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Navigating Digital Addiction

July 3, 2023
Nicholas Kardaras


This week my guest is psychologist Nicholas Kardaras, a leading expert in the study of addiction, especially as it relates to digital technologies. In addition to running recovery centers in both Maui and Austin, he’s also the author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, as well as his recently published, Digital Madness: How Social Media is Driving Our Mental Health Crisis–and How to Restore Our Sanity.

In this episode, we begin with a short history of Nicholas’ own experiences with addiction and how that shaped his understanding of the situation we currently find ourselves in. From there, we explore the deeper details and impacts of digital addiction as well as the ways in which we might be able to lessen its impact and treat this growing pathology.

Learn more about Singularity: ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠su.org⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠

Host:⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ Steven Parton⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ - ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠LinkedIn⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ /⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ Twitter⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠

Music by: Amine el Filali


The following transcription was created automatically. Please be aware that there may be spelling or grammatical errors.

Nicholas Kardaras [00:00:01] There was a metaphor that really helped me in my sobriety, and I think it applies well here. Getting clean and sober doesn't make the ocean less turbulent, but it makes us better swimmers. And that, I think, is an apt metaphor for today. We're not putting the genie back in the bottle. We're going to have we're going to be awash in digital, overwhelming, confusing, complex technologies. I know. Driven and all of that. So isn't it even more imperative now that we fortify ourselves as the individual to be better equipped to swim better through some of this turbulence? 

Steven Parton [00:00:51] Hello, everyone. My name is Steven Parton and you are listening to the feedback loop by Singularity. This week. My guest is psychologist Nicholas Kardaras, a leading expert in the study of addiction, especially as it relates to digital technologies in addition to running recovery centers in both Maui and Austin. He is the author of Glow Kids How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, as well as his recently published Digital Madness How Social Media is Driving Our Mental Health Crisis and How to Restore Our Sanity. In this episode, we begin with a short history of Nicholas, his own experiences with addiction, and how that shaped his understanding of the situation that we currently find ourselves in. From there, we explore the deeper details and impacts of digital addiction, as well as the ways in which we might be able to lessen its impact and treat this growing pathology. So everyone, please welcome to the feedback loop. Nicholas Carter. All right, man. So I think the best place to start then is going to be with a little bit of your background. And specifically, I'd like if you could tie it into how it relates to your two recent books, Glow Kids and Digital Madness. So could you maybe, like weave that thread for us and tell us the motivation for that, that arc of your story? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:02:16] Yeah. So, you know, professionally, over the last 20 some odd years, I've been the psychologist working with mental health and specializing in addiction. I was a professor at Stony Brook Medicine, and I was working with all sorts of, let's call it modern day distress and how people were struggling in their lives, everything from existential crises to, you know, the epidemic of depression and loneliness we were having. But prior to that, I mean, my background, how I got into the mental health field, I went back to graduate school, so midlife, but in my thirties, because I had my own struggles with addiction, I had a life prior to my career as a person who writes books and runs treatment programs. I had been I grew up in Queens, New York, and went to the Bronx High School of Science and was always interested in science and what it could represent for humanity. And so I grew up as a huge Star Trek fan. I mean, the original series Kirk and Spock and I write about this in my first book, Glow Kids, that I was a tech utopianism. Like, like a like a Gene Roddenberry isn't here. Ray Bradbury Like Gene Roddenberry. And so I grew up as a kid, really optimistic about what the future would hold, because that's what I was shaped as a ten year old watching Star Trek And but post when I got out of Cornell University, I tripped and stumbled into a career and, well, I did some work in nightclubs and nightlife, and that led me to some bad habits. And so I developed a pretty bad addiction in my early to mid twenties, which almost killed me, which led me into a coma and for two weeks. And I had in there not the classic near-death experience, but I had a life changing awakening which led me to go back to graduate school to pursue a career of helping other people who were struggling. So that was my back story in terms of how I went back to graduate school and got a master's in social work in the Ph.D. in psychology, and started teaching and and working in a variety of settings, helping people. And because I personally had wrestled with some addictive issues or demons in my own life, I became one of the first psychologists that was working with people that started seeing the telltale signs of, let's call it the dark side of our tech love affair. So I was one of the first people that started seeing it and writing about it and saying, Hey, is anybody noticing that people are getting really into their tech like really into their tech, like they're not leaving their house for days and weeks kind of into their tech. And at that point, I was doing work. I had a private practice, I was running a program, but I was doing a lot of school district work with adolescents too. So in these adolescents and that were going back about 15 years, I saw all the telltale signs of an addictive disorder, you know, all of the diagnostic features. So so that led me to write Glow Kids, which really compiled all the research that had been out there. There was some pretty good evidence based research that showed that not only can our habituation to devices be potentially habit forming, especially if you had underlying vulnerabilities, but then so that book came out and I wrote a viral op ed called Digital Heroin that became very sort of widely debated because at that time and it feels like a long time ago, but it was 2016, and the idea that we can be habituated to our devices was kind of still like what you know, I think we, the adults in the room were still so smitten by the gee whiz, amazing quality. Each of our devices that we weren't really looking at the telltale signs of what's what's this doing to maybe some of the more vulnerable folks in the population. So I was sort of like, hey, let's look around and see what's happening. And so when they wrote Digital Heroin that. 7 million views and shares in the New York Post that got me on Good Morning America and CNN and CBS Evening News. A lot of national media where I had to really defend. Can this be like heroin? And the brain imaging research? The fMRI research was crystal clear that the effects on the brain and the the reward centers in the prefrontal cortex exactly. Mirrored substance addiction in terms of what was happening with our devices. So that was sort of phase one. So that's 2016. I'm this Paul Revere saying that, hey, be careful that this stuff can can be habit forming. And then over the next few years, it was beginning to see what is that habituation leading to? What is the societal price and also the mental health byproduct of that habituation. So now we started seeing, hey, is it a coincidence that depression rates are skyrocketing, suicide rates are skyrocketing. The loneliness epidemic is a thing. Deaths of despair has become a thing. You know, the CDC was terming this phrase deaths of despair, overdose suicides and chronic alcoholism. And the other phenomenon, generational phenomenon that I started, that I started connecting the dots with was that if you looked at the generational cohorts from baby boomers to Gen Xers to Millennials to Gen-z, each progressively younger generation was getting more and more mentally unwell by the by the psychiatric metrics. And so, ironically, the more plugged in the generation, the more unwell they were psychiatrically. Highest rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, all the metrics that we measure self-harm were exploding, correlating to our digital age. And and so the research started really showing that. So there were those aspects that started saying not only are we falling in love with our devices, but a phrase that I like to use is as we were getting mad for our devices, it seemed that our devices were driving us mad. And so you exploring that. And then there were larger societal aspects. You know, everything that we're seeing in terms of the the schism in our society, the polarization that's happening and beginning to understand how algorithmically fueled content is baked in to be polarizing, because we know that the more most intense emotions, fear and anger lead to increased engagement, and so started understanding deeper political societal dynamics. So so then it seemed and I also discovered this really wonderful interview with Aldous Huxley back in 1958 with Mike Wallace, where he talked about love in our enslavement, and that in this future dystopia, we're going to learn, we're going to love our enslavement. And I started really viewing the the process that had been unfolding either by design or by accident, but I would say probably more by design. Well, I think the initial design aspect was monetization, right? There was like, let's make these platforms more engaging. And I think the rest of it was Frankenstein monster ish, where we didn't quite realize or I think the folks designing big tech initially didn't realize what the Frankenstein would evolve into in terms of how that would have these deeply penetrating effects on society. So it was it was get people and get people hooked, engage, because that's how we monetize. But then it was, oh, now we're doing this not only mind shaping, but ideologically altering platforms, potentially either via bad actors or big tech themselves sometimes. And, and and I've concluded by saying it looked to me like now we were suffering from a form of a societal Stockholm syndrome where not only had we been taken hostage by, you know, we've been taken hostage in our lives had been very reduced to sedentary screen staring beings which were not really genetically designed to be. But not only had we, but as Elvis Huxley said, we'd not only fallen in love with our captivity, but we began to deify and idolize our captors. And so, you know, the Steve Jobs of the world became rock stars and they became cultural icons. And so that's, I think, the cultural moment that we're in, where we're we're sort of trapped and enslaved, you know, byproducts of other people's tinkering algorithms. And the younger, more vulnerable don't even realize that they're swimming in this water and and lives will be getting smaller. And just even yesterday, the study came out of University of Michigan's been doing 40 years of asking teenagers whether their lives. Have meaning or purpose. And, you know, after 2012, I guess that that bar graph has been spiking and spiking. And I guess last year, this year's numbers that came out were I forgot what their exact percentage was, but young people in particular are feeling the most hopeless and their lives have no meaning and purpose. And and and and here we are to talk of real. 

Steven Parton [00:11:34] Yeah. On that positive note. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:11:37] On that feel good message Yeah. 

Steven Parton [00:11:39] Well there's there's a lot in there that I want to I want to unwind and unpack I think specifically, you know, you mentioned your own past with addiction and that was something that obviously was pre this kind of digital paradigm that we find ourselves in. So we know addiction existed before the technology. Right. But what is what is it about technology that maybe is particularly pernicious or that is is different care mystically than your traditional addictions? You know, even if it lights up the same parts of the brain? Are there aspects of of, you know, having it be to a device that has all these other things on it or, you know, something about that relationship that is particularly unique. And in terms of addiction. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:12:27] I think that's such a great question because even a lot of addiction psychologists in my field look at addiction. So I guess mechanistically or, you know, from almost from a neuro neuroscientific reductionism where you're looking at addiction is just brain chemistry, right? And okay, so there's the muscle limbic dopamine reward loop. This activates your reward system, ergo addiction. And and there was the great Rat Park addiction studies by Dr. Alexander in Canada did these Rat Park addiction studies where, you know, we were coming out of the fifties, where we thought addiction was all about the brain and it was all about the addictive substance, just to your point. Because to your point, I think it's not so much about well, I'll get I'm going to bring this home. And Bruce Alexander, Dr. Alexander said because they used to take these rats and they put them in what were called skinner cages, and they used to hang him by the carotid artery and they were given morphine, water or food. And and here was this rat in isolation. And the rat inevitably hid the morphine until 100% overdose. And Dr. Alexander said maybe thought about how addictive the morphine is. Maybe it's about being isolated. Maybe it's about because rats like social like human beings or social animals. So maybe the larger dynamic with addiction isn't the substance. Let's turn the telescope around and let's not focus on the substance. Let's focus on what's going on with the rat. And if a social animal is feeling isolated, they're more prone to self-medicate to self-destruction. And so let's create Rat park heaven for rats, where there was all sorts of terrible wheels and there was all sorts of socialization. They had sex, they had everything they wanted, and they had morphine, water and surprise, surprise, the rats did it. There was they went from 100% overdose to zero overdose. Some tried the morphine water. Nobody became addicted to it. And Alexandra's research showed that it wasn't so much the addictive substance, but the larger system that the beings occupying. And I could say from my own addictive experience, look, it started with, you know, the gateways of pot and alcohol and eventually wound up, you know, heroin addicted and heroin. We know it's very physiologically habit forming. But I was going through an existential crisis. I was going through a crisis of meaning and purpose very early in my life for a variety of issues that I won't get into now. So I've come to understand that a lot of addiction is about emptiness and a lack of meaning or purpose and trying to find something and trying to self numb or escapism. Right? And so if if a lot of addiction is about escapism. So in that context, if we look at this larger digital world, yeah, that devices are baked to be habit forming because they do like light up that dopamine reward center. But I think they've also created we're also now the rats in the skinner cage because we're more isolated, profoundly isolated, because, you know, we're in front of screens all the time staring at each other. We're not as you know, we're evolutionarily designed to be face to face social beings. The tribe survived, you know, historically. And yet the digital age, more than just being addicting, has created the environment of loneliness. Emptiness, What's my life mean? And in that environment, if I'm feeling lost and empty, and especially if I'm a young person and then I'm doomscrolling and then I'm seeing how horrible the world is and this information overload of doomscrolling and. I have a readily available escape button and I can get lost in digital escapism, whether it's gaming platforms for young men or social media or chat rooms. It's built in escapism in a way that was much more complex in my day where I had to find, you know, dealers and things and all those things that made it. There were more hurdles to access. My numbing in my escapism were Today the escapism is a push button away. So I think more than just looking at the dopaminergic response of the devices, it's looking at the ecosystem that's created that makes people feel empty today because that's what people are talking about. They feel more alone and empty, which was counter the narrative that we were all sold on social media. We were told social species, social media should be like chocolate and peanut butter. It should be wonderful for our species. And yet instead of our mental health going up, we spiral down. And after the advent of social media specifically. 

Steven Parton [00:17:13] Yeah, what are what are some of the, I guess, long term effects of that relationship then? And maybe specifically you can speak to the developmental aspects on kids. What's this doing to our brain? Are we seeing tangible long term rewiring or even maybe even physiological changes that go beyond kind of your, I guess, more just like cortical, you know, approach to the world? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:17:39] Again, another great question. Yeah. We are seeing. Longitudinal effects develop mentally. And that's my biggest thing too. Like the one study into 2019 JAMA Journal of American Medical Association, Pediatrics Journal came out with brain imaging research of infants. And what it was showing was that you were doing cognitive damage developmentally. I mean, children, especially infants, are so developmentally fragile. And, you know, like we know that if, you know, with feral children who aren't exposed to language during key developmental windows, they're going to be lifelong compromised language with language acquisition. You know, feral kids can learn basic words if they if they aren't exposed to language during the key developmental window of ages two to let's call it eight or nine, But they'll never learn idioms or metaphor or more complex types of language because that part of their brain, the ship has sailed. Similarly with what we're seeing developmentally, the largest impact with infants is cognitive and impulse. And so attention. Our ability to attend and not be impulsive is also a developmental window. And so the best thing you could do developmentally for an infant is to have them build things with blocks handy where they're actually doing things. But if you're overly stimulating a child, they become stimulation dependent. And so then your your essentially what you're seeing that part of their brain that's devoted to not being impulsive in the prefrontal cortex, we're priming infants for highly impulsive behavior. And the problem with impulsivity is it correlates with a lot of other other issues lifelong down the road. Impulsivity is the cousin of addiction, and passivity is the cousin with a lot of other types of issues we know from decades ago from the marshmallow test. You know, some of people remember, right, you had little five year old kids are marshmallow in your hand. If you don't eat it today, we'll give you to tomorrow. So the ability to delay gratification, which was something that almost no five year old could do, but as they got older, seven, eight, nine year olds oftentimes were able to say, oh, you don't say to marshmallows. Tomorrow, I'll delay my impulse to have this marshmallow. That was one of the best predictors of lifelong success. And now what we're doing is we're querying that process with infants. We're priming them for impulsivity, which is not going to serve them well. And that drama study also showed their cognition was being adversely impacted. So their language acquisition, their all aspects of cognition were being compromised. There were gaming studies of MRI studies that also showed neurophysiological impacts. Now, the one study that was at the Indiana University Medical School is showed in just two weeks of excessive violent gaming prefrontal cortex changes. The good news was at that age, these were 18 to 25 year old gamers. They did show some cause there was neuroplasticity that did show that some of those effects were seemingly reversible if the gaming stopped. But essentially, we're not really sure because we don't have many multidecade longitudinal studies to show this. So this is a grand experiment. Again, we know that we're impacting infants in ways that we're seeing. You know, we've been in the digital age long enough to see what the two year old raised with a tablet looks like. Now it's 20 year old. And is it any wonder that ADHD rates have exponentially spiked by some estimates, 500%? Is it any coincidence that we're seeing all these other issues happening? So so it's more than just hey, little Giannis loves his video games and Suzy is on social media too much. It's really it's really mind shaping And the other part that we see now with social media is because of social learning theory and social contagion. We're also seeing I write about this quite a bit of digital madness, the digital social contagion effects where people who are unwell and are performatively unwell are getting millions and billions of views and followers, everything from the TikTok Tourette's phenomenon to dissociative identity disorder to borderline personality disorder. All seems to now be exploding at the same time that we have influencers that are espousing these psychiatric issues. And then I've watched some of the influencers and I would question whether they authentically have the disorders or whether this is a way that they're, you know, their brain has associated that I'm getting more likes and followers, the more performative performatively I may be acting. So we have that other as another dynamic that's also contemporaneously happening. 

Steven Parton [00:22:34] Do you see? Do you see a negative consequences from that? Standardization that is taking place from those kind of contagion trends. And for instance, I think of the opening of your of your most recent book where you talk about your your father and his his candor and specifically, you know, I believe you mentioned that he talks about how it's all this technology is very mundane and frivolous. And it feels like in a sense we're all kind of converging towards that mundane and frivolous in a way. Because if if that's what gets you likes or followers, you know, as you said before, we're social animals. We will go in that direction. But that feels like that starts to open that door towards the lack of meaning that you talked about before that leads to addiction. Is that kind of connection that all kind of comes together? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:23:28] I think so. I think with the the the increasing civilization, let's call that a new word. It's coined that. But there's a frivolity and there's a superficiality that's happening there. Where we're the coin of the realm is likes and followers. And, you know, look, Mike, I've got six year old twin identical boys. And, you know, they're like, you know, they're watching some YouTube and then video of, you know, dropping a watermelon from the bridge. And, you know, let's watch it splatter. And it's so. So we're losing sort of the depth and more in meaning. So, you know, you mentioned my father. My father, you know, survived Nazis and, you know, real stuff. You know, like like, you know, real. Trauma with a capital extra capital T, you know. And so when you come from that world and you're looking at sort of the people that are, you know, consciously taking pictures of their meals to send, and there's there's sort of like this frivolity that's happening, I think by definition, then you're creating an empty existence. Right. And you know, because I'm a psychologist that, you know, I ran the program in East Hampton, New York, for many years where I dealt with some very successful, well, you know, hedge fund billionaires and very successful people. And they were suffering from a crisis of meaning in their lives because, you know, they had climbed the monetary mountain and then said, now what? You know, because they had made money their God and then realized, you know, it's the old cliche wound up being very true. I saw it in firsthand Technicolor, that money doesn't buy happiness. And so when frivolity becomes king or or likes and views and it's this very superficial thing, by definition, you're stripping away our deeper, more innate human meaning, deeper issues. That's why I talk about things like philosophy is being the antidote to some of that, because philosophy digs deeper and tries to sort of peel back layers in more meaningful ways. 

Steven Parton [00:25:26] Can we dig into that a little bit? Because I think you actually put forth the idea of a in an ancient blueprint with these ideas of classical philosophy that encourage resilience, critical thinking and sanity, sustaining purpose. What is what are those wonderful words mean in terms of giving us a solution? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:25:44] Well, running having run a specifically our treatment program in Austin, we're one of the few treatment programs that specializes in treating digital distress or people that are struggling with. You know, I don't like to compartmentalize things because, you know, young people, 25 and under right now are struggling with their mental health in more than ever and the recorded metrics of mental health, psychiatric history. But a lot of them are co-morbid with there, there might be issues with their technology and there might be also self-medicating with some cannabis and they might also be depressed and anxious. So so in this in this perfect storm of issues comes a young person who's not thriving and they're stuck in the proverbial basement or they're self-injurious. And and what I've noticed that young people that have been raised in this cauldron, this digital cauldron, are coming out the other end. And remember, I was a professor in the graduate school for ten years, and I was seeing each increase in cohort was getting more leads for lack of a not be politically expedient but more fragile. Young people were getting less and less able to handle the slings and arrows of everyday life. Weather and those slings and arrows now started becoming not just capital T trauma that became little T trauma now became language became challenging. And we know the stereotypical safe spaces trigger warnings phenomenon, which Jonathan has talked about, you know, where university campuses started really viewing language now as harm and needing to protect people. And now I come from a psychological model where. I talk about a healthy psychological immune system and like we have a healthy biological or viral immune system, you have to be exposed to germs to be able to have a healthy immune system. A person needs to be exposed to adversity and needs to be exposed to certain dissident things to develop their psychological muscles or immune system. We've bubble wrapped and overly protective and helicoptered so many of our young people that have been going through this digital cauldron that by the time they land post-college, many of the clients are coming into my program. They're entirely ill equipped to have the life they have so used. The words resilience and critical thinking are the three ingredients that I see lacking. And it looks like to me they're functioning on what we call an emotions economy, because that's the economy, that function and social media. It's not a critically thinking, reasoned, informed economy. It's my emotions. TRUMP your emotions. And then our emotions are spiraling out of control. And nobody has any ability to sort of take a step back and use our our innate abilities. Well, I would say they're innate, but we have to develop critical thinking, right? So as I saw that these were the areas of struggle because one of my academic pursuits been has been classical philosophy, I was like, Oh, wait a second. These are these skill sets that were imbued by the study of classical philosophy. You learned the reason and critical thinking. So which is especially helpful in navigating through social media content, right? To ability to critically think. And I then think Spartan Warrior when we talk about resilience. You know, Angela Duckworth is the psychologist who wrote her book Grit and Grit Scale, where she she studied West Point cadets and she was able to predict on her grit scale which cadets would make it past their excuse me, they have a not a hell week, but they have a six week period of real adversity that they have to go through. And her scale was able to essentially predict which cadets would be able to kind of, you know, lean into that problem experience rather than tap out. And so it felt like these are skill sets that if we can help young people embrace more, they might be able to handle this really complex, modern world that we're in. It reminds me when I first got clean and sober, there was a metaphor that really helped me in my sobriety, and I think it applies well here. Getting clean and sober doesn't make the ocean less turbulent, but it makes us better swimmers. And that, I think, is an apt metaphor for today. We're not putting the genie back in the bottle. We're going to have we're going to be awash in digital, overwhelming, confusing, complex technologies I now driven and all of that. So isn't it even more imperative now that we fortify ourselves as the individual to be better equipped to swim better through some of this turbulence? 

Steven Parton [00:30:30] Yeah. Can we get into some specifics about maybe what somebody might go through if they came to one of your retreats or I don't know if you do digital detoxes, but I guess can we kind of zoom down a little bit from the classical philosophy, high level and maybe look at like, what are some tangible things that seem to help people on all out of real, you know, day to day level. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:30:52] So yeah, we do do if you're coming in, you've even if you're not coming in for tech, addiction is a primary issue. Even if you're coming in for substance or mental health primary, we do do a digital detox. We unplug everyone for six weeks because whether that's your primary issue or not, the the it's almost like a a flammable port poured on. You know, if you're struggling with depression or anxiety, you don't want to pour any social media on that because that's going to make that fire worse. And there is an old saying that in the mental health field that you can't paint a house that's on fire. So first and foremost, you know, let's unplug people so that they go back to baseline so that then we're able to sort of work with them. So obviously, we do a pretty complex bio psychosocial where we're assessing each person's individual needs to somebody have childhood trauma that they need to address and everything else. But we're also baked into our program is a lot of group experiential activities done together like hikes and kayaking and rock climbing, because these are things where because a lot of our young folks who are struggling have not first of all, they've been isolated for. Most of them have not been coming from a social context or they've been even used to interacting or having to make eye contact with other people. So putting them in a social context with other people and then having to collectively overcome certain you know, it's not a it's not an obstacle course, but but, but it's things that they feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Like, oh, I did this with a few mates and now I feel a sense of I can do this and. So of course, there's you know, there's individual cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. But then I do because of the Greek background, we do do a hero's journey metaphor, and we start talking about how can you now reframe the challenges that you've been struggling with? And we struck on to the to both Carl Jung in Hero and Joseph Campbell, the hero, the hero, the Thousand Faces. And you've been playing video games for 14 hours a day, living a vicarious hero's journey because the gaming industry give the devil their due. They're brilliant at co-opting the hero's journey. Almost every video game, almost every action movie is a version of the hero's journey, a protagonist who has to overcome obstacles to become more empowered, or what the Greeks say, apotheosis on the other side. And that feels very empowering. Except it ain't real, right? So we try to tell our clients, Wouldn't you like to be the hero in your own life's adventure and not do it through a digital avatar? And so here's what the hero's journey is. Let's deconstruct what that is. Here's how we can give you some of the tools to lean into some of these experiences. And then let's exposing them. You know, I wrote a book also called Up I'll Play It on Protagoras Can Save Your Life, exposed to some of those readings and exercises where really they they help you look at the deeper aspects and purpose of it's the old you know, it's the old who am I? What am I on the deeper level? Because if you could begin to skin that cat and begin to go through that process, that Socratic question and answering process of what really means something to your life, you're less going to be gravitationally pulled by, you know, Kylie Jenner and, you know, gaming platforms and all that esoterica. 

Steven Parton [00:34:07] Yeah, Yeah. Well, this feels I am going to play off your idea a little bit here, but it feels like the idea of the Ulysses pack, you know, Odysseus sailing past the island of the sirens. And it feels like. Right, you're basically giving a goal that is almost like the wax in his ears that allows him to sail past the island or know where he's tied to the mast and the waxes and the years of the sailor. Right. But he's able to hear the songs of the muse and not be distracted and pull on to the shore and and wreck his ship because he's able to he's tied to the mast. He has a he has a goal. He used his he used his self control before he got into the situation to give him the power to move through that, to challenge. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:34:46] A bar of that present, you know. That's right. That's a perfect example of it, then. Well, well done. That's exactly right. 

Steven Parton [00:34:51] I borrowed it from elsewhere. So, I mean, it's a it's an idea I think we can all benefit from. Right. And I guess to that point, though, it feels like something that we can say here that's useful for anybody, even in a clinical non retreat setting, then is really focusing on maybe outdoor activities, being with other people, setting goals that help you focus and set aside distractions. Are these fair things that we can kind of prescribe for the average person? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:35:22] Yeah, And let me add one other thing too, because part of what I'm working on too, I had testified for the state of Florida past the social media. There was a bill. Now it's a law governing to the center saying that into law. Two weeks ago, and I was one of their expert witnesses on they're going to eliminate social media and law school computers K through 12. But the kids still have their phone. So, you know, how was well intentioned, but whatever. 

Steven Parton [00:35:46] Remains where you can get them. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:35:48] But but part of the other thing that they're advocating is that law mandates is digital citizenship curriculum for students K through 12. And I think this is critically important, and I've been working on that as well because can forget the adolescents but now. You know, the. 12, 13 year old. Because two characteristics that we haven't talked about was. Ethics and compassion, because, you know, you know, every school does I do a lot of school district work. And all these schools want cyberbullying programs, you know, like, you know, how do we eliminate cyberbullying and again, turning the telescope around, stop focusing on the cyberbullying. But the cyberbullying is a byproduct of young people who are not acting either ethically or don't have enough compassion. And so how do we nurture that? How do we build for a good digital citizen? How do we build a good citizen to be more compassionate, ethically correct, Because you don't really often hear that. You don't even hear the word ethics in the public school arena. K through 12. I mean, people might have to study it as some obscure thing, but this is another thing the ancients talked about things like honor and things like compassion and civics. You know, Richard Dreyfus, I'm reminded years ago Richard Dreyfus went on this all out campaign to try to have civics reinstituted back into public school curriculum. So I think if you and in addition to what we talked about, sort of adding ethics and civics and compassion and those concepts, and you start to kind of bake those into the curriculum of younger kids, then they're going to be also better fortified and able to navigate this world as they grow up. They won't be cyber bullies because they're going to be hopefully walking this walk of more appropriate human being. HOOD For lack of a better way of saying it. 

Steven Parton [00:37:41] Yeah, what a shame that we don't do that. This seems like such an obvious move in the right direction. And building on that, I guess I would say now that we're talking policy, would a fair policy suggestion for you be one that's going around right now limiting access to social media for people until they're like 16 or something, Do you think that legislative practices like this, where we keep kids off social media, are ones that we can and should do, or is that an overreach of power? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:38:14] It's interesting because, you know, I'm with the work that I do, with the work that I do, I'm oftentimes embraced by both the left and the right and reviled by both the left and the right for for different reasons. Because if we're talking about sort of defang some of the more negative aspects of, let's call it big tech, so the right will accuse, you know, you well, you know, so you get attacked on the one side for because if you start talking about any kind of guardrails then you start you know, then the right's concerned about things like censorship and then the left is is concerned about. Well, they're concerned about, you know, bad actors that are manipulating stuff. So we need more governmental guardrails. And I think one overall prescription that I that I embrace, that I've been because I have been working with some congressional legislators as well, because they are everybody is trying to find out legislative solutions right now, too. And I've been working with a couple of congressmen staffs on this. You know, I think the adults should be the adults, because the one thing that troubles me and I'll be candid, I don't know where people stand politically, disinformation, misinformation. And I know you've had a couple of guests are specialists in this, but growing up, I don't remember that being part of the popular parlance. I don't remember people being concerned. I honest to God, I can't remember the word disinformation being used more than five years ago. And I know that it's a 1950s Cold War era Soviet concept, but. We've had the National Enquirer and and weird sort, you know, obviously, you know, for the media. But there was I think there was a sense of like in the in a free society, you trust the individual to discern whether you know, I remember, you know, seeing Enquirer covers in the supermarket as a kid, you know, Bat boy, you know, whatever from planet or whatever. And conversely, I'll say, like I grew up as an Art Bell fan. I don't know if you know who you know. Ah, Art Bell. So I was a lifelong insomniac, so I'd stay up late at night and I would listen to Art Bell, and Art Bell would have everybody from Michio Kaku, legitimate quantum physics PhDs to Bigfoot hunters. Right. And and I remember, God bless him, he's passed away a few years now, but he would say, I'm going to put guests on my show. And you, the audience, determine whether you find the merit in my guess. I'm not going to not have someone on as a guest. So Art Bell didn't have a disinformation police that said you can't have that just because he's spreading false rumors about, oh, I get it. This was before the age of weaponized social media. But what concerns me is the overreach the other way, because we always talk about bad actors manipulating social media. But, you know, with all due respect, what if the bad actors are the big tech entities? What if they're the ones who are acting in ways that. So I've always felt that the adults over 18 that there should be a filter process, that the guardrails should not be there, but we should guardrail the vulnerable, kind of almost like a covert strategy, like I don't think we needed to maybe necessarily in hindsight of quarantine, everybody, but maybe the more vulnerable needed to have some more attention. So the kids, the kids who are more. Influenced and shaped by some of this content, you know, let's God build them. So. Exactly right. No social media before 16. But then once you get further into your human hood, we trust you to figure things out, to be able to discern things and to be able to use things appropriately just in the same way that we, you know, don't let seven year olds drive cars, But once they get to a certain age appropriate level, they're able to drive cars and use technology appropriately. I think a similar model should be used. 

Steven Parton [00:41:58] Yeah. Are there other things then that you would recommend or ideas that you've been flirting with that you think could be helpful to navigate this? Whether it's. Smaller scale or maybe something on a large scale institutional governmental policy level. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:42:15] Maybe I do think Section 230 should be repealed because that seems like a protection that doesn't apply anymore. I do think that Section 230, which was, you know, the Communications Decency Act and it it really viewed sort of social media or big tech in general as the community bulletin board and not responsible for any of the content. You know, there weren't publishers there were, but they've been acting as de facto publishers. So there should be some responsibility for the content that you put out. And I do think to some degree, you know. When we talk about monopolies and we talk about, you know, too big to fail kind of entities that do think you know, the way of, you know, telecommunications from the marble to the baby bells, that there were certain companies that had monopolistic tendencies, which certainly we've seen some of the companies have had. You know, I've written in Digital Madness where I've looked at some of the the business strategies of everyone from Facebook, Nevada to to Microsoft. They've been to Amazon. They have been they they put Rockefeller, J.D. Rockefeller to shame. You know, he was notorious with Standard Oil for having gobbled up the American oil industry, controlled over 90% of it. And and as I write in Digital Madness, that was just a commodity. You know, now we have less than a handful of operators who are really controlling the gatekeepers of of the information that shapes our world. And should that be held by such a small cadre of individuals. And so do we need to start looking at defining that and sort of breaking up big tech in a way that I think is makes them less monolithic? And I think, you know, and I talk a little bit about like Lina Khan, who's currently the head of the FTC, but she had written this seminal work when she was at Yale Law about monopolies and how the evolution of, you know, she looked specifically at Amazon and it looked at how the antitrust law had evolved over the last several decades, where it went from protecting and industry antitrust laws used to protecting industry from unfair, you know, a level playing field to now it's consumer based and the consumer based aspect has, while it may be getting the Amazon buyer the best prices that they possibly can, they've created the now environment for potential monopolies where Amazon has gobbled up all the competition and in the other consumer benefits. But entire industries have collapsed. So I would like to see perhaps, you know, revisiting antitrust legislation and seeing because you know, what's happening now, you know, the big tech science going from the Congress every two or three years, say we're sorry, we'll do better and not much happens. Let's face it, because they have some very strong lobbying muscle as well. 

Steven Parton [00:45:09] Yeah, I'm going to push you a little harder here to come up with one more potential solution, I guess. But let's I like with this problem because it's so complex to ask this question. If you had a magic wand, what are kind of the things that you would address that kind of get at the root of this? Right. What are some of the things that whether it's legislation or cultural zeitgeist, anything at all, if you could just wave a wand, what are some of the changes to our society, our culture, our laws, our policies, whatever that you think would help move us in a direction that would be beneficial? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:45:42] Yeah, that's a great question. Again, you know, you can't legislate behavior, right? I mean, you know what? We know that from Prohibition era times, people are going to do what they're going to do. You know, if I had a magic wand and I could change the cultural zeitgeist, you know, to make it less consumerist and less frivolous and, you know, can you know, because that's what I fear is happening, like we're losing that. I said before, our humanity in the most profound way. And and that's why I'm saying if we can. Infuse if we can run an I.V. into the that the body politic but the body human of that ancient wisdom, I think that could help them create not only more resilient young people to manage this, but, you know, before I was talking about ethics, you know, and I've talked about this in my book with even with what's happening with, you know, with some of Ray Kurzweil's work with The Singularity Is Near. And some of this there's sometimes because ethics haven't been often coupled enough with some of the scientific innovation right from Oppenheimer on down. Right. We've we we have really smart scientists playing around with stuff and sometimes there's there's a shadow aspect to that. And too often we've allowed hubris or or just even scientific myopic. Focus, because let's face it, so many scientists, whether they're AI innovators or are virologists playing around in laboratories with gain of function type of things where there is not the ethical guardrails there to say, because I can, should I just because I can? You know, in my book, I wrote the one that was the one anecdote from the CERN supercollider where they were trying to simulate microbe black holes and CERN supercollider. And the one journalist was asking one of the main people running the experiment saying, Well, there are some theoretical papers that have come out that have said that, you know, potentially we could lose containment on one of these microbe black holes in the repository into the fabric of space and destroy the world as we know it. And they love the response, the sort of hubris riddled response of the researcher who said, yeah, we don't think that's going to happen. So, you know, we're going to keep moving forward. Anyway, it was like not even confident about it, but he wanted to see his little Frankenstein project to completion the world be damned. And I think, you know, if I could wave my wand and and again put the I.V. of ethics and ancient wisdom into all of us, the folks who are now doing the A.I. work, the folks who are now trying to make black holes, the folks who are trying to find cures to viruses, all of it needs I think the ethicists need a seat at the table. And I don't think they've had a seat at the table because they've been it's been more of a corporate model that those want to hear the ethicists squawking in the back, shut up, shut the ethicists up or get them out of the room, you know, put them in the straitjacket and tell them he's not invited. 

Steven Parton [00:48:51] Ethics don't scale well for GDP. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:48:56] What about you? 

Steven Parton [00:48:57] What about if I said ethics don't scale very well for GDP? 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:49:01] Right. Yeah, right, right. 

Steven Parton [00:49:03] Right. Well, Nicholas, we're coming to a our our time here, so I want to give you a chance to leave us with any closing thoughts. Maybe something I didn't touch on that you would like to point towards or remind people of, or maybe something you just would like to share, promote that you're working on anything at all. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:49:19] Yeah, well. Well, I just want to close by saying I am hopeful because I know I do a lot of talks or public speaking or interviews and that people about God, that was a bummer. God, that was, you know, it seems a little depressing. And I will say what what gives me hope is that what I'm seeing now, because I'm on the front lines, a lot of a lot of this work, I'm seeing a younger generation that is saying, here are no further who I am seeing an awakening even from a societal acceptance, because I think it took about four or five years. The World Health Organization acknowledged that there is a thing called gaming addiction. Now, that took five years, but but they accepted that people can be habituated. But I think there's an awakening that people need to own their humanity again. And and and I'm seeing that in young people in ways that I've not seen before. There are young people who are now unplugging, who are getting flip phones. I was reading that flip phones are making a big sort of counterculture rebirth in in the younger people, which, you know, those that used to be the kiss of death if you had a flip phone. So I'm encouraged that young people are beginning to sort of see this and they're not all drinking the Kool-Aid. And that gives me hope. And if I think if people like myself and some other colleagues keep sort of kind of, you know, raising awareness, raising awareness that eventually we can kind of like just the pendulum can shift back a little bit into a more balanced digital, mindful digital use. What we talk about mindful digital usage, not drunken sailors, digital usage, drunk on their own power, drunk on their own technology, and not really thinking seven generations ahead or or or what this is doing. So I'm hopeful. 

Steven Parton [00:51:01] Yeah, perfect. Nicholas, thank you for taking us on that. A Hero's journey from From Darkness to Hope. I appreciate it. 

Nicholas Kardaras [00:51:07] Thank you for having me on. And it's been a pleasure. Thank you. 

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