One of the biggest names in minimalist blogging, Everett Bogue, has caused quite the brouhaha recently due to the change in focus of his writing. His talk of "cyborgs" and "augmented humanity" has turned a lot of people off. I'm not going to offer a critique of his new focus because, frankly, that's none of my business. I actually think it's great for a writer to evolve and grow. It's the only thing that keeps us interesting as creative people. However, I do want to offer a counterpoint to the concept of augmented humanity that he writes about.
The basic premise is that the always-connected nature of our relationship with the internet through software such as Twitter is allowing us to become something more than what we were in the past. I don't dispute that being able to connect with people, instantly, across the globe has some serious ramifications for the way ideas spread and evolve. We live in an exciting time of technological advancement and achievement. However, I have an issue with turning my attention to external factors, primarily technology, when I feel like I am light years away from where I personally want to be.
Let's slow down for a second.
I worry that we are looking to technology to fill in the gaps of our consciousness instead of looking within ourselves for improvement. When I think of augmented humanity, I envision an individual who has so thoroughly mastered the art of being human that the only chance for growth lies in the adoption of technology -- of becoming a "cyborg." Again, I don't doubt that technology is allowing us to become so much more than we have been in the past. But, maybe it's the history teacher inside me that constantly looks to examples of our past and sees remarkable people that accomplished incredible things without Twitter, without cell phones, without the internet, and without becoming a cyborg. I look to those examples as I try to become more than I currently am, not technology.
What might old-fashioned augmented humanity look like?
Where can we look for improvement before we embrace technological augmentation? Surely adoption of brand new technology is not the answer to self-improvement?
MASTERY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Regaining consciousness means knowing why I act, think, and believe what I do. It's about making decisions and living my life in a way that is aligned with my values and NOT the external decision makers, like advertisement, that barrage me. I need to be able to take multiple information streams and synthesize them with my own self-determined values to decide what I truly believe. Too many people are content to give up their consciousness for the relative ease of letting others live their lives for them.
I firmly and truly believe that the more people strive to live consciously the more we will see the great social ills of our time be solved. A world full of people asking themselves what they truly believe and whether their actions are consistent with those beliefs will result in greater responsibility across the board. This isn't an easy thing to do and it requires a constant and concerted effort. Every aspect of our lives, from what we eat, the work we do, and the relationships that we have need to be addressed in turn as we increase our consciousness. It is a whole body and whole mind effort.
MASTERY OF FOCUS
I see this in myself and my students everyday; our ability to focus on one thing at a time is quickly becoming eradicated. The pull on our attention comes from everywhere and anywhere all at once. The ability to sit quietly and truly focus on one thing is a skill that very few people still have. And yet, the ability to focus for long periods of time is one of the most important factors to creating great work. It isn't good enough to spread your attention as thin as next year's laptop anymore. If you want to rise above the noise then you must be able to eliminate distractions and focus at the expense of staying ever connected.
I look back to history with a twinge of jealousy as I read accounts of how Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison worked. They didn't have to face the never ending ping of incoming emails, text messages, or Twitter updates. And yet, nearly do you or I. We can turn off notifications, we can download software that blocks distracting websites and we can train ourselves to focus like the heroes of the past.
A person who is autotelic is able to find enjoyment in anything. An autotelic activity is something you do just for the sake of doing it. You aren't looking for external rewards or recognition. Developing an autotelic personality is quite possibly the ultimate end of old-fashioned augmented humanity. Try to imagine how you felt the last time you truly got "lost" in an activity. Time flew by, you felt engaged, challenged and you were operating at the peak of your abilities. You can train yourself to enter this state of flow at will with practice.
Mastering flow, or optimal experience, allows you to enjoy every aspect of your life. From the most mundane to the most exciting, you have complete control over your emotions and attitude. There are powerful examples of prisoners of war or explorers struggling under intense conditions that have been able to train their minds, to master their environment so completely, that they report levels of happiness that some millionaires only dream of. This level of super-humanness is equally as exciting as any purported benefit of technological augmented humanity. It doesn't take Twitter or the internet for you to learn how to enter the flow state in work, at play with your friends or family, or working on some other difficult task.
EMBRACING OUR HUMANITY
The purpose of this article is not to tear down Everett's theories of augmented humanity. In fact, I think using technology to help people become more than they currently are is an admirable goal. Using technology intelligently is an important skill that is only going to gain importance as time marches forward.
However, I'm afraid that we're jumping into the future without having a strong base to work off. Most people have not even scratched the surface of what they're capable of without the use of technology. Mastering our consciousness lets us become the masters of our own lives. Mastering the ability to focus allows us to create work that will change the world. And mastering flow makes us an active part in every aspect of life, regardless of how others perceive it. I'll spend my time focusing on these components of humanity first. Then, if I ever feel like I'm ready, I'll investigate becoming a cyborg.
Like a cheesy sci-fi movie, the cyborg built on the strength of humanity will beat the cyborg tricked out with the latest technological innovations any day.