March 17, 2019
The ancestral health movement argues that over long periods of time, evolution adapts species to their environments. It follows that when it comes to human well-being, we should pay attention to how we ate and behaved throughout the vast majority of our evolutionary history.
Like most lifestyle movements, ancestral health has spawned its share of hucksters and extremists, but the underlying logic seems self-evident, and the success stories can be compelling.
After recent appearances on Paleo Magazine Radio and Mark Hyman’s podcast, and my embrace of Mark Sisson’s advice to help stay lean and energized on book tour, I’ve begun to think more about the natural intersection of digital minimalism and ancestral health.
Consider these points, all of which I provide detailed arguments for in Digital Minimalism:
- Humans have evolved to build strong social connections with family, close friends, and community through face-to-face interactions that require non-trivial sacrifices of time and energy. (For more on this, see Chapter 5, or the book Social.)
- The human brain requires regular periods of “solitude” in which it is alone with its own thoughts and observing the world around it. (For more on this, see Chapter 4, or the book Lead Yourself First.)
- Humans have a strong drive to see their intentions manifested concretely in the world, be it shaping a spear, starting a fire, or bending electrical conduit into an efficient pattern. (For more on this, see Chapter 6, or the book Shop Class as Soulcraft.)
A side effect of our current techno-culture is that it radically diminishes these ancestral drive in our daily lives.
Social media, for example, reduces our sociality to low-friction online likes and comments, which provide a simulacrum of connection, but are barely recognized by our primal brain as socializing at all — leaving us paradoxically lonelier.
Algorithmically-optimized distraction delivered through a ubiquitous screen provides a pleasant escape in the moment from the difficulties of our lives, but it also banishes every last vestige of solitude, throwing our brains into a shocked state of low grade anxiety.
As we become used to these spoon-fed digital trinkets, we also become less likely to put up with the friction involved in high quality leisure activities, like coercing your fingers to cleanly place a guitar chord — stymying our brains instinct to shape things with our hands.
Which is to all say that it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that if you’re serious about ancestral health, you should be as concerned about your iPhone and Instagram as you are about grain and sugar, as the former are equally as foreign to our evolutionary adaptations.
To live like Grok in our modern world, in other words, probably requires a minimalist’s skepticism toward new technology.