“Look at us. Running around, always rushed, always late. I guess that’s why it’s called the human race. What we crave most in this world is connection. For some people, it happens at first sight. It’s when you know, you know. It’s fate working its magic. And that’s great for them. They get to live in a pop song; ride the express train. But that’s not the way it really works. For the rest of us, it’s a bit less romantic. It’s complicated, and it’s messy. It’s about horrible timing and fumbled opportunities. And not being able to say what you need to say when you need to say it. At least, that’s the way it was for me.”
~Wally Mars (Jason Batemen)
The Switch (with Jennifer Aniston)
If 2020 did nothing else, it allowed the entire world to slow down and then SLAM to a screeching halt! This “pause” (whether you agree with it or not) also granted us the realization of what was truly important, our loved ones- family and friends. Many of us took that opportunity to step back, look around and realize that Mother Nature (who may or may not have had some help) was reminding us, in a globally horrific kind of way, that life is fragile, not promised, and too easily squelched. While common to take for granted, we soon learned that each day was so precious as we witnessed an entire world brought to her knees by something smaller than the eye can see.
As a society, we live defined by our myriad of devices that dictate every moment of every day. We praise our busyness and show each other our digital calendars, somehow proud that we cannot fit in one more thing! In fact, we often boast or lament to one another about how much we can accomplish; it’s “kudos to the multi-tasker(s)”! We have learned to believe that multitasking is beholden and a blessing rather than a curse. But the argument can be made for both. Of course, without our digital wonderland, much of this would not be possible.
Today, our world is a technical wonderland built through the decades and centuries by us, the ever omnipresent humans.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Now for some fun, let’s talk science! I can hear the groans already but come on, stay with me because this is where things get a bit interesting. Let’s start this science talk by describing the seven kingdoms; yes, you heard me. All of us, from basic science, learned that there are six kingdoms: three kingdoms of microorganisms (Eubacteria, Archae, Protista) and the other three being plants, animals, and fungi. They are a part of Mother Earth. But what we may not understand is that there is a 7th kingdom called Technium, which we/humans created. Below you can see a fundamental grid and how and where the Technium kingdom is located in the chain of species at the top.
Here is an interesting TED talk from Kevin Kelly titled Technology’s Epic Story if you prefer to listen.
Often, this idea (7 kingdoms, wait, how many were there in Game Of Thrones?) is hard to accept and even more difficult to interpret but read on.
Technology is now so complex that it is difficult to determine the tangled ecology of ideas and devices, all of which support each other. The human mind, the first computer, birthed technology but is now quickly taking a backseat to its offspring. Most communication is not humans actually speaking to humans, but rather machines communicating to machines. The first computer was designed using the first “computer,” our brain, but now computers are major co-designers of more computers. Today, it would be logistically impossible to design the next generation of computers without technology. Artificial intelligence has taken its own trajectory, and none of that would have been possible without the complicated equations that fed into a computer for results. Science partners with and utilizes embryonic artificial intelligence in many of its experiments. Most sobering, new technology is unable to grow without the ecology of other technology. Essentially, the ideas forming the phenotypes and prototypes of forwarding technology are no longer just the innovation of the human mind. Moreover, there is an idea that technology is an adjunct of tiny, independent bacteria that create impulses within the technological system itself. Mind-blowing? I can’t help but think of one of my favorite movies, I Robot, when I read information like this. It is scary how futuristic movies may seem and yet, have hints of stark reality to them.
WE LIVE IN A MICROWAVE
Our “microwave society” functions on the premise that we push a button and are instantly connected to the world around us. Today, it is possible to send an email, post on Instagram, and book dinner reservations simultaneously. My favorite way to communicate (fight) with my sisters is through GIFs; it’s awesome but horribly passive-aggressive (but that is for another post)! Technology is marvelous and horrible all at once.
We have been conditioned to this effortless lifestyle and made to believe that somehow it makes us more proficient. In truth, the opposite happens. In our quest to juggle every aspect of our life with the push of a button, we are actually forever a step behind. We focus our efforts on productivity, yet we find ourselves running in circles. We strive to be more informed, more social, and more productive all at once. However, we may find less informed or ill-informed, more isolated, and running in circles. We no longer trust our instincts without the reassurance from our digital world. How many times have you known an answer, yet you failed to respond at work until you verified what you already knew. That reliance on our digital world is both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
These “norms” infiltrate our behaviors online and off. When was the last time you had an in-person conversation, work, or otherwise, where you didn’t pause to check your phone? Technology and all of its wonders create very real distractions that keep us from focusing. The result? Our everyday relationships become superficial, and we are less committed to one another.
Let’s take 2020 as one example. It is unprecedented in our history that technology dictate political, religious, social, racial, or informational ideals so completely, but 2020 was THE distraction, and yet it wasn’t. It both tore apart families and brought them together. It both wrecked friendships and inspired new ones. And why? Most likely, it is because we have allowed ourselves to accept the unending barrage of media (social, news and streaming networks), and to what end? For example, how often have you gone out to eat and watched the people around you as they were there together physically, but yet, miles apart mentally and emotionally as they surfed their devices? How often have you done that? I’m guilty. Again, if you have not, I cannot stress enough watching the Social Dilemma on Netflix.
And despite all the disclaimers, we couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with what seemed a lonely, angry, and desperate world in 2020, and we the unwilling spectators. But is it? And are we?
“The real message is because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to stay more focused on cultivating the skills of attention. The more you can concentrate, the better you’ll do on anything because whatever talent you have, you can’t apply it if you are distracted.”
author of FOCUS: THE HIDDEN DRIVER OF EXCELLENCE
Some are catching on. You may see some “social games” in restaurants where friends meet, pile their phones on the table when together, and then whoever picks up their phone first pays the entire bill! YIKES! Talk about curb the temptation! Yet, we live in a world where we are constantly pressured to do more!
BUT what if we focused on doing less? Think about any goal you have accomplished (school, job). I bet you were laser-focused on the tasks needed to complete it? The same is true for our health: people don’t get healthy unless a high level of commitment highlights the value of staying focused on a single goal. Often that kind of laser focus involves an ultimatum for the motivation. If you don’t get healthy, you will have a heart attack, or if you don’t focus on completing your education, you don’t get a degree.
It is difficult to find that type of focus and determination and then apply it toward curbing our own compulsions for our gizmos and gadgets. How much of a problem is it to cut the digital cord? An example is distracted driving. While hopeful that a pandemic and home isolation would curb deaths from distracted driving in 2020, it has been estimated that 40,000 people will have lost their lives to the epidemic of distracted driving.
When the world stopped, we found ourselves in an odd situation, (isolated at) home. With our families, with nowhere to be. Weird. In time this evolved to a new way to exist together. For many, it brought about outdoor adventures (isolated adventures, of course), family dinners around the dining table became less awkward, and time on the front porch became treasured as we realized the finiteness of “life.” All of that makes me want to start whistling the theme song for the Andy Griffith show (LET’S GO PAaw (southern drawl)!)
So then, what do we do? We are spoiled with our technology, and likely, it will never go away, and in fact, it will most likely grow (anyone heard of Elon Musk?). So then, it won’t go away, but how can we learn to LIVE alongside it? The only way to curb self-isolation, self-criticism, and self-reliance on what others think (1000 👍, YES!) is by curbing our reliance by setting parameters for social media and all media.
- No technology for one hour upon rising and for one hour before bed.
- No devices at the dinner table.
- No devices at family, friend functions.
- Set screen on/off times.
Besides, research has proven that when we multitask, we are less productive, and experience has shown us that distraction causes us bigger problems (like filling a sink, forgetting, and flooding the house not once, not twice but THREE times).
TECHNOLOGY IS NOT ALL BAD
Clearly, technology has been an amazing tool with an amazing list of attributes such as increased business and smoother trading (the days of trading coonskin for a loaf of bread do seem a bit antiquated), advertising for small businesses, educational opportunities (online courses, research), information sharing between healthcare facilities, helping people with disabilities to work from home, transportation, robotics, and medical research. Without technology, Neil Armstrong would not have landed on the moon, and without technology, a vaccine would not have been possible against COVID-19.
Another epidemic that has shifted our focus in the digital world is cybercrime. These criminals are astute and predatory, wreaking havoc as they wander through the cyber world looking for opportunities to leave computer viruses that can debilitate entire systems. However, artificial intelligence uses sophisticated algorithms to detect malware, pattern recognition, and detect minute behaviors that signal an imminent malware or ransomware attack.
In fact, technology seems less the enemy and more the victim to the unending demands that we as humans place upon it.
THE WAY FORWARD
Well, I hate to Wally this into a problem (you will only get that if you have seen The Switch, which I highly recommend speaking of technology, and you will only get that if you have seen the movie), so let’s discuss the silver lining in all of this. We have the power to dictate and direct the way forward. The beautiful message in all of this is there is another way. Moderation. Is our kingdom title so accurate that we have no willpower to curb our own excesses, even for the sake of each other?
An idea: you know how there’s the Book Club (not to be confused with Fight Club)? Why not have a Focus Club? You heard me, a focus club where getting together with others offers us various ideas to help us focus less on technology and more on each other, a way to connect and reconnect? Maybe it is discussing a book. Maybe it is discussing Fight Club. Maybe it’s exchanging favorite vacation sites and what you enjoyed most about it (tips/tricks). Maybe it is creating together, like a quilt, a mood board, or whatever you can think of (none tech-based, of course).
But first, we have to be willing to do the DO.
What do you think? I tend to agree with Wally on this one…
“Every once in a while, out of all the randomness, something unexpected happens that pushes us all forward. And the truth is, what I’m struggling to think, and what I’m struggling to feel, is that maybe the human race isn’t a race at all.”
Wally Mars (Jason Batemen)
The Switch (with Jennifer Aniston)