“Go outside! And although a park will do for a quick escape, a trip to a more remote forest or beach is where the real healing starts for me. It’s projected that two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. I think this is severing our ties with the natural world and profoundly affecting us as individuals and communities. Getting back in touch with our biophilic tendencies feels like the first step in addressing a lot of the planets most pressing issues. Including decolonization of food, climate change, pharmaceutical health care and mental health. Get away from cell phone signal and a crowded mind. Consume less and remember how nature truly provides.”
I had the pleasure to interview Mekdela Maskal, Senior Marketing Manager at The Assemblage.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
I come from an education in communications and culture, and more specifically how technology and society intersect. It’s personally important to me as I was raised first generation American, to Ethiopian and Eritrean parents, and watched how the internet changed my family’s relationship to their home country, and reconnection with loved ones. Now, I work as a media activist in many capacities — through my role as senior marketing manager at The Assemblage as well as through freelance writing, photography, and research.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
The Assemblage just launch an online magazine, called Mozaic. Led by content director Simone Spilka. I’m excited about using it as a way to connect with like minds outside of the New York area.
I was also recently selected as a 2018 rising star in photography for good by Adobe, and am continuing to engage with visuals and aesthetics from an activist perspective, shifting their source and impact.
Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health? *
I treat technology consumption like food consumption. We can’t eat anything we want without health repercussions. We may get away with it for a little while, but soon it catches up to us — affecting our sleep, relationships, self-dialogue and more. This is the same with technology. We must devote time and energy into considering the healthiest technology diet for ourselves. It’s not the same for everyone, and we have to learn about the technologies themselves, as well as our own tendencies, to understand our tipping points.
A part of understanding the technologies themselves, is developing a media criticism practice. Consciously decide to view articles, stories, and images from different outlets or individuals than you’d normally stumble upon or follow. Think about how the writer or photographer found the information your digesting. What is their background? Their biases?
In the same vain, learn about the way technology is coded or designed to frame information for us. Where our eyes or fingers move on a screen isn’t by will, it’s by design. The type of content that aggregates on a social media site, or search forum isn’t random, it’s selected based on past-click patterns or advertiser payments. It’s frustrating that this learning isn’t a major part of public education. But, as government systems let us down, we have to create nontraditional methods to arm us with the agency we need to move through this new world with health.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
These are some tips that work for me (there are many more). But I’d focus on the strategies behind them, instead of the actual tactic, so that you can figure out what works for your life. I know many of these wouldn’t work for my mother, who’s sanity comes from knowing her kids can contact her at any hour.
- My phone is always on vibrate. Never a ring tone to interrupt me from afar.
- Do not disturb mode for specific hours of the day (ex. Before bed, while working on an important creative project, etc) or, I’ll turn wifi off on my computer if I need to edit or write without incoming messages.
- Never on my phone during meals. Whether I’m dining with people or not, I try to keep my phone away from meal time.
- Use headphones or speaker phone while making calls (not the Bluetooth kind)
- I turn on read receipts when I find myself picking up my phone at every message, even when I’m in the middle of something. It makes me think before I unlock. I’ll consider if I actually have the time and space to respond, or if I should wait until I can fully focus on getting back to people. Instead of letting every notification distract me from the present.
51% of Americans say they primarily use their smartphone for calls. With the number of robocalls increasing, what are ways people can limit interruptions from spam calls? *
There’s not too much you can do to stop robocalls. The above ideas will help phone interruption in general, but I have a hard time with calls from unknown numbers because it could likely be a family member calling from abroad. If you pick-up and think it may be a robocall, don’t say hello until you hear a human voice on the other line. If you hear nothing, or hear the automated message start, hang up without speaking to avoid being further targeted.
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
The first step for me is being aware enough to realize when I might be overusing it as a distraction from my own thoughts. I like to delete certain apps for a couple weeks at a time while committing to developing my reading or journaling practice. I’ll reorder the placement of apps to reveal where my thumb may habitually go upon unlocking. I only allow imessages, calls, and whatsapps as notification alerts on my lock screen.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
It could become a distraction from clear morning thoughts, and I think it has more dramatic effects before sleep. I personally have some of my greatest realizations or ideas right when I wake up. So instead of forgetting them by picking up my phone, I like to have a notebook next to me and lean into them with a pen. But I’m not consistent. Sometimes I do wake up and grab my phone because I’m expecting an important email or message.
I think it’s beneficial to test. Get an alarm clock, put your phone on do not disturb an hour before bed. Plug it in across the room, or in a different room, and only pick it up again after you’ve gotten ready for the day. Maintain that for a couple weeks and consider the changes.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“I want to stay far away from the realities that are being constructed for us”. It’s something I wrote in my notebook a while back, and remind myself of often.
“This fascinating material morality is a dangerous sea of seduction”. But, I actually don’t know the source of that.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Go outside! And although a park will do for a quick escape, a trip to a more remote forest or beach is where the real healing starts for me. It’s projected that two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. I think this is severing our ties with the natural world and profoundly affecting us as individuals and communities. Getting back in touch with our biophilic tendencies feels like the first step in addressing a lot of the planets most pressing issues. Including decolonization of food, climate change, pharmaceutical health care and mental health.
Get away from cell phone signal and a crowded mind. Consume less and remember how nature truly provides.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@mekdeezy and @theassemblage on Instagram and Twitter
Originally published at medium.com