What Am I, A Machine?

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We are living in an extraordinary time-at the beginning of the technological revolution. The impacts of technology and the ensuing explosion of information are profound, pervasive, and irreversible.  According to James Canton, futurist and author of The Extreme Future, … ‘by 2015 there will be more than 50 billion chips that will all be connected into one wireless global network, speaking one language.’ While these computer chips allow us to virtually connect anywhere and anytime, many of us feel disconnected interpersonally.  For those of us old enough to remember what life was like when the ‘stores were closed on Sunday’s, or, when ‘you didn’t work weekends’ we remember a simpler, slower time. It just felt different

In my presentations I often will ask the audience to “Raise your hands if you feel more like a machine than a human being at the end of your day?” Tragically, most of the hands will go up.  This is profound. The more time we spend with our computers, devices and plasma screens the more our brains become rewired. Our nervous systems extend outward (when our computers crash we feel like we are going to have a nervous breakdown) and the medium-the technology- extends inward.

Even our behaviors have become machinelike. This is easy to observe as we see ourselves and others ‘breakout the computer devices’ at dinner, at the mall, in the bedroom, and the moment the plane touches down. We don’t even stop to eat lunch-as if we don’t need the nourishment.  We feel overwhelmed, trying to keep up and we find ourselves in a constant partial state of attention-keeping tabs on everything while not fully attending to anything. Going to our devices, literally has become the default behavior for many of us.

In his book “The Big Switch”, Nicholas Carr tells describes his experience…“Over the past few years I’ve had the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something has been tinkering with my brain…I’m not thinking the way I used to think…immersing myself in a book used to be easy…now my concentration starts to drift after 2 or 3 pages, I get fidgety, lose the thread, and begin looking for something else to do…”

I too have had this sense that my brain is different, changing in fact. I’m finding it really hard to focus these days. I cannot tell you how many times I couldn’t find the cell phone that was in my hand- while I was using it! I’m easily distracted, less able to do quality thinking or give my full attention to whom or what is in front of me.  This scares me and I want to do what I can to nurture mindfulness and take care of my brain. I am learning to be vigilant about how much and what information I ‘feed my brain’.

Here’s the point, our brains simply cannot function efficiently with too much information.  Too much information causes stress, and among other things, leads to distraction and an inability to focus. It’s up to each of us to learn how to manage our ‘information consumption’, maintain focus, and work effectively in the age of technology.

Feeling overwhelmed, distracted, or ‘crazy busy’ has become the new normal. The impacts may even seem transparent to us as we adapt ourselves by working longer and harder. This is unsustainable and leads to exhaustion, sickness & disengagement.  After all, we are not machines!

Here are some practices for regaining focus, taking care of your brain, and feeling a bit more human;

  • Simplify; which devices do you really need? Don’t get the latest greatest just because everyone else is
  • Turn off your devices; while not always easy, start turning your blackberry off or shutting down your computer. Set some guidelines; no checking emails at the kids soccer games and don’t take your technology to bed!
  • Manage the quality and quantity of television, movies and entertainment from other media. Be mindful of the ‘input’ and the impact of what media you ‘feed’ your brain.
  • ‘Use it or lose it’ – reading, writing with pen & paper, crosswords, engaging in complex conversation & listening to lectures improves brain function & focus
  • Slow down; ask yourself ‘what is my hurry?’ Taking long slow deep breaths is a really good practice for calming your mind, delivering oxygen to your blood, and improving your mood.
  • Share your commitment to mindfulness, focus, and taking care of your brain with co-workers, friends and family. Allow others to support you, you’ll need it and they will benefit as well!

Here are some good books to help you along the way;

  • ‘CrazyBusy’, Edward Hallowell, M.D.
  • ‘iBrain’ Gary Small, M.D.
  • ‘A Whole New Mind’ Daniel Pink
  • ‘Your Brain at Work’, David Rock

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