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Tag: social connection

The Dining Table

Furnishing a new home is pretty similar for most of us — Buy the bed that goes in the corner of the bedroom,wardrobe against the wall, sofa sits here, put the TV on that wall, shelves for books next to the work desk.

When designing for space though, things get a little strange.

Without gravity, our usually concept of furniture gets turned on its head. Do we really need a table when there isn’t gravity to keep things on it? Ditto a bookshelf. And while we’re at it, we can simply any side of that box we are in and make it functional in some way, since there is no real “up” or down” anyway?

Because of this most of the capsules in spacecraft are tremendously functional — which is good, since you don’t want to waste an inch if it takes gallons of fuel to haul things into space.

But in designing the habitation capsule for astronauts, it’s possible to go too far. We are, after all, designing for humans.

One of the things that space crews were adamant about keeping were dining tables.

It seems a most mundane thing thing to keep, giving that we can eat anywhere (TV dinners and grabbing lunch on the move). Yet it makes perfect sense.

The dining table, like the proverbial water cooler, is a place where people not only eat and drink together, but also chat (and gossip).  We all love a good debate over dinner about whether the latest Star Wars lived up to the franchise.

In the description for this video showing the crew of the International Space Station, they write:

Dining together can radically shift perspectives, blurring boundaries just as looking down on Earth from our vantage point, especially, when dinner partners are from all different corners of the world. But also mealtime lets us build a sense of camaraderie.

It is a reminder that even in the void and vacuum, people are people, and we need to connect and mingle. Preferably over food.

Check out the video below if you’re wondering what dinner looks like on the ISS. I just love the way they (literally) bounce stuff off each other.

Depression Is A Disease Of Civilisation by Stephen Ilardi at TEDxEmory

A TED Talk A Day, Day 17: This talk is headlined by depression, but is really about the disconnect between what we were designed for, and the reality of how we live today. What’s great though, is that Ilardi prescribes steps we can actually take to prevent depression (and by some extension also lead healthy lives). A shame that he had to run out of time towards the end.

  1. Depression is both a feeling we are all familiar with and, from a clinic perspective, also a devastating illness.
  2. Depression, the illness, lights up the pain circuitry of the brain, and torments those who suffer from it.
  3. The bad news: depression is a global epidemic. 1 in 4 Americans will suffer depression before they are 75, and the trend is getting worse.
  4. The good news: it can be defeated.
  5. What causes depression? It’s complicated. But there is a common driver: the brain’s runaway stress response.
  6. The stress response is essentially the fight or flight response we inherited from our ancestors. But it was designed to be a short-term response, and designed for physical action. People in the western world suffer from prolonged stress responses — weeks, months, and even years. This becomes toxic to the brain.
  7. This prolonged stress response can lead not only the depressive illness, but also sleep disturbance, brain damage (!), immune dysregulation and inflammation.
  8. There are a range of conditions, like asthma, diabetes, and allergies, that are common in the developed world but absent in present day hunter-gatherer groups — these have been identified as the “diseases of civillisation”. They are diseases of lifestyle.
  9. Our genome, our bodies, are still mostly designed for hunter-gatherer lifestyles, even taking into account the changes through the agricultural revolution.
  10. Our world, though, changed drastically during the industrial revolution — this has even been termed “radical environmental mutation”, showing just how massive the shift has been.
  11. We were never designed for the lifestyles we live today.
  12. Medication has been useful, but hasn’t tamed the condition at all.
  13. Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) — 6 factors that can protect us from depression and change our neurochemistry:
    1. physical activity (exercise): exercise changes the body in ways “more powerful than any pill you can take”. We know exercise is good for us… but we don’t do it! Mainly because exercise is “not natural”. Hunter-gatherer groups don’t exercise, they just live and do their daily activities. What we can do is to make it social.
    2. omega-3 fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids play complementary roles in our body, and we get each from different food sources. Omega-3s are generally found in grasses, algae and the animals that eat them; Omega-6s are found in grains and seeds, and the animals that eat them. Our modern diet is biased towards omega-6s. Optimal balance is a ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 from 1:1 to 2:1. More specifically, research has shown that 1g-2g of EPA a day has anti-depressive effects.
    3. sunlight
    4. healthy sleep
    5. anti-ruminative activity
    6. social connection: We were born to connect, but instead we have swapped “face time for Facebook”.
  14. Majority of those who tried TLC managed to life themselves from depression, even after medication didn’t work for them.

Suggest action step: Looks like there are quite a few clear things to do for this one! What I will focus on though, is exercise — I’ve been falling off a bit recently, and it’s time to get back on.

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