A.I., Apps, Brain Scans, Confectionary, Consiousness, Digital Consumption, Digital Obesity, Educational Psychologists, Fat Sugar Compounds, HUman Existence, Instagram, John Sweller, Justin Kent, Kodachrome, Long Term Memory, Maltesers, Mondelez, NeuroScience, Neurotransmitters, Nicholas Carr, Social Memory, social networks, Social Technologies, Swiss Chocolate, tenderness, Walter J Ong, Wonka Bars, Working Memory
Could chocolate provide a simple low cost off set strategy to the impact of repeated use of technology, devices and the internet both on our individual long term and our collective social memory?
Could an old school tablet of a particular chocolate offset the dulling of our deeper human conscious software bought on by hi tech devices and surfing the net?
Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows pointed to the neurological impacts of constant and intense internet usage on us – with evidence that suggests that how our brain works – the way we think and in deeper terms how we retain and internalise our experiences both immediate, short and long term – is directly affected by how we experience life through the lens of our digital age.
We use technology to accelerate and expand both the speed, reach and the expanse of our lives.
But we rarely stop to consider the impact of using technologies to do so. Any negative consequence of doing so would simply ‘get in the way’ of the immediate gratification and the life enhancing abilities of fully submerging ourselves in a stream of tech derived stimuli.
Its just cool kit right? That helps us be our fabulous expansive selves.
But as we are coming to realise, technology and all it brings has far deeper resonance on our humanity. It always has, regardless of type, culture, epoch and era. Let us not forget that, at one point, alphabets and writing were an exterior technology. But their impact on how we retain, process and express our most profound human selves has been immeasurable.
Carr cites Walter J Ong in that “Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness”.
Modern digital and social technologies, in rewiring how we think, are changing our capacity for retention of information – especially the kind that feeds our deeper long-term memory – in ways that may seriously affect how we remember – both individually and collectively.
Contrary to the previously held belief that “it played little part in complex cognitive processes such as thinking and problem solving”, long-term memory is more than just a warehouse for ‘stuff’, according to Australian educational psychologist, John Sweller – “long term memory is actually the seat of understanding. It stores not just facts but complex concepts or “schemas”. These schemas are the very things which give depth and richness to our thinking.
So how our working memory – the short term immediate variety – works and its ability to transfer information to our long term memory has a massive impact on and is central and fundamental to the ‘health and dynamism’ of consciousness.
So where does the Chocolate Instagram connection come into this?
Last year I had the pleasure of being party to a number of research groups across France, Germany and Russia run by the inestimable Justin Kent.
The research in question focused on deciphering the true ‘emotional’ heart and hook of an iconic Swiss chocolate brand. The theory was that the chocolate seemed to be rooted in a deeper sense of emotional well being and connectivity of a particularly tender variety. (I know, go with me on this one: its surprising what a group of supposedly sane adults can come up with in a room when they’re exercising their intellect and protecting their school fee paying salary and smart holidays.)
That the taste and experience of the chocolate might build an instant bridge between the Now and the deeper long term individual and collective social memory bank was to be fair not that ridiculous an assertion.
In two of the countries researched, millions of people had grown up with the chocolate, so its role in golden-fringed and highly personal memories of childhood and of naive simpler times was to be expected
But interestingly the research also revealed that this was a reoccurring theme across both the countries where the people had grown up with it and in those where it was a new arrival (albeit using very small highly qualitative samples – and with only one ‘new’ country in the mix).
Something in the chocolate’s sweet emollient nature – its texture and melting properties – and the way it made you play with the square of chocolate in your mouth (a quite childlike think to do)seemed to create a brief momentary sense of wellbeing that seemed to be rooted in taking people to a naïve and simpler place in their head, regardless of whether they had ‘grown up with it’ or not.
To be clear this was not a retro, nostalgia moment that lifted them up and out of the moment into a reverie removed from the here and now. It seemed to bridge the space between their ‘Now’ – their working memory – and their ‘Then’ – their long term memory.
Much like the Kodachromatic filter on Instagram that immediately makes any picture just taken look like a memory; plucked from some old family photo album (for those of you who can remember them), the chocolate was making instant snapshots in the family album of the Now, saturating and staining the living moment in a deeper simpler kodachromatic emotional mood.
This inspired me to badge this momentary product effect as Chocolate Instagram.
But in linking something as simple and old school as chocolate to something as advanced and rooted in the burgeoning digital age as a social app, a thought popped into my head.
That Chocolate releases chemicals like anandamide and theobromine to stimulate neurotransmitters that affect our mood and effect how we think is a well proven ‘given’. It has a singularly positive effect on our disposition (unless you are on 3 bars a day and diabetic of course). Could the positive act of consuming chocolate off-set the potentially stunting, shallowing effect of our consumption of relentless digital stimuli on the well being of our brain and ultimately our consciousness?
Chocolate is certainly one of those rare compound experiences that seem to elicit both highly individual and deeply set emotional responses while also triggering immediate and ‘shared’ moments of equal emotional vivacity between people who have otherwise no connection to each other: much the same as the social apps and networks we fill our lives with.
If chocoholics are to be believed it certainly fulfils Ong’s task of being a technology that transforms interior consciousness.
Therefore it was interesting to me to ponder the possibility that the simple act of eating a piece of chocolate might be opening a synaptic connection between wells of feeling (sentimental data) in our deeper consciousness (our long term and social memory banks) and the immediate working memory of the Now, measured in seconds and moments.
Beyond the pleasurable feeling in the moment of playing a sweet melty square of chocolate around in your mouth, could chocolate create a parallel yet opposite effect? Heightening the receptors that shape how we consume the moment and subsequently how we process it? Perhaps we could build a complementary ‘conscious cloud’ computing system for our emotions predicated solely on the eating of chocolate?
That the low-fi technology of chocolate might have a similar yet potentially opposite effect on our conscious existence to the one provided by an super hi-end App used in the recording of that existence felt intriguing and in some ways complete – circular.
It certainly felt worthy of further exploration: especially by a chocolate business looking to off-set its avaricious peddling of more of its fat sugar compound pleasure with a higher purpose of sorts.
Even the simplest test might be revealing. What if we were to wire the brains of two sets or samples of people – and then have both sets undertake social networking and web surfing in isolation – the only difference being that one set undertook these tasks with the supplement of chocolate and the others without.
We could test them ‘in play‘ – eating as they undertook the tasks. We could also perform a secondary and tertiary set of tests – with consumption of chocolate happening prior to undertaking the tasks and finally one where the chocolate was consumed after the fact.
What would the brain scans reveal I wonder? No effect? Some effect? Would the activity be complimentary, conflicted; or would one either elevate or negate the other?
Who knows: but it would be fun to find out.
In the meantime, I suggest we break out the Whole Nut: oh, and a bag of Maltesers please. (And a Wonka Triple Chocolate Whipple) and consume heartily. And then perhaps tweet the empty wrapper picture to an waiting audience!
You know you want to.