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But you don't have to go the whole way to reap benefits. The benefits start right away, and they pile up over the years. It is a cumulative function: the more you sit, the more you learn about the real nature of your own existence. The more hours you spend in meditation, the greater your ability to calmly observe every impulse and intention, thought and emotion, just as it arises in the mind. Your progress to liberation is measured in hours on the cushion. And you can stop during the process any time you feel you've had enough. There is no mandating rule but your own desire to see the true quality of life, to enhance your own existence and that of others. Vipassana meditation is inherently experiential, not theoretical. In the practice of meditation you become sensitive to the actual experience of living, to how things actually feel. You do not sit around developing sublime thoughts about living. You live. Vipassana meditation, more than anything else, is learning to live. Within the last century, Western science has made a startling discovery: We are part of the world we view. The very process of our observation changes the things we observe. For example, an electron is an extremely tiny item. It cannot be viewed without instrumentation, and that apparatus dictates what the observer will see. If you look at an electron in one particular way, it appears to be a particle, a hard little ball that bounces around in nice straight paths. When you view it another way, an electron appears to be a wave form, glowing and wiggling all over the place, with nothing solid about it at all. An electron is an event more than a thing, and the observer participates in that event by the very act of his or her observation. There is no way to avoid this interaction.

Eastern science has recognized this basic principle for a very long time. The mind itself is a set of events, and you participate in those events every time you look inward. Meditation is participatory observation: What you are looking at responds to the process of looking. In this case, what you are looking at is you, and what you see depends on how you look. Thus, the process of meditation is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator. Albert Einstein once said, "I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots." Or at least that's what you'll read from time to time in memes passed around on the Internet. The problem is, there's no evidence that the legendary visionary and genius ever said any such thing. This quote--or rather, misquote--is very revealing, because it illustrates two facts that deserve our attention as we contemplate the role technology plays in depression. The first is society's tendency to distrust or even fear technologies when they are new. People will often latch on to every spurious claim of impending doom and take it as fact. This is nothing new. Socrates himself taught that writing--something we'd hardly recognize as a technology anymore--was sure to "create forgetfulness" and leave us with "only the semblance of truth." Millennia later, printed books earned the scorn of philosophers like Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who feared that "the horrible mass of books that keeps growing might lead to a fall back into barbarism." Closer to our time, in the early nineteenth century, many people were quite certain the locomotive train was a doomsday machine since they believed the human body was not made to withstand speeds of thirty miles per hour. The list goes on: the telegraph, the telephone, and the television all drew scorn from a fearful public. We are tempted to laugh at that kind of Chicken Little thinking these days. And yet now it's our turn, as the Internet and smartphones have become the latest targets of this phenomenon. Don't get me wrong. It's a good thing to investigate all possible consequences of introducing radically new ways of doing things, especially the unintended ones. We need to know what we're getting ourselves into. What we don't need is another reason to feel afraid and powerless.

The truth is, technologies are rarely either good or evil in themselves; it's how we use them that adds those flavors. Which brings us to the second fact worthy of our attention: we'd better be wise in our uses, because technology is not always reliable and is not always our friend. Fire can cook your food or burn down your house, depending on how you employ it. Ultimately, that's good news. It suggests that whether your use of technology is harmful or beneficial is mostly up to you. That's empowering--and a good starting place in our discussion of how your use of technology may be prolonging your struggle with depression. Internal triggers drive behavior. To understand how to help kids manage distraction, we need to start by understanding the source of the problem. Our kids need psychological nutrients. According to a widely accepted theory of human motivation, all people need three things to thrive: a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Distractions satisfy deficiencies. When our kids' psychological needs are not met in the real world, they go looking for satisfaction--often in virtual environments. Kids need alternatives. Parents and guardians can take steps to help kids find balance between their online and offline worlds by providing more offline opportunities to find autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The four-part Indistractable Model is valuable for kids as well. Teach them methods for handling distraction, and, most important, model being indistractable yourself. When it comes to helping our kids manage distraction, it's important to make the conversation about people rather than tech. That's according to Lori Getz, the founder of Cyber Education Consultants, which hosts internet safety workshops in schools--it's a lesson she learned in her own childhood. Getz got her first phone (a corded one for her room) as a teenager. The moment she got it, she closed the door and spent the entire weekend locked in her room, talking with friends instead of spending time with her family.

When she got home from school the next Monday, her door had been taken off the hinges. "It's not the phone's fault you're behaving like an a-hole," her father chided her. "You closed the door and you closed all of us out." While Getz doesn't recommend her father's aggressive tactics or tone, his focus on the effect her behavior had on others rather than the phone itself proved instructive. "Make [the conversation] about how you're treating and interacting with the people around you," she advises, as opposed to blaming the tool. When it comes to how we spend time together as a family, the important thing is to define what constitutes traction versus distraction. A recent Getz family vacation put her theory to the test. Her six- and eleven-year-old daughters asked if they could use their phones during the two-hour ride from Sacramento to Truckee. Motivated by a desire to ease the monotony of the ride as well as the opportunity for a quiet conversation with her husband, Getz agreed. The device time made the long drive easier, but later in the vacation, Getz noticed her daughters started turning to their devices a bit too much. The girls' tech overuse came to a head when Getz returned from a run to find her kids glued to their screens. Neither was ready to leave for their family outing, as had been agreed upon. Rather than losing her cool and punitively announcing strict house rules around the kids' use of devices, Getz decided it was time for a family talk. During the family huddle, they all confirmed their desire to spend quality time together (aka traction). By agreeing upon how they wanted to spend their time and what needed to get done, it became clear that doing anything else was a distraction interfering with their plans. They decided as a family that they could use their devices only after they were 100 percent ready to go. The noted neuroscientist and author Oliver Sacks reported on a patient with neurological problems who, during his exam, took his shoe off. When Sacks asked him to put it back on, the man put his hand on his foot and said, "This is my shoe, no?" Sacks said, "No, it is not. That is your foot. There is your shoe." To which he replied, "Ah! I thought that was my foot." When he was leaving, he looked around for his hat, took hold of his wife's head, and tried to lift it off to put it on his head, which gave rise to Sacks' famous title for his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.39 Our temporal lobes enable us to recognize faces and objects.

When portions are damaged, patients can't recognize their own parents. In other cases, patients suffering from Capgras' delusion come to regard their close relatives as imposters. They recognize the face, but feel the person is posing as their parent, brother, or sister. This may result from damage to the link between the temporal lobe and the limbic system within the brain. The temporal lobe recognizes the image (e.g., mother) and then passes it on to the amygdala which determines the face's emotional significance (e.g., mother associated with love). If the pathway to the amygdala is damaged, the person may recognize the face, but not experience any emotion, leading to the belief that the person is an imposter.40 What we see can also be influenced by what we experienced in the past. For example, a man who gained his sight after being blind for most of his life sometimes saw new things only after he could touch them. That is, if he was exposed to a novel item that he had no experience with in the past, he wouldn't "see" it until he felt it, which was how he perceived things most of his life.41 Research indicates that cats raised in environments where they see only vertical lines typically don't perceive horizontal objects, while cats raised in horizontal environments don't perceive vertical objects. If a cat experienced only vertical lines when very young, and was later put in a normal environment, it would walk off the end of a table because it wouldn't see the table's horizontal edge.42 Problems in perceiving the world arise not just from visual perception. Consider the case of phantom limbs. Patients who lose an arm or leg sometimes feel that the appendage is still there. In fact, the phantom limb can cause excruciating pain, which has even led some to contemplate suicide. One physician had a pulsating cramp in his leg caused by Buerger's disease that was so painful he had the leg amputated. Amazingly, and unfortunately for him, the pain continued in his phantom limb! Some patients feel that their amputated hand is extremely painful because they think it's curled in a tight fist, with their fingers digging into the palm of their lost hand. Dr. Ramachandran created a box with a mirror so that if a patient put his good hand in one side, it would appear that the amputated hand was also there. He would tell his patients to put their hands into the box with their fingers clenched into a fist, and then try to unclench both hands. For many patients, the visual feedback from the mirror made them feel that their phantom fist opened up, so their pain was relieved.43 As these cases demonstrate, our perceptions of the world depend upon the complex interconnected neural structures in our brain. At birth, our brains contain over one hundred billion neurons.