What technology does is making things that were difficult to do or time-consuming, simpler and faster
By Deepal Sooriyaarachchi
We live in interesting times, interesting and at the same time challenging. One key challenge for us today is how to be focused on where we are and what we do right now. Our attention is constantly challenged and grabbed by myriads of stimuli. They present as information to our eye, ear and other senses as well.
Unlike the previous decade, now there is more information in audio visual form, thus commanding greater attention. Data is presented in graphs and animations, and what required highly-skilled professionals to do in the past can now be done with simple apps.
Consider making a movie or a video of a speech. The mobile phone is all what we need. On any topic, the amount information available is unbelievable and it keeps growing exponentially. The 1977 Noble Prize-winning Economist, Herbert A. Simon, predicted these times by saying: “A wealth of information creates poverty of attention.”
See how difficult it is to be focused on a single task unless you take precautions. There are many digital devices and programmes that demand our attention. At the same time even the engaged processes take our attention away. For instance, searching information on a topic on the web can lead to so many related as well as unrelated web sites and videos online. Ten years ago this was not at all the case.
Finding a meaning to a word today is very easy irrespective of where you are, provided you are with your smart phone with an internet connection. But in the past one had to go through many pages in a dictionary (not more than two or three dictionaries were available then) to find the meaning of a word. But today the internet provides us access to many a different dictionary at once, including the option of translations and even pronunciation.
At the same time, when looking for the meaning of a word, on the same screen there can be many advertisements related or unrelated that can grab our attention. As you may have experienced, when you refer to Wikipedia to find out about a particular topic, key words of the text are hyperlinked to so many other related topics and subjects, the search itself can take different dimensions. The search may be richer but at a very high time cost!
It is natural to constantly think about those who are dear and near to us as well as those whom we don’t like. Yet the need to reach those who are close is an eternal human need. Let’s look at the past. A letter needed many days to reach the loved one – that too amidst many difficulties. This gave birth to concepts such as Meghadutha (Wind as the Messenger) by Kalidasa, and songs related to sending love letters. The later innovation, the telephone, again created the need for a better solution.
Then we saw a revolution – first the mobile phone and the Short Message Service (SMS) subsequently. This saw the proliferation of the habit of texting all the time while doing so many other tasks including driving. Now this has become simpler and richer further through modern technologies.
The various social media platforms and similar technology platforms give the possibility not only of sending messages but sharing the experiences in real time with audio video or even emoticons as well.
It’s the same with news. At one level, it is becoming instantaneous and voluminous, hence the need and of course the ability by the person to customise the news based on his or her interest. At the other level, it is available all the time and at your command. In addition, the dimensions are becoming more with individuals having the ability to broadcast the news without editing. Hence, the view of the media owners is no more the only view. At the same time, the recipient of the news is able to be engaged by commenting, adding different dimensions to the discussion.
Let us face it – technology has only made possible what we always wanted. To be with those we care, to know what happens around us, and be able to further explore our interests. Even topics that are not easy to access or ‘forbidden’ socially are now easily accessible.
Technology, while being so much connected, seems to be very lonely. Our communications, though frequent and very crisp, yet lack depth. Hence relationships also seem to be shallow. Even when we meet socially, it is acceptable to pay attention to the screen of the mobile device than to the other person because he too is engrossed in sharing the moment with many others via the screen.
What technology does is making things that were difficult to do or time-consuming, simpler and faster. So we first get overwhelmed and then learn how to live with it. We repeat what we did as kids. As kids we played with a new toy the whole day and after a few days we either leave it aside or forget about it. We remember only when we see the neighbour plays. With modern technology the toys are getting better much faster – even before we get to learn how to use them, let alone get fed up with them. We become dependent on it and technology becomes an extension to ourselves and even of our own identity.
We have significantly subrogated our memory to the gadgets we use, whether it is the phone numbers of close associates, or how to drive by changing gears during different road conditions, how to adjust the aperture, and shutter speed to suit the lighting, position of the object, its movement, our object, to do simple mathematical calculations, and even finding a road.
It is in this context that we are expected to perform our traditional functions in our lives and at workplaces. This new situation demands a different skill set. A skill set that helps us to be fully alive to the present moment, to come back to ‘the here and now’ instantly, and to be fully engaged in our task at hand and to give total attention to those who seek such attention for the sake of more meaningful relationships.
Though the situation is new, the challenges are new, fortunately there is a simple yet profound method that can be learnt and developed by anyone if interested, by devoting a few minutes a day. That is called SATI or Mindfulness. This has begun to gain a lot of attention in the West for the reasons discussed earlier. This series of articles will introduce you to the ways as to how one can develop this skill and apply the new insights gained by practicing it in daily life, especially as a busy executive.
(Deepal Sooriyaarachchi is a Management Consultant, Author, Trainer, and Speaker. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, fb/deepalsoori/ and his website is www.mindfulexecutive.net. He is also the author of Inward Bound – Mindfulness as an Executive Capability.)