We tell ourselves we’re only going to get on our phones for a second and 30 minutes later we’re still on them. We give our children an iPad to entertain them and when we take it away, a huge meltdown follows. What’s happening? Why are we, and virtually everyone we know, so addicted to our devices?
Katie Singer, the author of An Electronic Silent Spring, explains what’s going on. She talks about the radiation and the infrastructure that supports our electronic habits. But she also does a deep dive into why we’ve become so dependent on our laptops, computers, and phones. And she gives us practical tools (such as setting an egg timer and turning off Wi-Fi) to help us extricate ourselves from our attachment to them.
Visit Katie’s website: electronicsilentspring.com
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Katie Singer Explains Why We Can’t Put Our Devices Down & How To Break Their Pull On Us
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda Labrada Gore and the regular text is Katie Singer.
Our guest is Katie Singer. She is the author of An Electronic Silent Spring. This is a book about the health and environmental effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation. We focus on both the physical impact of our devices and the psychological impact as well. We spend time discussing how to help our children break their screen addiction. Let’s face it, it’s not just the kids who are addicted. We are too. These devices are designed to activate our brain’s pleasure center. No wonder they are so hard to set aside. With Katie, we cover a lot of ground about our electronic devices, how to use them judiciously, the problem with the radiation, and my favorite part, practical steps to limit their pull on our children and us.
Before we get into it, a quick shout out to our sponsors. First, a reminder that we have a ton of resources here at the Foundation to help you live your healthiest life. Our 2020 Shopping Guide came out, and it has over 100 pages of our most recommended sources for beverages, bread, butter, gee, cheese, cod liver oil, and pretty much the whole gamut. I can hardly believe it’s only $3, to be honest with you. Go to our website and pick one up. Buy a bunch or become a member and support our work and get it for free. That’s WestonAPrice.org.
Visit Katie’s website: ElectronicSilentSpring.com
Order our 2020 shopping guide HERE.
Welcome to the show, Katie.
Thank you so much for having me.
I wanted to kick things off with a little story about my daughter who was out with some friends. They were celebrating someone’s birthday at a restaurant. She said, “I looked around and everyone in our party was staring at their phones. They were posting something or they were looking at something. They would smile briefly when taking a picture of themselves, but then they would go back to their phones.” One of her friends even went so far as to say to my daughter, “Are you okay?” She’s like, “I’m fine.” They thought it was odd that she wasn’t on her phone. What’s happening here? Why is this a sudden norm?
That’s the question, and how do we live with it? We have all got so many questions about this stuff. There aren’t a lot of answers, but we can say that society has changed in a blink.
These phones and devices seem to have an addictive quality to them. I was at the beach with a friend, and he was at the beach on his iPad. I wanted to say, “Do you see this whole ocean in front of you, all this beauty, and not to mention the people around you?” Yet he was mesmerized by that iPad.
Let me share a context that I have been thinking of. I assume that people who are tuned in are concerned about their health. They know that food matters to our health. For thousands of years, we have had regulations around food. There are religious practices. Let’s say you are going to have meat. You want to butcher the animal in a way that doesn’t cause pain to the animal. There are diets that say you should separate eating fruit from everything else because the enzymes you need to digest fruit are different from the enzymes you need for other food. They don’t mix well because fruit goes through you faster. If you are going to eat grains or beans, you want to soak them overnight before you cook them.
We have many guidelines for helping us eat in a healthy way. Every family is going to choose what works for them. It’s going to change and evolve over time. We also know in terms of pesticides, I have friends who have fruit orchards. If they don’t spray their orchard with pesticides, they will be fined heavily in their town because of an ordinance. If they don’t spray, they endanger other fruit growers’ fruit. They could get infested.
There are regulations where the motive is for commercial purposes. It interferes with whoever is living nearby with their exposure to pesticides, and also with the fruit that anybody is going to grow who doesn’t want to be spraying their fruit with pesticides, but then again, we have got regulations around food. Let’s go to electronics. Let’s say that we have had wireless devices and they have been ubiquitous for about twenty years. We have had electronic devices, let’s say, for 120 years. Electricity showed up in cities little before the turn of the century. We have almost no regulation. When it comes to mobile devices, I can tell you what the regulations are. It’s pretty strong.
What are the regulations relating to our devices?
I’m going to break it into two parts. What are the regulations around mobile devices? In order for a mobile device to operate, it needs infrastructure. It needs cell towers and antennas. We want to know what are the regulations around access networks. Let me go with the first question. In order to determine that mobile devices are safe enough to be marketed, this is how the FCC did it. They took a 220-pound plastic model man. It’s called a Standard Anthropomorphic Model or SAM. They filled his head with salty fluid.
The content does not matter. It’s the medium that is affecting us, not the content.
They took his temperature and gave him a cell phone for six minutes. This was in the mid-‘90s. They took his temperature after those six minutes. Because his temperature had not changed by 2 degrees Celsius or almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit in those 6 minutes, your teenager can have a mobile device. In other words, they were only looking at immediate thermal effects. Thermal being temperature. There are uncountable numbers of non-thermal effects and addiction would be one of them. Addiction is not a thermal effect. It’s an effect of using the device, and we know that. I’m going to put that on the table.
It was a test that they did to determine if there was any negative impact or any impact at all.
What they are determining is if there is an immediate temperature change. They are not measuring for anything else. They are not measuring for non-thermal effects, biological effects or anything, except immediate temperature effects. Let’s look at the infrastructure. In order for a mobile device to operate, it needs an international array of antennas. In 1996, which was around the same time that the test was given for mobile devices with immediate thermal effects, Congress passed a law, the Telecommunications Act. It states in Section 704 that no health or environmental effect may be considered when a telecom corporation requests that a city give them a permit to install an antenna for a cell tower.
I have heard that because we interviewed Theodora Scarato about 5G. She said that very thing. When people are making a case in a community, trying to fight to have these very frequent cell towers with stronger radiation, they can’t mention health as a reason for which they don’t want it installed. That’s because of that act you mentioned.
To clarify, your city councilors cannot prohibit a cell tower based on health or environmental concerns.
It is a little bit alarming.
We are now many years downwind of that Federal Law. There are many other laws that reinforce it.
We have talked about regulations, but I want to talk a little bit more on a personal level. Help me understand what we can do to use our devices in a healthier way.
That’s the question. At a very obvious level, we are all on our own with this question, “What is within our control given what’s happening in terms of ubiquitous deployment of infrastructure which continues, and then in terms of devices?” One of the things that concern me is that if you have a child and you send your kid to school, they are going to be getting a Chromebook or an iPad issued by the school system starting in kindergarten. If you want a job now, you can’t get a job without a smartphone. It’s not within our control anymore. It’s important to name those things that we don’t have control over before we get to that question, “What is within my control?” That is getting more limited.
There may be people right now who are thinking, “So what if my kid gets a Chromebook? That’s good. I want them to be technologically savvy. So what if I can’t get a job without a smartphone? I do have a smartphone.” We haven’t in this conversation made a case for why these devices aren’t healthy in the first place or why we should be concerned about a cell tower near our home or school. Can you get into that?
There are so many concerns that I live with. One of them is the screen time exposure. That’s what you were talking about with your teenager being surrounded by her friends, and they are all tethered to their phones. That’s a screen time addiction. They can’t get away from it. Screen time exposure is different from exposure to electromagnetic radiation. All of these devices and antennas emit radiation. The radiation causes lots of biological harm. My understanding is we are not going to focus on that in this conversation. We are going to focus on screen time.
Let’s focus on screen time. Help us understand the addictive power of screen time and what that screen time exposure does to us.
I would like to start by defining what is addiction. Screen time exposure can cause addiction, agitation, memory loss, and distractedness. Let’s say you are driving and you can’t turn away from a text message. That’s a problem if you are driving with the phone because you can’t get away from the phone. That’s a screen time addiction. When you get a text message, that’s your first text message. The brain says, “I like that. I want more of that,” and then it goes for more. You are on the road to getting addicted.
What’s interesting is that the frequencies that these devices use to operate, activate this response. It’s called the dopamine effect. We have heard of that in terms of drugs, including heroin. We now have scientists that are reporting that the frequencies required in order to operate a mobile device activate the dopamine effect.
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I have talked to friends who say, “I will be on my device, just checking something for a minute,” and then they find they can’t stop. How can we break that addictive cycle for ourselves or our children?
The first step is to identify that you’ve got a problem. That would be the same with any addiction.
That’s what the twelve-step people say.
There’s a woman named Cris Rowan, and she does workshops in schools. She came up with a questionnaire. She’s got seven questions. She says, “If you check three of them, you’re likely got an addiction.” If you say, “I can’t imagine going anywhere without my mobile device.” That would be one. Two would be, “It’s not as much fun as it used to be, to be online.” Three, “I’m at the screen for longer than I intended to be in front of a screen. I have tried to decrease my screen time but I can’t. The screen time is taking up almost all of my time. I’m online when I prefer to hang out with real people, do my homework or work on some other project,” or if you start thinking that you are online more than it’s good for you. Those are seven instances. She says, “If you check three of them, you are likely addicted.” That’s the first step.
What would be the next step?
Basically, I’m a reporter. I collect ideas from around the world. Here’s one that’s interesting. It started in November of 2018 in Shandong province in China. More than 40% of their young people now have Myopia or nearsightedness. They implemented a regulation in the schools. No cell phones are allowed in schools. Children are only allowed to have fifteen-minute long sessions of screen time. No more than fifteen minutes per session and no more than a total of one hour per day. That’s for this very large province in China. That’s very worthwhile.
My friend has a fifteen-year-old daughter. Her daughter has been educated in Waldorf School. I know this child. She’s wonderful. She cannot regulate herself. She can’t stop herself most of the time from being online. The family has started getting used to their egg timer. They set it for fifteen minutes and she knows that’s what her limit is. It’s a tool that she’s going to be able to use even when her parents don’t implement it. If she puts on the timer, that’s a tool she can use.
Also, she does not have her own computer. In order for her to access one of their computers, they have to enter the password. She can’t just get online herself. That’s a problem if you are going to a public school because the school is going to be issuing every child a computer, and they are going to have the passwords. That means you’ve got to get the school on board with you to make some limits.
Have you heard of studies that indicate that we are rewiring our brain with so much screen time? Is that one of the problems with our children? We are limiting their eye contact with other people and limiting engagement on some levels.
There are people who are writing about this. Victoria Dunckley is an MD child psychiatrist. She has a wonderful book called Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. She has a lot of studies showing exactly what you’ve said. Our brains are impacted by all of this screen time exposure. I can share what her remedy is, which is fabulous. As a child psychiatrist, she was seeing children come into her office with problems. She was not trained to expect. She realized that she could not give a proper diagnosis until and unless the child went on a three-week electronic fast. No electronics for at least three weeks. They would come back and in some cases, the problem had entirely cleared up.
She was seeing children with combinations of psychosis and autistic behavior. She couldn’t give a diagnosis until and unless they went on this fast. In her program, she also has a week where you reintroduce electronics starting with 15 minutes a day, and then you increase to 20 minutes a day. If you get to 45 minutes a day and the kid is fine. When you get to 50 minutes a day and you have a meltdown, you know that the limit is 45 minutes a day.
We need to be very aware of these things. I feel like earlier, I was throwing my daughter’s friends and the guy on the beach under the bus. When the truth is all of us are under the sway of these devices unless we have the maturity to recognize we have a problem and to make some changes because I’m afraid it’s affecting all of us.
Everyone is affected. It’s like if someone is addicted to alcohol, it may not be about maturity for them to admit that they have got a problem because they are so impacted by the drug. In this case, the drug is the device that they can’t think clearly enough to make a mature observation.
Let’s talk directly to parents. What can parents do to help change their child’s relationship with these electronic devices?
One of my favorite recommendations comes from a pediatrician in the Bay Area. Her name is Dr. Toril Jelter. She’s an MD pediatrician. She noticed that a lot of the children in her practice were coming in with autistic behavior, ADHD, and all the stuff that we now see commonly. She came up with a protocol. It reduces exposure to radiation. This is different from dealing directly with the screen time but it dovetails beautifully. I have written about this for Wise Traditions. The paper is called Calming Behavior In Children with Autism and ADHD. Here’s the whole recipe. You turn the Wi-Fi off at night for at least twelve hours. You don’t let the child within 8 feet of a cordless phone or any mobile device. While sleeping, you unplug everything in the bedroom. Don’t just turn it off.
She’s got case studies of wonderful things that have happened. She had one child in her care, a ten-year-old boy. He had never spoken a word. He was aggressive and agitated all the time. He screamed nonstop every night from 10:00 PM until 3:00 AM. This family lived on a military base. Because of their exposure to the radiation from the military base, she thought there’s no way that this is going to work. If they reduce their exposure within their house, it’s not going to help. All they did was turn off their Wi-Fi at night. Three days later, this boy spoke a complete sentence for the first time.
Interactive screen time is much more hazardous.
The doctor put him on a therapeutic grade fish oil, and within three weeks, he was sleeping through the night. No more screaming. We don’t say that this experiment caused the change in his behavior or his sleeping. What we do say is that this experiment is free and anyone can try it. I did that paper in 2015. Unfortunately, I get calls from families where they need to have internet access if they want a phone or they need it for their work or for their school. In their area, the only way to get internet access wirelessly. If they want it turned back on, they have to call the service provider who has to come out and turn it back on. Eventually, they get charged for this.
We are moving in the direction of having all of our infrastructures be by wireless devices. I’m going to throw this back to the audience and say, please come up with solutions for this problem. We need to know how can you turn off your Wi-Fi router if it’s a wireless router? How can you turn that off without having to call a service provider?
The advice you’ve given is great for families, even if they don’t have kids or any single people. They can take some of these steps. If it is getting complicated because you can’t turn your Wi-Fi off without calling the service people in and all this, then we are going to need to get creative about how to approach this and lower or mitigate some of our exposure.
You might want to look for a router that you can turn off and on. Dr. Jelter, the pediatrician who came up with this protocol, encourages people to make a list before they do this experiment. She said that you’ve got to try the experiment for two weeks to test it. Before, give yourself a list. Maybe you’ve got agitated sleep, headaches, your digestion is off, or your attention span is not great. You make a list of problems that you have or that your child has, then rank them from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least bothersome and 10 being the worst imaginable. You do your experiment for two weeks. Two weeks later, go back to your checklist and rank it again. You’ll see. If you don’t see a difference in those two weeks, the problem may not be about your exposure to radiation. It’s worthwhile to do the checklist so you have something to measure.
These two things are intertwined. Our concerns about radiation exposure and our addictions to the device go hand in hand. Either way, if you reduce your radiation exposure and spend less time on your device, you are going to be living more. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are shooting for, to live a healthy happy life without addiction to anything in particular?
You are going for an idea that every person is going to be struggling with now. If you put a child into a school, they are going to be expected to use the computer to do homework or research. It could even be a program that teaches the child to read rather than to have a person sitting next to them going over words together. In order to have a job, you need to have a device. We have to change our expectations of ourselves and we do need limits. We are going to be starting in our homes by making limits.
At school and at work, there may be circumstances in which we can’t alter that, but I feel like a lot of people are on their devices simply to be on social media.
I have a suggestion which comes from Tristan Harris, who was a designer at Google. He says, “If you want to reduce your social media use, move your social media to the 2nd or the 3rd page of your device so you don’t have immediate access to your social media. You have to go to the 2nd or 3rd page. That will slow down your access to it and see if that slows down your use of social media.”
I have another tip. On my phone, I have added a color filter, so it makes my whole screen red. Number one is that it blocks the blue light, which can interfere with melatonin production and other things. Also, it makes it less addictive because there aren’t all the cute little colors drawing my eye in. One more question I wanted to ask you is about passive screen time versus interactive screen time. I see people using the devices to entertain their children. Is that okay?
Many of us were raised watching television. That’s passive screen time. When you interact with the screen, you use the mouse, you click on things and then that activates a link or some other movement on the screen, that’s interactive screen time. Jerry Mander, who wrote Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television in 1978, had a wonderful description. If you can imagine watching a screen where there’s a train coming at you, even when you are an adult, that is scary. Your adrenaline is going to go up. You are going to be agitated while this train is coming at you on the screen. Your brain has to tell you, “It’s not real but I’m feeling all this stuff. My feelings are strong, even though I know it’s not real.”
Dealing with that passive screen time when you’ve got a developing brain developing is challenging. Put a mouse in that child’s hand so that they can manipulate that train coming at them and have them crash it into a building still on a screen or into another person on the screen. That’s interactive screen time, and that’s another layer of brain wiring that’s going to agitate what’s going on. We know that autism is basically the overstimulation of neurons. Passive screen time and interactive screen time are overstimulating. Interactive screen time is much more hazardous than passive screen time.
That’s the opposite of what I would have thought. I would have thought that with interactive, they are in control. The adrenaline doesn’t kick in because they know they can make the train do something else. I often see children playing games on these devices. People often say, “At least it’s educational.” In this case, you are saying both are hazardous.
I’m saying that interactive screen time is much more hazardous. Dr. Victoria Dunckley explains this very clearly in Reset Your Child’s Brain. She has the studies that demonstrate that. You said, “The kids are at least watching educational videos.” The content does not matter. It’s the medium that is affecting us, not the content.
I want to ask you, as we wrap up. To use technology in a healthier way, if you had one tip or one step that you would recommend, what would you recommend that they do?
Find a friend in their neighborhood or a person they can talk to and make eye-to-eye contact with. Have a support group so that you are committed to finding ways together that will decrease your exposure. If you can find that, that’s the best thing that you can do for yourself and your family. It is to find other people who will support you and welcome your support in answering these questions.
I love that, a human connection in real life to help you manage a virtual connection or addiction. Thank you, Katie, for your time. It has been a pleasure.
Our guest was Katie Singer. Check out her website, ElectronicSilentSpring.com. She is also kicking off a campaign to reduce our internet footprint. Learn more about that campaign at OurWeb.tech/campaign. You can find me at HolisticHilda.com. Thanks for reading, and see you next time.
About Katie Singer
Katie Singer writes about the energy, extractions, toxic waste and greenhouse gases involved in manufacturing computers, telecom infrastructure, electric vehicles and other electronic technologies.
She believes that if she’s not aware that she’s part of the problem, then she can’t be part of the solution. She dreams that every smartphone user learns about the supply chain of one substance (of 1000+) in a smartphone.
Her most recent book is An Electronic Silent Spring. She currently writes about nature, democracy and technology for Wall Street International Magazine. Visit www.DearGreta.com and www.ElectronicSilentSpring.com.
- An Electronic Silent Spring
- 2020 Shopping Guide
- Theodora Scarato – Previous episode
- Holistic Hilda’s Ancestral Tour of Ecuador
- Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time
- Calming Behavior In Children with Autism and ADHD
- Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
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