Forget about cocaine, crack, marijuana, speed and booze …
There is a new drug out there, and we are all hooked.
Its resulting effects include a short-term dopamine hit and the illusion of gaining tremendous superhuman strength in the management of multiple activities at one time. The user believes that they are able to harness such power and control over space and time, that they fail to realize each single activity actually suffers. This drug clouds judgement, impairs the perception of what we experience, and manufacturers anxiety by forcing the user to meet unrealistic expectations of themselves.
The drug is legal and readily available through largely trusted and highly marketed means. The paraphernalia required for its use is expensive, often financed and seen as a status symbol. It is highly addictive. The use of this drug is condoned and even required by teachers, administrators, employers, customers and our friends. Prolonged and intense use has been linked to the inability to look someone in the eye during a conversation, decreased desire to have a verbal communicative exchange, lack of focus for periods of longer than three minutes, and the transformation of states as a participant in the present moment to a documentarian of it.
Centrally mounted campaigns to create awareness are nonexistent. The responsibility falls upon the individual to educate themselves on the potential dangers of this drug.
“The evidence is all around us with people attached to their devices and often times driven to use them obsessively by fear and worry. Missing out on social information, work information, and our personal pursuits can put us in a state of anxiety, and even cause panic attacks, sometimes with serious consequences”
Dr. Larry Rosen, research psychologist and author of iDisorder: Understanding our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us
I have a complicated relationship with technology.
Over the last ten years, I’ve worked as a consultant advising large organizations on strategies to leverage data, optimize communications, maintain agility and mitigate risk using technology infrastructure.
Information technology is the basic application of quantum mechanics to a complex orchestration of people, processes, metal boxes, spinning disks, fiber optic cables, blinking lights, security appliances, communications protocols, programming languages, applications, failover strategies, diesel generators, valve regulated lead acid batteries, condensers, air conditioners, algorithms and silicon chip sets that support groups of 1’s and 0’s on their long journey from data into useful information.
My company, Tunewelders, is deeply entrenched in the world of ambisonics, binaural audio and game engine programming to create rich and realistic audio for virtual and augmented reality applications. Our team has also invested the last four years in the exploration and application of audio-visual technology to create a world of artistic collaboration without geographic limitation. Tunewelders has connected a conductor in Miami with a 100-piece orchestra in Atlanta to deliver a ground-breaking, real-time performance. As a drummer, I participated in an experimental, live performance between two groups of musicians separated by almost 100 miles. Future applications of this technology could transform artistic collaboration, live performance and experiential marketing.
Technology is a critical part of what I do every single day, and I really enjoy it. The complicated aspect of my relationship with it comes from its eventual use and consumption, rather than the pure revolutionary aspects of it. Technology can make us more efficient, it can entertain us, but it can also distract us. It can give us superhuman powers, while reducing our innately human abilities. The distraction introduces a scattered mindset, increased anxiety and a limitation on our nature to connect with other people.
Is technology limiting our ability to connect?
In a recent article called Eliminating The Human, musician and artist David Byrne battled with trade offs surrounding the convenience of technology and the beautiful quirkiness of being human.
Byrne on the nature of human interaction …
“Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s mindset, as complicated, inefficient, noisy and slow. Part of making something ‘frictionless’ is getting the human element out of the way”.
Byrne expanding on the quirkiness of being human …
“With humans being somewhat unpredictable, (well until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefits of surprises, happy accidents, unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration multiplies those opportunities.”
“Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun – they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we are left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions.”
Technology certainly isn’t all bad, but maybe it isn’t all good, either.
Are we removing ourselves from the equation?
You can begin to predict tomorrow by recognizing and understanding the patterns of today. Self check-out, self-driving cars, robotic manufacturing and AI-supported services are happening now. While generating massive efficiency and reducing friction, it also seems that technology, and our use of it, could have significant implications on our species over the long-term.
Alan Watts is one of my favorite people.
He called himself an entertainer. He was a philosopher, speaker and author most known for crystal clear explanations of Eastern wisdom presented to a Western audience. In his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for the Age of Anxiety, he alludes to an insightful prediction on the dangers of mechanical innovation. He explains, “useful as it would be as a tool and a servant, we worship its rationality, its efficiency, and its power to abolish the limitations of time and space, and thus permit it to regulate our lives.”
Mind you, this book was written in 1951 …
How do we enjoy efficiency and maintain our humanity?
Balance is a theme that has been introduced with consistency throughout 52Musings.
Watts explains balance in reference to the Yin and the Yang. The Yin is translated as the dark side of the mountain. The Yang is translated as the bright side of the mountain. There cannot be a bright side without a dark side. A shadow is cast from the sun’s interaction with a solid object. Feel free to apply more pop-culture based references like the Jedi and the Sith, or the framework of the Hero’s Journey from Joseph Campbell. Either way, the nature of the universe is never one-sided.
Einstein illustrated the concept of balance through, what he famously called, one of his biggest blunders. While thinking about a convenient way to explain the universe, Einstein struggled with the opposing forces of an expanding universe and gravity. Gravity holds large objects together, like your feet on the ground and the Earth in its orbit. Einstein presented the idea of the cosmological constant or Lambda. It proposed a force that opposes gravity to create balance in the universe. Hundreds of years later, we hold the combination of gravity and dark energy as one of the most universal demonstrations of balance.
How can we balance embracing the thrill of innovation while maintaining proper form during a conversation?
Here are a few ideas:
- Batch processing – Schedule times during the day to check email, social media, newsletters, articles, videos and other content. I am not advocating getting rid of these tools, but finding ways to let them serve you instead of being a slave to them. Of those 250 email messages you got yesterday, how many of them were critical to your mission and survival? How many of them really needed a response? How many of them would have been completely content with a response within a week?
- Filtering – With the insane amount of data and content getting blasted to you everyday, creating a system of filtering can be the key to staying sane. Keeping up with all of this communication is an artificially generated badge that we all tend to bear. I’ve been experimenting with a filtering system in Gmail to send all of my newsletters directly to a folder for review at a later time.
- To-Do List – If you use email as your to do list, you are giving EVERYONE access to your central command center for scheduling, time allocation and task management.
- Silence alerts – Do you really need an audible alarm every time someone comments on a post or sends you an email? It often takes 20 minutes to regain your focus on a task after responding to an unsolicited distraction.
- Track your time online – During the Flow Fundamentals course, each of us tracked our time that we spent online using a tool called Rescue Time. It runs in the background on your computer throughout the day, and each morning it provides a detailed breakdown of your online activity. This experience was valuable because it created awareness of the time blocks dedicated to largely unproductive tasks.
- Make your bedroom a technology free zone – According to Harvard Medical School Professor, Dr. Charles Czeisler, the blue light emitted from your smartphone excites neurological activity. Ever wonder why your mind races at night? (P.S. there are other benefits to limiting distraction in this environment.)
The use of technology is a never-ending balancing act. Embrace it for all its conveniences and the exciting opportunities that innovation can bring. Understand the holistic repercussions of technology-induced distractions and how they can affect your personal goals.
Above all, let’s keep our quirkiness … its our tangible advantage over the robots.
Here is the video of Tunewelders real-time musical collaboration experiment: