IT’S graduation day, with two happy sets of families around a table in Birmingham.

And everyone’s smart devices are being used in a variety of all-too-human ways. There is a 14-year-old girl whose sputtering, shattered phone is vital to her very being. She is awkwardly tethered to my barely-long-enough power cable, which is stuck into a dusty socket behind the booth. She taps and stabs away impassively.

But there has also been much joyous image-taking by all the generations. Some are editing the burst-mode shot of a mortar board thrown up into the air. Others are enjoying a live video clip of The Boy Himself receiving his hard-won degree, huge pride all round.

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Spontaneously, and because one of the party is a cineaste, we burst into a listicle game of “Top Ten Movies You Would Watch Again And Again”. Most of us get to five or six on memory alone but we take to our search engines to remind us of more. And someone else duly taps into their Notes app what everyone’s lists were.

I’ll treasure these lists. They will be simple, lovely commemorations of what should be celebrated when someone gets a humanities degree — everyone’s love of culture, and everyone’s right to express that.

Of course we did laughter, tears, daft celebration cards, hugs, reminiscences, testimonials — indeed, it’s mostly all that touchy-feely stuff. Let me slightly bracket out our beloved teenage diva and her moment of identity-formation (which could as easily be effected by being nose-deep in a Lemony Snicket or Darren Shan novel).

Allow me that, then it becomes really hard to frame all the networked devices around this table as anything other than “tools for conviviality”, as the old 1960s radical Ivan Illich put it.

We 21st-century people have a universe of information and content, either to receive or make, running just underneath our fingertips. “What will we do with it?” is the question, as much as “what will it do with us?”.

So in the aftermath of our glowing, gentle day, I am not well-disposed to reading another jeremiad about the various mental illnesses that our uses of social and digital media might generate. The storm cloud ahead of us comes from Robert Lustig’s The Hacking of the American Mind, out in September but already being breathlessly trailed in the UK media.

Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist with a background in neuroscience. He’s made his name with books that indict states and corporations for their conscious use of sugars as addictive substances and now claims the alarming rises in the number of people suffering from depression are correlated to, if not caused by, our explosive use of the internet, and the way it can be designed to exploit our biology.

Let’s run with it for a bit. From pre-publicity, the argument seems to have good neurological roots. Dopamine is what’s known as a “reward” chemical (or neurotransmitter) in the brain, telling us we want more. And serotonin is our “contentment” chemical, telling us we don’t need any more. The core problem, as Lustig puts it, is that: “Dopamine evolved to overwhelm serotonin, because our ancestors were more likely to survive if they were constantly motivated. The result is that constant desire can chemically destroy our ability to feel happiness, while sending us down the slippery slope to addiction.”

If “constant desire” is our psychological downfall, there would already be a lot of blame to slap on advertiser-driven consumer capitalism over the last half-century. (Buddhists might also raise a quiet hand about the perennial challenges of human desire). But for Lustig, our digital usage is the most oppressive system of all. Its incessant calls to update and respond are designed, consciously, to trigger spikes of pleasure (dopamine), not the glow of happiness (serotonin). And, as with sugar, drugs or porn, the more you spike, the less satisfying each subsequent spike becomes, requiring yet more spikes … depression is an easily imaginable outcome. And, of course, it’s real. The FT cited some rough stats around depression this week. A record number of antidepressants were given out in England last year. Globally, the World Health Organization says 322 million people suffered depression during 2015 — 4.4 per cent of the planet’s population. Rates have risen18.4 per cent in the last decade, affecting north and south.

Again, before we jump to correlation, let alone causation, a wee “haud on”. One might more readily blame austerity on these islands and this continent, or the shock impact of neoliberalism on other parts of the world, for the general rise in depression rates.

In these accounts of cyber-exploitation, what I often push back on is that they downgrade our basic human capability. We always seem to be tremulous victims of our own ingenuity. The power and pull of our long evolutionary history is often cited: we are poor wee stranded hunter-gatherers, baffled by mind-ensnaring new technology (that we have somehow, mysteriously, also invented).

What my advocacy and reading around play has taught me over the last 20 years is that there are alternative sources of mind-science to draw on — ones which emphasise creativity and imagination much more than vulnerability and incapacity (but positive stories don’t make for crisis-laden pop-science bestsellers). The wee vignette at the beginning of this piece is an attempt to show other ways we can relate to our fabulous devices, driven by affection, enthusiasm, interest and exploration. Yet the setting is all important. Here, we were joyful and relaxed: we had all determinedly carved out a day from our work schedules to celebrate the achievement of a loved one. So the same technology that is configured to keep us click-click-clicking on a stressful commute, also served this rich human moment.

Could the argument be that we need more and more of these rich human moments in our lives, rather than less and less of the tools that might as easily enhance them?

And, of course, it should go without saying that social media is political. That is, it can help us convince others that we should shift some structures in the direction of enabling said human richness. Are we coming to some realisations about how to use it well and appropriately?

The rules of netiquette are developing. Try to imagine your interlocutor physically in front of you when you respond to them online, their embodied reactions to what you’d say. Would you really write that? If you’re aware you’re in a “bubble” of media tailored only to your values and assumptions, then consciously join or curate other “bubbles”. (The social media platforms, post-Trump and Brexit, are now aware they have to cultivate this activity).

When I think of the amazing range of peers, experts and voices I have gathered over the last few years on social media, I find it very hard to characterise their “feeds” as generating addiction or depression on my part. Frustration, even infuriation sometimes, sure.

But much more often, they equip me to begin to map and understand the maelstrom of modern life, in Scotland and elsewhere.

We could say that what we are really struggling with are the right political, social and economic arrangements to make the best of this communication power.

The net becomes a tool, and not a drug, when we have more time and support to be citizens, carers, makers and aesthetes. We’ll then reach for it when it can serve this life we’ve made worth living.

The graduation day speaker at Birmingham University, the great TV producer and writer Tony Garnett, urged the departing students to “creatively disrupt” the world they’re moving into. Garnett implied that there was a “destructive disruption” they should avoid.

But what it deeply assumed — and doubtless the reason why the media veteran laid it on the kids in front of him — was that all humans have enough imaginative power to rearrange and start again. Our “minds” aren’t there to be “hacked”, but to do the hacking — and our digital tools are ready and waiting for us. But we all need to graduate to new levels of development here. A challenging endnote to our sunny, optimistic day.

Robert Lustig’s The Hacking of the American Mind is out in September in the UK