A new theory about digital intoxication.
BBC News Mundo (13 March 2019) carried a story about Brazilian psychiatrist Augusto Cury, who claims to have discovered “accelerated thought syndrome”, a condition that affects so many people it can be called “the illness of the century”.
Cury has practised psychiatry for 25 years and is the author of more than 40 books on anxiety and other mental health issues. He came up with the theory of “multifocal intelligence”, which integrates emotional, social and cognitive skills and includes conscious and unconscious aspects of how thoughts are put together.
In an interview with BBC Mundo, Cury was asked about “accelerated thought syndrome” and why there is cause for alarm. He replied:
“It’s a type of anxiety. Excess of information, of activity, social preoccupations and pressures can accelerate the mind to a terrifying speed. In other words, in a very serious and irresponsible way we have changed the thought process. In the digital era, this is happening with an intensity never seen before.”
What do you mean by “accelerate the mind to a terrifying speed”?
“Information excess and digital intoxication triggers the memory faculty a great deal and causes a hair-raising number of pages to open (in the archive of memories), without remaining on a single one, so that the individual loses focus and concentration. The outcome is a frightening and futile burst of thoughts. Many useless thoughts. One example is a person reading a page of a book or a newspaper and not remembering anything.”
What are the symptoms?
“Lack of sleep, difficulty in staying asleep, waking up tired, lumps in your throat, bowel problems, and in some cases even higher blood pressure. Headaches or muscular pains are an alarm signal that the brain is exhausted by an excess of thoughts and concerns.”
Why do you think “accelerated thought syndrome” in the illness of the century?
Because of its intensity and dramatic character, which affects people of all cultures and ages. Between 70% and 80% of human beings, including children, display this syndrome. It is, without doubt, the illness of the century, more so than depression.”
What are the consequences for those suffering from it?
“Conflicts increase greatly, because anxious people have a low threshold for frustration, are intolerant of setbacks, irritable and tense. Students do not develop deep and schematic reasoning. They are much more reactive. They act according to the stimulus-response phenomenon, action-reaction, and cannot internalize, think through their conflicts in a more intelligent way.”
How can we prevent this syndrome?
“We have to learn to contemplate what’s beautiful, which means giving in to and staying entranced by beautiful things like nature and flowers. Speak about your failures so that your children or students understand that no one ever reaches the podium without having failed beforehand.”
This last idea brings to mind forms of Chinese meditation like qi gong that focus on the kind of self-awareness that brings knowledge, wisdom, and self-control. Contemplating a beautiful landscape or a painting, reading a great book or listening to a captivating piece of music – instead of clicking on Instagram – would be great places to start. In the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi, “Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.”