we were all the same and thought the same way and acted the same way? I mean, that's what makes this world go round. Is our, you know, being different? What strategies can individuals employ to set healthy boundaries when it comes to consuming news and information?

0:16:06 - Dr. Henry Venter

Well, the first one is to become aware. You can never make a change if you don't become aware. You know the word that uses mindfulness. With mindfulness, just speak just means, in basic English, become aware. Become aware that this is unhealthy, that you, that you, you know you go to sleep with your phone and the reading stuff and you wake up and you start doing it right from the start. So become aware and then you need to set up really sometimes like designate specific times limiting daily exposure. Also, you know, turning off some of these push notifications. Because I mean, yesterday I was asked again do you want us to send this to you or to your, to your, uh, your telephone every day? I said, why would I want this every day? I'm like, well, it's actually, if you don't push the button no, then that's going to be sent to your phone and the light up every day.

Um so, but we need to begin to think about creating tech free zones. You know like you go, you know the old idea of a, you know to take a bath and you've got candles and a tech free zone. We didn't even go back to that kind of basics in my room. I need to create a little bit of a tech free zone and says a tech free moment where, um, you know, initially what became or what made the internet very popular was streaming music, and now we have moved away. The most popular channels are not streaming music, and it is.

It is channels that pushes just the news and and ideas and uh videos, and sometimes we need to move away from that and just say, uh, let's play music again, which, by the way, why the, the - A lot of younger people are getting into vinyl records.

0:17:50 - Kimberly King

Oh yeah.

0:17:51 - Dr. Henry Venter

And just it's amazing how many people. Because I could just switch everything off and put my vinyl record on and there's no interruption. It's just me and I need to wonder why. And then I realized it's because of this. It creates a tech free zone where I can just listen to my music, I'm not interrupted by this or by that, where I can just not think about all of these things. Um, and then, of course, you need to begin to, to, to, to think about uh, not uh, signing into all these channels, um, which is important. I think just creating a tech free zone is a start to realize I, I need to have a more balanced life because, uh, I'm, I'm becoming addicted. You know an addiction, remember. The sign for addiction is that I cannot stop when I try to.

I'm unable to stop. A lot of people say, well, I'm not addicted to my phone, I don't know. I said, okay, try and not do that next seven days, and then they find out I cannot. And then the other side of course, is increased use. That's the two hallmarks of addiction, and so a lot of people need to become aware I have to say -not just young people, older people also, need to become aware that we are addicted to this news channel Sending news to us, negative news, and do we're addicted we need to break it now and create that free zone for us.

0:19:11 - Kimberly King

And actually, as you said, say it out loud and own up to it. And it's not necessarily the faults that we have it, but it's the way that it has been designed so that they reel us in, and then it's tough to put it down. And so, you're right, it's recognizing that addiction. How can people be more intentional about the sources and types of news they consume to avoid being overwhelmed?

0:19:42 - Dr. Henry Venter

Absolutely. We need to begin to think that not everything you hear is true. That's just one thing that people need to begin to understand. People will tell somebody else something as truth which they only heard from one outlet. So you know that's true? And now they have a lot of these fact-checkers…Although now we have found a lot of the fact-checking organizations belong to a group that pushing certain media it's like this is, it should be an independent organization, you know, do that.

But there are some fact-checking that you can do and it's amazing if you do that, you find out a lot of what you read is really not actually the case or it's completely presented differently. But diversity, the diversifying your sources, is very important. Not just have one source of of your inlet, but some more diversifying that you that you hear different opinions, then you've got a chain. Reliability is this a channel that you, that you are a platform that you can trust and and ask a bit of questions and get to more reputable outlets and it’s very important. That comes to that critical thinking. Do I, you know- Can I take that step to begin to question what I'm hearing?

So we're going to hear that. I've a problem. This, I think, the second question to ask myself is can I trust my outlets? Will be that next, and then the third would be what do I do about it? So, in the truth is, yes, you, you cannot trust everything, but sometimes you can trust him, but it's just too much. It is just like the firehouse blasting at you that someone's here. All right, all right, you know, you know that's your life. But I can't make in my life. I need to put up. I need to become more intentional. I think you use the word in your question, intentional. You gotta be intentional. Intentional means I decide, and that's what we bring back. I need to decide what I do with this. What am I here, what do I listen to, and when, where and how I do it.

0:21:47 - Kimberly King

Love that. This is such great information and I think everybody needs to hear this interview, but we need to take a quick break. Stay with us - more in just a moment, don't go away. And now back to our interview with National University's Dr. Henry Venter, and we're discussing how to handle news overload and stop doomscrolling. And this has been so interesting. And, Dr., what ways can improving media literacy skills help individuals navigate news overload and distinguish between reliable and sensationalized information?

0:22:25 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, we refer to that earlier, to critical thinking, and you know we need to become more critical of what we are listening to, what we are consuming and try to just understand the context and potential biases of some of the content. If we don't think about what's happening now, a lot of people are happy they chose that content, but even, as I mentioned, for sometimes even that is too much. But we need to go back to make more informed decisions when we what we consume. Like years ago, we started with food. Now we need to put on food and I think Michelle Obama, her platform was in when the presidency was pushing that all the food must clearly be labeled what's in it and what in- you know, because they hid that from us and that was very, very successful to make informed choices about no fat it. Look, you know, look at the, the salt and the sodium in this thing. And look at this added sugar. Why is there 20% added sugar in this thing? It doesn't even need sugar. That has to been tremendous to help people want to eat healthy. Making informed choices. Now it seems to be nobody's gonna help people to make informed choices. We will need to begin to think for ourselves if you want to break this pattern, think what am I doing, what am I listening to and what's the bias of that and what is good for me and what is not good for me. You know if I start thinking about well, you know, too much cholesterol is bad for me, too much sugar is bad for me. We need, because that's my health.

This is also health, because, remember, stress, this creates stress. Stress creates cortisol. Cortisol if it's your insulin, which means you are not gonna burn fat, which means you are just gonna become much more unhealthy, you're more susceptible to infections. So this is as important as the foods, this and people. When people begin to see this. This directly affects my physical health, because stress is directly if connected to your physical health.

That's why a lot of people said I started eating better but I'm still not healthy. It's a yes, your stress is still there. Remember, about two hours after you wake up, your body starts producing cortisol in any case, and that cortisol has to be worked away. But if you wake up and you take a phone, you start reading and you look at this stress stuff, you immediately start securing extra cortisol, which means now you just got an overload, which is why, when you go back to the doctor it says well, you know, all the accounts of everything is still up, you're in bad shape, you're not healthy and it's stress. Yes, but yeah, our physical health is not just connected to what we eat. It is connected to what we consume with our mind as well, and how we handle stress.

0:25:15 - Kimberly King

That's such a really good point, and I think the younger generation you know we, we all, are guilty of that. We feel invincible and so to hear that from them they're like I can get over that. But it is so key that stress really does play and and sleep. You know, deprivation, that all plays such a key role in those cortisol levels. So I feel like that's the message that needs to continue, not all of this sensationalism.

Are there are there practices or techniques that promote mindful consumption of news, allowing Individuals to stay informed without being overwhelmed?

0:25:51 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, absolutely. It goes back to them becoming mindful or becoming aware of what's happening with my life. Overall, one has to decide to live a healthier life and make this decision that what I'm doing here is not healthy for me. So how do we get young people to understand this is we need a lot of social programs to educate about this is not healthy for you. This can. This can isolate you and, and you know, remember a room used to be a safe space for analysts. They would go to the room and they would shut the door, as my little room I mean here. Well, now they carrying their phone within this is actually carrying the whole world with them in Everything that outside. There is no safe space unless a person decides I need to create a better world, I need to become healthier, I need to create a safer space, a healthier space to me by setting limits, by switching things off. Because, you know all these things by the way, has this one magical thing? It's called the off button. There is a. You can do this, just an experiment for yourself.

Ask some people when is the last time that they switch the phone off. You will be amazed. And then I tell you, why would I switch my phone when there's last time you restarted your phone? It's amazing that some people - because the new phones are made you know very well the battery lasts a long time just a little charge here and there they do not switch, and literally do not switch it off.

So you need to- We need to see it, and then engage in balance. What balance means if you don't get one, oh, I want to wait on this side. We need a weight on this side. So, okay, you have a lot of this consumption here, and it is necessary. You need to educate yourself. We want to know what's going on the world, but balance it with healthier stuff, such as this. Last time that you just read or listen to music, what? What is your other hobby? Do you have any other hobby that you engage in that you can go to and that that can take up? Because, movement activity is very important because it helps breathing and how's body movement? When is the last time that I did so? Once you've decided be healthy, you need to begin to balance it with. I need to do other things that can balance out the effect of all of the media consumption. So it comes with that decision.

0:28:16 - Kimberly King

That's great and that is true. You know, I meant to tell you I love your analogy of the the vinyl so records because there are no commercial interruptions. Both my brothers have an extensive vinyl collection and they're always saying come over, and I realize that now that's probably a huge part of it, just being able to relax and listen to the music and not be interrupted. I love that.

0:28:37 - Dr. Henry Venter

That's the people who started realizing that. All because they took. There was a time where you had your music separately on you and your iPod. You never remember the time of the iPod. Or the walk-on yeah music is now on your phone, because it's all here that you don't get away from your phone, and so while you listen to music and check that, all the other stuff is there.

I think, that the, the push to go back to something I can own, that I can switch everything off and just, is where the vinyl comes in, because this is a worldwide, that this is happening. Initially, as I said, I didn't understand what's behind it, but as we started delving into these topics, we begin to see a lot of people are looking on how can I just get away from all of this? Because even you know, if I just want to listen to music in my dining room upstairs, then I've got a switch on television. There's this whole menu that comes up of everything and stuff they throw out, because you can't just buy a television that is just. Yeah, there is an operating system either Google by some that throws up a whole menu for you there. So then I'm gonna go where's my? I just want my music, I just I licked my music, and so we, we, a lot of people.

The other day somebody said I wish somebody can invent a phone that you can put against the wall. Yeah, yeah, you know. We took the phone off the wall and made a cell. I hate carrying this around. We, a lot of us, are realizing that what we had, but in the in, before all the modern technology was actually a little bit much more healthy. You know you could leave your house and not have a not have that phone tied to you.

And answering machine. They can just call the answering machine. Right, I'm gonna go shopping now. People go shopping while they consume stuff on their. The other day I saw the most funniest thing on- This guy takes a look at some of these videos people make that they put it on social media platforms and he says look at this, this person is shopping and she's videotaping herself saying, well, not much is happening. I'm shopping and she puts it on on a social media platform. Why would you- just go shopping?

0:30:54 - Kimberly King

Who cares? Right, exactly, just go do you, and then yeah.

0:31:02 - Dr. Henry Venter

I'm just chopped without consuming and producing. Now a lot of us are beginning to realize that we need, we desire to go back to a world of boundaries because that, although it was not asked, technologically advanced had inbuilt boundaries that made it healthier for us, that you had a sweet job and, yeah, you guys remember, this time you could leave work and it's nothing you could do until tomorrow was at work, right I'll find out what tomorrow morning now.

There's something in the time that you drive from work to home there's about 20 emails that can come in your whole. A whole new work day on your way home.

0:31:37 - Kimberly King

Right, no, that's so true. And I, you know, there are some people I mean, we all take it home with us with our phones and everything but I do appreciate the people that will spell that out where they'll say sorry I'm, I won't look at my emails again until tomorrow morning after nine, you know, and they, they just put that boundary up, but you, I mean-

0:31:59 - Dr. Henry Venter

That is a trend that's now happening at the University as well. We all made a commitment not to start emailing each other on a weekend anymore Before we start emailing and carrying on, Just because we really realize we need boundaries.

0:32:13 - Kimberly King

Right. Yeah, that is such a key point and I'm glad you are talking about that, I'm glad you've adopted that and, yeah, there's so, so much we can learn from the way we grew up with the phone on the wall and you can't go take it outside with you. How, how important is it for individuals to diversify their news sources and seek a balanced perspective, and what benefits does this bring in managing information overload?

0:32:38 - Dr. Henry Venter

Well, it's key, you know you can. If you are gonna buy just into one opinion, well, you got to become, you know, a one opinionated person. Which one opinionated person is somebody that cannot have a conversation with somebody else. The moment conversation with somebody else that differs from them. They're gonna shut them down.

They're gonna cut them out, which means it stops growth. It stops development, because development is sometimes talking to somebody with a complete other opinion and you listen to the person and you're not arguing, you're not, you're just Talking and as you, you can then learn from each other. That process is in, that phenomena, is really getting lost now, and so you will therefore just become what we call lower differentiated. The idea with growth is that you become higher differentiated. That's the that is the hallmark of the human being. We can differentiate higher.

While animals stay at one level, they’re programmed to stay there. You know, the ants don’t evolve and suddenly bull the high rise in the back of your garden. They'll dig a hole and make the nest underground normally, unless you have those that do both high rises up way in Africa places. But the way they do it is the way they'll always do it. And but humans can differentiate more highly. What we are finding? If you are just gonna use one source and just stay with that, you'll become lower differentiated. You will become more intolerable, and haven't we noticed that we live in a world that's intolerable. What we don't like, we want to cancel, we want to get rid of.

We see that yeah and that is there. That is the result of being just connected to one source and not wanting to listen to something else. So anything else then becomes threatening, it creates dissidents, and the way to then get away from dissidents is that you vilify the other party. So not only do I not want to listen to you, I shouldn't listen to you, because it is immoral to listen to you, and you should just be, be quieted, and canceled, and so we then become a much more unhealthy, unsafe environment. So, in the guise of creating in a more safer environment, we can actually create a much more dangerous and toxic environment where there is no tolerance. And tolerance is the only way to get along, because nowhere in history has anybody been the same and nowhere in the future is anybody going to be the same. People are going to be different. That's been since the dawning of ages, and the only way to get along is tolerance.

What have we lost in the world? Tolerance, which is why we have wars again, and all of that that you would think how is this even possible? - intolerance. And it starts off with I only have one avenue of getting my information and that shapes me, that forms me, and I'm not getting developed into any other areas. Now, listening to other opinions doesn't mean you need to take on their opinions. It's just healthy. The hallmark of health is to be able to keep two opposing views in your mind without losing your mind. That's the hallmark of health, of mental health, and what we find now is we live in a world where people cannot do that. There's only one way of thinking, and it's actually a sign of poor mental health.

0:36:10 - Kimberly King

Boy, that should be a headline somewhere right there, what you just said, because it sounds so practical. But again, I think the world wants us to have poor mental health because there's a lot of money in there, right? But what does that look like? And it's being able to and I've used this analogy before too, when I was a communications major and we would come in. This was before our cell phones, so we couldn't look it up on Google, but we had to come prepared to argue on both sides. And that is a healthy. I learned that growing up and I try to teach my kids that but being able to just be tolerant, as you say, to both opposing views.

0:36:49 - Dr. Henry Venter

One of the assignments in my Master's degree program in one of the classes is write- We take very controversial topics and say write an essay with and argue both opposing views. It's one of the most difficult assignments for people to do because, very briefly.

They go to one and we say no, and they have to put in a draft so that we can help them say no, no, because we know it's gonna happen. So now you need to get to the other side. Go read about the other side, understand it. Invariably they will start off. If they go to the other side, it will be why the other side's wrong. They'd no, no, we don't want to know that. We need to argue. What is the validity of the other side? And yes, that is what the problem is. That makes you an informed consumer. What is that? You know what the media wants is not an informed consumer, because then you will not switch. In the old days we talked about switch the channel. Now we talk about you know you will not unsubscribe or you won't go to another platform, you'll just stay here. So, and therefore the push is not get them too informed.

And that is a danger for us, it's a danger for society as a whole.

0:38:05 - Kimberly King

It becomes utopian right right. Can you share some effective digital detox strategies that people can incorporate into their routine to break this cycle of constant news checking?

0:38:16 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, detox is not easy. It's again, as you said earlier, you got to become aware of.

I addicted to this and I am unhealthy. I'm an unhealthy consumer. I get too much of this and here are my signs. But the and I need to begin to create a healthier world. So you need to then switch off for a time. It's a hard thing. Need to go without that. Where there is at least zones where I'm not gonna do that, at least with sleep, is to say no, I'm not gonna. Now the sleeping. We started it years ago when television came out. You know, eventually had one television, that big box in the room, and then in the living room, and then every room had had the television.

So we started this pattern of invading the room a long time ago and I think that's where I need to start. You need to at least create one room where there where, if I go there and I go to bed, I'm not gonna have this, I'm not gonna have all this tech. I need to find a way to fall asleep without all of that and then need to say I need to do other things, establishing the daily or weekly limits on some screen time. I mean, you take about the whole thing of binging stuff. People will binge the whole week and to notice that and say no, I'm gonna set times where I watch TV and then I'm gonna do something else and consume my media and I'm gonna. So it's very hard for people to do that, but you can set up a time limit for yourself initially and it's just gonna be hard for two weeks to do.

You can break any habit in two weeks. But detox is not just about stopping one thing. The worst thing to stop any of, to extinguish any behavior is just stopping it. You gotta stop one thing and replace it with something else. So, whatever, if you say I'm gonna take, three is only a room, or at least I can have music in there, because I can't just sit there with nothing. So what am I gonna do? If I'm not gonna binge, what am I gonna do? I'm gonna take a walk, I'm gonna go to a park, I'm gonna call a friend. Are we gonna go out and do something.

You always have to balance the one behavior you wanna extinguish with another behavior. Otherwise you'll just sit there and you'll become more frantic, and I don't have that. So always remember, if you take one thing away, what are you gonna do in the place of that? But if I don't do this, then I'm gonna do this. And if you balance that out and say you know what I'm gonna do this weird thing, I'm gonna go to the gym. Perhaps I have the gym members you might pay for, but you can not even spend money. You can just take a walk. You're looking. If you wanna use tech, go on your phone and look at what's the parks in my neighborhood, that I can take walks and just say I'm just gonna take a walk and switch the phone off or carry it with me because, remember, the phone is also a safety mechanism. We know that there are great things about phones. So it's the phone is not our problem. We are the problem, you know, because we need to make the decision. But I can put in the silent and take a walk, I gotta. But if you wanna detox, you gotta replace one negative behavior with something else and that'll make it easy for you to begin to replace that behavior.

0:41:28 - Kimberly King

That's great advice. Are there alternative habits or activities that individuals can engage in to replace doom scrolling and promote a more positive mindset? I know you just kind of came up with some of those that you don't have to pay for necessarily, but a little further, I think healthy things.

0:41:45 - Dr. Henry Venter

That is really going back to hobbies. Yeah, one of the things we find that just with young people and old people that is one of the healthiest things to do is a hobby. This way to get away from all of this is just to find a hobby, something you do that takes up your time and takes you away from all of this. I think one of these actors I'm not sure his name, Bloomberg, and I apologize to every young person who's a fan of the person act and remember his name, but I think I read an article last week just glimpsed at it that he with his child build Lego's in the evening.

0:42:25 - Kimberly King

Oh, that's a good idea.

0:42:27 - Dr. Henry Venter

My idea is you know, that is something that I already realized. We're not going to sit all the time. Get a hobby, a personal hobby. Go back and learn something like just painting or music. Pursue something you can do, because the easiest way to get your mind away from I need all of that is by occupying your mind with something. Just by doing something. Painting something, renovating a chair or a table, taking up some art is the easiest way, but the most healthiest way, because you'll go and instead of switching on all these things, you'll go home and you'll go do that for an hour or two and time will just get away from it. You're done and you haven't even thought about all of that. So I think that's very important because a lot of the media consumption has taken over our times that people normally had hobbies and you see a lot of these hobby stores disappearing…

Very important, go back to things such as basic reading and just moving, exercising, very important. And then, lastly, is that engage, the social interact go back to- At least once a week, I want to go and visit and connect physically with a friend, sit down with them and talk to them, not just check their status. What is that? Years ago, we'd get a telephone call from somebody and say hey, Mike, I just want to check your status, you're okay, thank you, bye, we would have a conversation. We'll talk hey, what are you doing? Yeah, I'm doing this. Now. Email, even went away because we just take each other's statuses. Mike's alive? Well, it may be because you can actually be deceased and your social media platform just keeps you alive.

0:44:18 - Kimberly King

Keeps going, doesn't it?

0:44:21 - Dr. Henry Venter

And so you can check somebody's status. Well, he didn't have time to update his status because he actually passed away. He couldn't update it. His status is okay, but it's not.

0:44:30 - Kimberly King

Who are you really talking to? (Laughter.)

0:44:33 - Dr. Henry Venter

What if we talk to him about it? But that's how to have some of the social interaction of a lot of people and as we talk about it you realize how unhealthy this is. It’s like don't check his status as texting and say can we go and have coffee somewhere? Just talk a little bit.

0:44:51 - Kimberly King

That's a good point and it really does get back to even I love getting personalized cards or little notes in the mail or what. I love that. That's why at Christmas time, when you get Christmas cards, you get to see, you get the handwritten- but we need that. I feel like we've just missed the whole emotional connection with human interaction. It just feels that way. Yeah, I love those. My last question is how can fostering a sense of community and dialogue help individuals process news collectively and reduce the negative impact of information overload?

0:45:26 - Dr. Henry Venter

Well, it goes back to that community. A community is something that you are going to interact and meet somewhere and do something together.

It goes with that go back and meet people, get out of the internet. We can say and go and meet people. It's a former community again of friends, so let's go somewhere, let's do something together, because ultimately that leads to conversation. You look at each other doing something together and restart that conversation with each other, and I think we've lost that and, as we said, it goes with this whole issue of the pandemic of isolation that the Surgeon General has referred to. And so, because we lost a sense of community, being an internet under that group, it's not necessarily a community. The people you know are all over the world. There's no way that you can call right now, and I think we need to go back and say I also need a community at least of five friends that's close to me that I can call now and say I'm in a crisis, can you come over and help me? We need to go back to say that is something I need. It's fine if I have 1,015 connections, friends, whatever, followers. Oh, they need to call them followers of them. Yeah, nobody's following you really, but these people are all over the world. They can actually mean nothing to you right now. You need to also have people around you.

Now there are cases where people use, they play games and they connect as a group and then they support each other. So I'm not saying you can't have that community. That's healthy consumption of the internet and I have to bring that up because I have people I know that do that. So they will meet playing one game together. But the idea is just to touch base and they're all over the world and often they say they will stage an intervention to help one of their friends in between the game. So there are more healthy ways to interact with the internet. But I mean, the negative part of what we're talking today is just the overconsumption of negative news and doomscrolling. There are positive ways to use the internet as well. So I'm not knocking that. I just want to pivot back to that in case I'm going to be crucified by somebody here.

0:47:52 - Kimberly King

Or canceled right?

0:47:53 - Dr. Henry Venter

Yeah, but the doomscrolling is often people that do not have that community. So do you have a group of people you meet on the internet, face-to-face, regularly? We're playing, and now we're not. We just, we just into. They become just spectators. That's the thing we want to get to- at the end they become spectators.

They are not participants. They just consume the stuff, but they are not part of a community. Offsite and online, they just don't have the people that they know and that can support them. They just basically spectators and consumers are taking in the stuff and there's no filter and that can become very negative and they just keep doing that, becomes just more affected by that. So that's the part that we are advocating against.

0:48:36 - Kimberly King

Yeah, I love it. And I mean even just to kind of wrap things up to what you were just saying that just kind of leaves us feeling empty, not kind of it really does, and that mental health creeps in there when we don't have a sense of purpose or passion or accomplishment, like you said, by taking up a hobby or doing something for others. There's no really feeling when we're just spectator, where we're just a spectator. So I love that you're teaching this course and I hope that your classes are filled to the brim, because we need to hear this right now. Thank you so much. So thank you for sharing your knowledge and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website. It's nu.edu and Dr. Thank you so much for your time today.

0:49:17 - Dr. Henry Venter

Thank you for having me.

0:49:22 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at nu.edu. You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

“The hallmark of [mental] health is to be able to keep two opposing views in your mind without losing your mind... what we find now is we live in a world where people cannot do that." Henry Venter, https://shorturl.at/kJST4 Click to Tweet
"These platforms don't want you to stop and think. They just want you to consume… Because it's all about numbers. Numbers help them to sell advertising." Henry Venter, https://shorturl.at/kJST4 Click to Tweet