The Art of Re-creation

RECREATION - Origin, Middle English recreacion, from Anglo-French, from Latin recreation-, recreatio restoration to health, from recreare to create anew, restore, refresh, from re- + creare to create


The hum of a smart phone signals that someone commented on your Facebook page.  Instantly, you hand darts to the device and with a flick of the finger, the screen lights up.  A series of taps follows, a quick reply, and then back to...  Another message pops up.  Your friend has just sent you a link to a "OMG watch this!!!" video on YouTube.  Wow, that dog really knows how to beg, you think.  A related video follows and the cycle continues.  Pavlov couldn't have done it better.

Surrounded by our "friends", ensconced in 3G (or is that 4G?), making our way through the world without seeing anything beyond the screen; it's a comfort blanket for the "always on" generation.  What are we gaining?  What are we losing?  Are we simply swept up in a techno love affair?  Or, is something more insidious at work?

Human beings evolved as social creatures.  Our ancestors' survival was doubtless dependent on the ability to quickly glean the emotions, social status, and reproductive fitness of other members of our tribe.  If this wasn't the case, we would not have entire industries devoted to celebrity, fitness (or, in the case of cosmetic surgery, the illusion of fitness), fashion, and universally recognized "emoticons.  :)

Evolution, however, has no need for explanations.  While the standard social science model might suggest that participating in the social milieu is a learned trait, it is doubtless that this is something that is, in fact, embedded into our very DNA.  Our taste buds are wired to respond pleasurably to sweet, salty, and fatty foods, our entire nervous system is "turned on" when we anticipate, simulate, or participate in a sexual encounter, and we enjoy a good bit of gossip.  All of these behaviors are rewarded automatically, all without being "told" that we should enjoy them, and all without explanation as to how they will ultimately increase our chances of passing genetic material to the next generation.

Having the means to push our evolutionary buttons at will is inherently attractive and we are all well aware of the dangers doing this on a nutritional level (otherwise, you would be eating a Big Mac rather than reading this blog!)  The idea that we may be doing equal, or even greater harm to ourselves through chronic mal-socialization is somehow harder to digest.

What we can be sure of is that the beneficial effects of strong social ties are well documented. In a study titled "Social Networks, Host Resistance, and Mortality: A Nine-Year Follow-Up Study of Alameda County Resisdents", researchers Lisa Berkman and Leaonard Symes presented the following findings:

"(P)eople who lacked social and community ties were more likely to die in the follow-up period than those with more extensive contacts...The association between social ties and mortality was found to be independent of self-reported physical health status at the time of the 1965 survey, year of death, socioeconomic status, and health practices such as smoking, alcoholic beverage consumption, obesity, physical activity, and utilization of preventive health services...)"

Many studies examining the effects of media consumption have typically focused on questions about the incidence of risky behaviors in teens while seemingly avoiding the larger issue of chronic population-wide effects (of course, the guys behind the SouthPark TV series have weighed in on the issue).  Studies investigating the effects of multi-tasking, such as an article titled "The laptop and the lecture: The effects of multitasking in learning environments" by Helene Hembrooke and Geri Gay published in The Journal of Computing in Higher Education have begun to circle the issue however.

"Two groups of students heard the same exact lecture and tested immediately following the lecture. One group of students was allowed to use their laptops to engage in browsing, search, and/or social computing behaviors during the lecture. Students in the second condition were asked to keep their laptops closed for the duration of the lecture. Students in the open laptop condition suffered decrements on traditional measures of memory for lecture content."

Extrapolating these results into a social situation, it is easy to see how spending time with one's online "friends" while in the company of a real-world friend could negatively impact relationship quality.  Regardless of our perceived ability to do "two things at once", we are at the mercy of our limited attention span and any activity that perpetually draws our focus away from the task at hand, whether it is driving or having a conversation, will impair our performance.

Personally, I am not without reproach.  By the very act of composing this post, which will doubtless be reposted on a Facebook fan page, I am perpetuating the very thing I seem to be rebuking.  My message, therefore, is not that new technologies, media, and the like must are inherently "bad" and should be feared, but rather than they are used responsibly and with an awareness of the costs associated with their use.

What I propose, then, is to engage in periods of literal recreation.

Turn off the electronics (yes, this includes the phone).

Don't go online or check Facebook (Do, in fact, check out a book from the library!)

Let yourself feel a little uncomfortable and awkward (solo or in social situations).

In other words, reacquaint yourself with the nuances, complexities, risks, and rewards of real face-to-face interaction with your environment.

I suspect you will find the experience quite memorable.

This past week I had the opportunity to re-create with my family and friends.  I hope these pictures inspire you to do the same.

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About Unknown

Tony is the host of the Paleo Magazine Radio podcast, author of "Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman's Guide to Cooking with Fire", and Cofounder of Powerful PT, an innovative information resource for Fitness Professionals. He has appeared on numerous local and national television and radio broadcasts and regularly hosts healthy cooking workshops and informational lectures. He is also a full-time Personal Trainer and Wellness Consultant who lives in Jacksonville Florida with his wife Jamie.
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  1. This might help.