It's 7:30 a.m. I roll out of bed, boot up my computer, read 67 emails, 256 tweets, and 374 Facebook comments while guzzling a cup of fully caffeinated coffee to fuel my morning cyber connection with friends, family and professional relationships.
Two hours pass and I am still in my bathrobe corresponding with my online clan. My husband looks across the kitchen table to a wife with a computer monitor for a head. Our dog throws squeaky toys at me trying to break my technology trance for attention.
I can't tear myself away from an online weight loss forum where I'm coaching a group of women. The internet has become a lifeline to women around the world doing my 8-step, 12-week plan created to help women during menopause. Running late for the day's activities, I scramble to reschedule a few appointments. There is no time to shower or iron a blouse. Every day my online network grows and there is never enough time to connect with all my cyber friends. It is still morning and I am stressed out, yet nothing stressful has happened.
My life is healthy in all other areas. I have a loving relationship, exercise most days of the week, eat the right foods, listen to music, make time to read, take hikes and do not smoke. My life appears balanced. So why am I feeling so stressed?
According to William Allman, author of Stone Age Present: How Evolution Has Shaped Modern Life, "Our modern skulls house a stone age mind."
Is it possible that our brains have not evolved to accommodate a modern world?
Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, authors of Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer write, "Our brains are better at solving the kinds of problems our ancestors faced on the African savannahs than they are at solving the more familiar tasks we face in a ... modern city."
This is surprising news, but if you look at the human evolution timeline our modern world is a mere blink in time. 99% of our species evolutionary history was spent living as hunter-gatherers in small nomadic groups. The modern human brain has been designed by evolution for a similar social life.
From the Stone Age to the Computer Age, establishing bonds has been crucial to survival. Today we can connect and bond with people anywhere on the planet with the click of a mouse. Instead of huddling around the warmth of a fire sharing our hunting-gathering stories, we bask in the cool blue glow of a computer monitor alone.
Perhaps our brain has not yet evolved to handle the large number of relationships technology has allowed into our lives. It is no surprise that being plugged-in with hundreds and thousands of people causes the kind of stress I've been feeling lately as I try to keep up. I've just published a book and I'm told by almost everyone that social media like Facebook and Twitter is one of the most effective ways to attract and connect with readers. But how, I wonder, do all these people find the time to tend to their social networks and get anything else done in a day?
Chris Brogan is a social media guru who has 137,684 followers on Twitter and 4,817 friends on Facebook. He is a master on how to build and handle relationships on the web. How does he find time to communicate with so many people without being overloaded with stress?
I have been following Chris on Twitter and reading his blogs, trying to uncover his secrets to managing his online tribe. Digging deeper with my modern tool called Google, I discover Chris uses contact management software. Within minutes using Twitter, I am able to connect with Chris to confirm this information. Chris says he "loves it," and uses it to manage his contacts, keep track of his communications, manage to-do lists, and build small custom databases of meta information around his contacts.
Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University, has done research comparing the human brain with other primate species to the size of the social groups those primates typically live, and it was concluded that the ideal group size for the human brain is predicted to be about 150 people. It is interesting that our Stone Age brains have created modern software programs to manage our groups within the online tribe.
I plan on de-stressing Stone Age style, by keeping my personal online tribe to a manageable size -- say 150 or less -- and using modern software tools to control a professional list larger than 150.
Many experts say we need to unplug to de-stress. I say learning how to better use our Computer Age tool called technology will accommodate our slowly evolving Stone Age brain.
We all have choices about who and how many people to let into our cyber world. Just like our real world. Perhaps managing the size of our groups, and prioritizing the time spent in each world will bring relief.
Suddenly I am more aware of my natural instincts: I notice my husband chilling out on the couch unplugged from his online tribe giving me a flirty glance. If we lived in the Stone Age this look might mean, "come into my cave, away from the tribe, for some quiet time to de-stress."
I am turning off the computer now to snuggle with my modern man in our cave called the living room. Tomorrow morning over coffee, I will tweet you with my new de-stressing Stone Age style results.
Allman, W. Stone Age Present: How Evolution Has Shaped Modern Life -- From Sex, Violence and Language to Emotions, Morals and Communities. New York, NY:
Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (1997). Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html
Brogan, C. and J. Smith. Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influenence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons: 2009.
Dunbar, R.I.M. (1992). Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates, Journal of Human Evolution 22: 469-493.