It used to be a question of the present moment, a request to turn your wrist. Now the question sounds more like a test of your attention. Or do you have the time to have the time?
Yesterday, I finally had the time to finish Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. And while the month it took me to read it had me scratching my head without or not it's wrong to move away from books and in front of screens, my takeaway message was Carr's mirroring of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, explaining that changing our tools changes our relationship with our world. "Nature isn't our friend, but neither is it our enemy," declared Carr.
When we look at the world through the eyes we've trained for the Internet, we start to see a fast-paced interconnected cloud. We may not focus on books or one channel at a time. We may not know the awesomeness of a meditation. It's not necessarily fog we're stumbling in, but it's not something to ever be bottled or shoved aside. It's bigger than all of us and our time here. And we're forced to exist in a world where choice means exploring an infinite universe around us. Linda Holmes called this The Sad, Beautiful Truth That You Will Miss Almost Everything.
But instead of focusing on the infinite flashing lights and bright colors of the Internet, unable to be contained, I've started to practice taking tabs of my own amazement. When do we ever sit back in the glory of how far we've come? Exploring used to run risks of imminent danger, Oregon Trail terrors. Exploring now is like falling down a wormhole that keeps you from adult responsibilities, like showering or getting to anything on time.
I think we're caught. If we focus too much on the impossible feat of knowing everything there is to the world now, we're bound to feel loss. Our amazement at this technology is overshadowed by the millions of words and songs and videos uploaded everyday. But why not surrender? Surrender to the fact that you can't know it all. You just have the choice to make sense of what you will.
And if it comes down to technology writing the rules of our relationship with the world, why not use that technology to be better? More grateful? More healthy? More caring? There is no question we could always use a bit more in this world.
We should never move so fast we forget to do the thing that makes us human: question. Even with the break-neck pace of the world, it's normal for us all to try to keep our head above-water in our own way. We may not know the headlines of the minute, but it'll fall into our inbox just a few seconds later. Mix that constant tornado of information with the natural urge for action and we might already be in the Matrix.
The idea remains to question. Why? What are we doing? What makes you feel alive, what floors you?
Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head for me when he said in the now-famous 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, "You can't connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." We need to navigate our way through life at the present moment with what drives us further. You can't always know the destination, you can only sail toward it.
Stop, take some time to think. Figure out what's important to you.
I had to take a look back for myself after listening to an 11-year-old mathematician squeak and giggle his way through a TEDxTeen talk entitled Forget What You Know. Jacob Barnett pulled from the lives of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton to show that sometimes we need to stop learning and start thinking to become why the world will know us. Einstein was rejected from the local university because he was Jewish, Newton was shut out of Cambridge because of The Plague. Barnett is no different, he was held back from college at the ripe age of ten for a freak accident involving dropping some coins during his entrance interview. No worry, Barnett took to his work and spent his time home battling mathematical proofs our eyes most likely never saw in undergraduate work. He had Princeton professors check his work in his childhood home. While we may not have the luxury to say so long to our adult responsibilities, like Barnett did at age 10, it could be worth it to take a few minutes and really let your mind wander. Have you stopped to really question your own thoughts? Have you tested your beliefs? What does it mean to be a friend, to be in love, to be happy? Why, oh why, are we all here?
When I started to search myself, I realized what my brother meant when he said," You know, Dan, you consume a lot of media." When is it time to process everything we're devouring? We start to become collectors of our collaborators. We question our way out by tuning in. Going back through my writing, there was hints of this message all over. Robin Williams captivated me weeks ago with his speech in Good Will Hunting about the difference between the smart-ass knowledge of youth and the old age wisdom of experience. THNKR interviewed John Hodgman of Daily Show fame about writing and I found him prescribing good experience, too, when he said, "It's not enough to write what you know, you have to know interesting things." Regardless of your political opinion of the man, Ralph Nader is a man we can thank for saving us all for flimsy car construction and life-saving seatbelts, among other things. With the assignment of his father, Nader used to ponder a topic all day long as a youngster and arrive at the dinner table expected to debate with his siblings. Even in the book I'm reading now, Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, urges for the time to think, to ponder, to step away from the table and tablet.
When all the lessons are pointing at once, it's great to pull back and experience the big picture when you can. We're given so much, it's hard to remember to create, even if it just means our own thoughts. Make your questions your own and make your way.
We are evolving. It is happening all the time and before our eyes. It might even hurt a bit. As a species it makes sense, we are adapting to our environment. So why then, I wonder, does personal development as a study gets such a bad rap by some. Is it the corny white dudes in suits? Is it the glorification of executive business? Or is it just too daunting to allow into our consciousness, having the idea it should just flow? If anything, my thought is, personal or societal, it's happening anyway and right now is the best time to hold up the mirror.
Mirror ready? Good. Literally, it's often in front of that mirror, we see our flesh-and-blood bodies. If you are what you eat, and you sure as hell are, then some diets today may be taking us backwards unnecessarily. Christina Warinner drops some serious knowledge in her TED talk "Debunking the Paleo Diet" about what we know of paleolithic people and the connection to our modern food. The Paleo diet today generally recommends you consume a good amount of meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruits. No grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes, or processed sugars. But, as an example, if we're sticking with the caveman, there was no such thing as broccoli 10,000 years ago when agriculture was invented, much less before it! There isn't even broccoli as we know it in the wild today. Did you realize that? I didn't! The green stuff kids push away from them at the dinner-table is actually a genetic mutation of a bunch of the broccoli flower parts. That's right, down to the vegetables we eat, our food has been selectively bred to look and taste how it does. Vegetables in the wild are bitter, scant, and toxic, to a remarkable degree. We've evolved right alongside our foods.
What's to learn here? This is no correct, singular diet. It definitely doesn't mean Twinkies are going to make you healthy and active, it just means we shouldn't rely on the ideas that worked in the past because they were the only ones around. I'm not knocking Paleo as an idea. If it makes people more conscious of what they're shoveling into their pie-holes, right on. I would just note that if total health is the key in this progressing chain of events, Warinner makes some damn good points for us to correct the course from fad to fit.
Better than evolutionary advice from cavemen, we should look at where we are now and realize we're swimming in it. It's happening whether we recognize it or not. Enter Slavoj Zizek. I was captivated from the very beginning of his segment in the philosophy documentary, Examined Life. Zizek is a modern philosopher with a distinct spit-slinging lisp and enough passion sparking off his words you wonder how he finds himself calm enough to sleep. In Examined Life, Zizek speaks of the modern world, while wandering through a trash dump, analyzing ecology as ideology. "There is no Nature," he says. There is no going back to the raw, organic material of this world. "The existing world is the best possible world." If we don't believe this, Zizek offers, we don't understand the true meaning of Love. We know from greeting cards and surviving high-school sweethearts that Love is not idealization, but the acceptance of imperfections. If this is Love, why do we strive to revert to some Paradise past? Our modern existence and future is the stuff of terrible catastrophe and war; we need to embrace it and move forward. It is the psychological concept of disavowal, or denial of any connection, Zizek borrows to diagnose our modern mindset. We comprehend the inherent dangers in our modern ways and yet we carry on, do as we please. This is the true sense of our Nature; we love it and we push on to find more of it. We must not only accept the trash, the ugliness, but find poetry, spirituality, and beauty in it.
And if the modern day is where evolution is currently cranking, what are we to think of this thing you're reading on right now: the Internet? Nicholas Carr wrote The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and questioned the simple structure of our minds against the eclectic and distracting world of technology.
Amazing benefits aside, our modern digital world is making it difficult to fully appreciate and marinate ideas that require full attention. We stumble from idea to idea never developing the mastery to implement and use them. Carr argues that the greatest thinkers of our time were those willing to sit down and think. Shocker, I know. The idea, though, is not to unplug completely and revert to the paleolithic or to dive in to the deep-end of bits and bytes until we forget how to communicate in person, it is to adapt the marvels of the modern world and compress them to improve our lives one step at a time.
In the end, that being today, right now, should we choose to make improvement, enrichment, development our priority? I think we have no choice. Even if you yourself chose to become a Zen Buddhist and sit on mountains in meditation all day, Earth will keep spinning toward The Future as we have yet to know it. The question for everyone becomes: "Where do you want to be when The Future arrives?"