We’ve moved into an age where people aren’t encouraged to spend a moment in silence with their own thoughts and think about things on their lonesome. Information moves at light speed, and before a thought can be digested, processed, mulled over, or integrated, it’s already been liked, commented on, shared, and retweeted. Before it was even yours, it’s gone off elsewhere, and something else demands your attention.
iTunes run 24 hours a day on shuffle.
Phones don’t stop vibrating, the iconic pattern of the iPhone’s buzz-buzzzzzz hums on all nearby desktops.
Distraction free software exists as a niche, instead of the default.
Life hacking sites will tell you to turn off WiFi to actually “Get Things Done”.
We’re living in an age without silence
Is it really so bad not having silence? People seem more educated today than they were before. People all around the world are able to communicate as if they were a few feet away from each other. Economies have grown in places that no-one would have expected. What’s so bad about losing silence?
There are a large number of studies that conclude that high use of mobile phones/computers/Internet/social media can have a negative impact on stress levels, anxiety, sleep, and can cause depression or depression-like symptoms. You have probably experienced or know someone who experiences sensory overload on a regular basis. Blurry and irritated eyes, headaches, tinnitus, back aches, obesity, and more are all too common in tech workers. While these issues can range in severity, the more pressing and subtly dangerous issue is that in our fight to keep up with the speed of technology, we’re losing what it means to be human.
What does it mean to be human anyways? Without getting too philosophical, consider humanity’s evolution. We were never the strongest, fastest, most immune to disease, most agile, or anything of the sort, so how did we get to the “top” of the food chain? Nothing sums up this question like the end of the first scene of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, when one of the apes picks up a bone, and uses it as a weapon. This weapon gave the ape an advantage against the other apes, and allowed them to secure a watering hole.
Humans aren’t so different from this ape. Throughout our existance on planet Earth, our ability to analyze situations/problems/theories deeply, and approach them with creativity and imagination, has been the catalyst for our history to date. We’ve extended our average life spans greatly, travelled to Space, and explored the deepest parts of our own psyches, and all these things took long, dedicated, and uninterrupted thought.
Do you think Einstein could have created his Theory of Relativity if his phone was blowing up with texts all day long? Do you think our cavemen ancestors could have invented fire if someone nearby kept distracting them? Do you think we’d even have succesful surgical operations if all surgeons tried to operate on multiple patients at a time? Answer those question to yourself honestly.
Back to the Internet
The sheer speed required to not only process the Internets’ streams of information, but to keep up with these streams in real-time can have a huge effect on the human neural networks and development. Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished Professor of Psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles, is quoted as saying “real-time media… do[es] not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination.”
When was the last time someone slowed down and deeply thought about every tweet in their Twitter feed? Not only is the answer probably never, if tried, they’d fall behind of the rest of the world, and that would be a big social no-no. In this Internet age, knowledge is measured by the ability to parse large and never-ending data sets at a surface level. Knowing all of the world’s news headlines every day seems better than having a deep understanding of one or two of them from that week.
This is contrary to our previous definitions of knowledge that are based on the depth of understanding and analysis of small or limited data sets. We’re quickly running blindly into an era where “skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought”, writes Nicholas Carr of Telegram.uk.
The more exclusively we use increasingly rapid technologies, the more we become accustomed to living and thinking only in the fast lane. We are becoming more and more aligned to the tools we use, as opposed to using our tools to enhance the skill sets we have relied on since the dawn of time.
What to do
- Next time an idea hits you, cut yourself off from everything else. Take the time to make the idea yours. Tell everyone and everything to STFU for even 5 or 10 minutes.
- Take a break, go for a walk, cook, exercise. See a friend. Do something not on your phone or computer. Get a pen and paper and doodle, it’s great, trust me.
- Purposefully think about a single thing for too long. We have tendencies to think about something and try to cover it as quick as possible and move on. I challenge you to think about something until it’s boring.
- If you’re brainstorming, instead of sitting on the Internet, go for a walk and brainstorm, a study has shown that walking improves creativity.
Remember that you are far superior to any of the technology you use. Don’t become a slave to the tool. Remember what makes us different from the machines. We are the abstract thinkers, the big picture problem solvers. Machines are the fast task performers and automatic responders. The more we become one with machines, we must be very careful to not adopt their skill set and lose our own.
I challenge you to turn off iTunes, put your phone on silent and screen down, step away from your computer, and find silence. It might make you feel strange and drive you crazy, but give it a chance.