As the gift-giving season is upon us, it is inevitable that electronics will likely appear on most Americans’ list again in 2015. Technology is giving us loads of knowledge – and it’s growing at a pace no one can even begin to measure. But as I wrote about in my book, The Old School Advantage (Release: February 12, 2016), what is in short supply in our culture currently is wisdom.
Sadly, wisdom has been in short supply throughout every age. But today, it seems to be so scarce that we may actually be living in an anti-wisdom age. By this, I don’t mean to imply that wisdom is not desired nor sought after. But rather, I fear that wisdom is presumed to exist in our machines.
We are being led to believe that because artificial brains are more efficient in many ways – this efficiency can also equate to wisdom. This is a misnomer of the highest order. We may be able to transfer data to our computers – but decisions which are meant for our deepest discernment must be seen and understood through the prism of our unique human personalities and experiences.
As author Michael Harris terms it, we are living in a world of “continuous partial attention.” He cites Neilson research which shows that the average teenager now manages upward of four thousand texts messages every month. (1) And this number will only increase. Glowing rectangles are tyrants giving us little time for creating content because we spend so much time simply managing it. We live in an “ecosystem of interruption technologies.” (2)
A prime example of this “interruption” is the act of communicating about an experience in real time which actually supplants the experience itself (pan to a family of four on holiday vacation in a unique restaurant all peering soullessly into their smart phones).
More Information. Less Wisdom.
Roman philosopher Seneca said, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” In consuming data, we ourselves are being consumed. As Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows explains, “We no longer have the patience to await time’s slow and scrupulous winnowing. Inundated at every moment by information of immediate interest, we have little choice but to resort to automated filters, which grant their privilege, instantaneously, to the new and the popular. On the Net, the winds of opinion have become a whirlwind.” (3)
We have a decision to make. We can be under the direction of cyberspace traffic cops, or we can seize the opportunity and do things differently. As our time staring at rectangles increases, contemplation time - the place where wisdom takes hold – is reduced dramatically. The price we are paying for this is costly. That is why we need to understand the difference in the value of the information we get from the rapid-fire pace of the cyber world versus the deeper value we can glean from an old-school habit of scheduled deep reading and its beneficial impact on our brains.
So here is my simple suggestion as you check your list twice this holiday season: If you must buy a new rectangle for a friend or loved one – load a good book on it. Or even better – buy them a real hard-cover tome. It might just be the impetus they need to start their new year off right and increase their Wisdom Factor to boot.