Understanding the reality you face is often the first step toward personal and organizational growth.
Consider the oft-heard complaint about our lack of time in this period of ubiquitous technology. While most of us think of this as the “Information Age,” the reality may be that it would be better characterized as the Age of Attention. In an age of information abundance, the scare resource is attention. Technology companies make money when they monopolize our time. Netflix’s CEO has made this clear in noting that the company “is competing for our customers’ time, so our competitors include Snapchat, YouTube, sleep, etc.”
Let that last one sink in a bit…your sleep is seen as a competitor by Netflix. If you had any idea that technology companies were looking out for your best interests, this should dissuade you of that notion.
I’m currently reading Stand Out of Our Light, a book written by a former Google strategist turned Oxford-trained philosopher. James Williams’ career arc was enough to get me to buy the book, but I was equally intrigued to read his take on how “technologies compete to capture and exploit our attention, rather than supporting the true goals we have for our lives.” From endless games of solitaire to never-ending clickbait to Facebook news feeds to YouTube recommendations that entice us to watch just one more video…we’ve all seen how digital technology eats up our time by capturing more and more of our attention.
Williams believes that the goals of technology companies don’t match our best interests (individually and as citizens), making it imperative that we set our own boundaries. He quotes the German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “Who will be great, must be able to limit himself.” Williams is focused on the capacities that enable us to “want what we want to want,” capacities such as “reflection, memory, prediction, leisure, reasoning, and goal-setting.” We have to apply boundaries in order to “channel our activities toward our higher goals.”
While technology could help us deal with these challenges, that’s not the way of life in our current age. As you reflect on that, realize that,
“…notifications or addictive mobile apps may fill up those little moments in the day during which a person might have otherwise reflected on their goals and priorities. Users check their phones an average of 150 times per day (and touch them over 2,600 times per day), so that would add up to a lot of potential reflection going unrealized.”
There is much we can do in response, and the book looks at steps we should take individually and collectively. I decided some time ago not to use notifications with my technology, believing that leaving on the email notification feature is like letting the post office rush in and drop a letter on your desk every time you receive an email or text. Start with the mindset that your email in-box – and essentially all technology – should be for your use, and then work from there. Such a perspective may help you see the reality a bit more clearly and spend more time on what you want to want.
Have a good week.
More to come…