Can we be productive in a world full of constant updates? Will we adapt or will we burn out? Linda Stone and William Powers at AIF 2011
Category Archives: engaged
Conscious Computing Allows Technology to Become a Prosthetic for Engaging with Our Full Potential
Personal technologies today are prosthetics for our minds.
In our current relationship with technology, we bring our bodies, but our minds rule.
“Don’t stop now, you’re on a roll. Yes, pick up that phone call, you can still answer these six emails. Watch the Twitter stream while working on PowerPoint? Why not?” Our minds push, demand, coax, and cajole. “No break yet, we’re not done. No dinner until this draft is done.”
Our tyrannical minds conspire with enabling technologies and our bodies do their best to hang on for the wild ride.
Glenn Fleishman posted on software that disables bits of the computer to make us more productive and to minimize distractions. Programs like Freedom, Isolator, RescueTime, LeechBlock, Turn Off the Lights and others were mentioned — all tools that block distractions. This software category is called: Internet Blocking Productivity Software. Users can choose to disable Internet access and/or local network access. Users claim that software like Freedom makes them more productive by blocking tempting distractions.
I’m not opposed to using technologies to support us in reclaiming our attention. But I prefer passive, ambient, non-invasive technologies that address our bodymind, over parental ones.
Consider the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn’t stop in the middle of a highway and say, “Listen to me, Mr. Irresponsible Driver, you’re using too much gas and this car isn’t going to move another inch until you commit to fix that.” Instead, a display engages us in a playful way and our body implicitly learns to shift to use less gas.
Glenn was kind enough to call me for a comment as he prepared his post. We talked about email apnea, continuous partial attention, and how, while software that locks out distractions is a great first step, our ultimate opportunity is to evolve our relationship with personal technologies.
With technologies like Freedom, we take away, from our mind, the role of tyrant, and re-assign that role to the technology. The technology then dictates to the mind. The mind then dictates to the body. Meanwhile, the body that senses and feels, that turns out to offer more wisdom than the finest mind could even imagine, is ignored.
There are techniques and technologies that actually tune us in to our bodies, and our nervous systems. These technologies let us know when we’re stressed, or when we’re engaged. One of these technologies, from Heartmath, has been particularly helpful to me. A clip goes on the earlobe, and is connected to a small, lightweight box, that can sit next to the computer. There are lights on the box that indicate the state of the nervous system. One of these products, the emWave2, can be used while doing work on the computer (in other contexts as well). Heartmath also offer software games that work with the emWave2. The 5-10 minute games involve actions that are totally controlled by the state of your nervous system.
At the heart of compromised attention is compromised breathing. Breathing, attention, and emotion, are commutative. Athletes, dancers, and musicians are among those who don’t have email apnea. Optimal breathing contributes to regulating our autonomic nervous system and it’s in this regulated state that our cognition and memory, social and emotional intelligence, and even innovative thinking can be fueled.
Scientists, like Antonio Damasio, Daniel Siegel, and Daniel Goleman, have shown us that aspects of our intelligence come from sensing and feeling and that our bodies offer a kind of wisdom.
Thirty years ago, personal computing technologies created a revolution in personal productivity, supporting a value on self-expression, output and efficiency. The personal communications technology era that followed the era of personal productivity amplified accessibility and responsiveness. Personal technologies have served us well as prosthetics for the mind, in service of thinking and doing.
Our focus has been on technologies as prosthetics for the mind, and human-as-machine style productivity. This has led to burn-out, poor health, poor sleep, and what I call email apnea or screen apnea. We wonder where our attention has gone. Turns out, it’s right where we left it — with our ability to breathe fully.
We can use personal technologies that are prosthetics for our beings, to enhance our lives. I call this Conscious Computing.
We can use technology to help enable Conscious Computing, or we can find it on our own, through attending to how we feel. For advice from a musician on how to do Conscious Computing, I interviewed the organist, Cameron Carpenter.
Conscious Computing with the help of passive, ambient, non-invasive Heart Rate Variability (HRV) technology is poised to take off over the next few years. It has the potential to help all of us learn the skills that musicians, athletes and dancers have, that immunizes them from email apnea.
With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first. All thumbs. Uncomfortable. We don’t know how to sit, stand or breathe. With practice, a musician becomes self-contained versus merged with the instrument. So it will be with personal technology. Now, a prosthetic of mind, it will become a prosthetic of being. A violinist with a violin. Us with our gadgets,. Embodied. Attending. Self-contained. Present.
Watching Cameron Carpenter play the organ is a transcendant experience. It’s as if he’s “lit.” The organ just sits there, and Carpenter’s body exudes a powerful energy. Most of us, when we interact with digital technologies, “merge” our energies with the device, exhausting ourselves. Experienced musicians don’t do this. In the evolution of our relationship with digital devices, we have a lot to learn from experienced musicians.
A little more context first:
“Email apnea,” or “screen apnea” is temporary cessation of breath when we’re in front of a screen, especially when texting or doing email. This chronic breath-holding puts us in a state of fight or flight, affecting emotions, physiology, and attention.
Our opportunity is to evolve toward, “Conscious Computing.” Instead of merging with or into the screen and our digital devices, we stay embodied, breathing, and separate from the devices, in the same way an experienced musician relates to his or her instrument.
Carpenter plays the organ; a complicated instrument with complicated controls. He paused for a minute before responding to us, then with complete confidence, advised:
“You’ve gotta dominate the mofo!”
The next day, I related this story to Wendy Palmer, who coaches leaders in conscious embodiment. Her reaction, “There’s a gentle way to just let it know you’re the boss.”
Take your pick.
With a musical instrument, it’s awkward at first. All thumbs. Uncomfortable. Noise. With practice, the musician becomes self-contained vs. consumed by the instrument; co-creating music. So it will be with personal technology. Now, a prosthetic of mind, it will become a prosthetic of being. A violinist with a violin. Us with our gadgets, embodied, attending as we choose.
Those who have heard me speak know that I often quote Dee Hock, the Founder of Visa, and one of the great business innovators of our time.
I use his quote below to describe how technology is evolving us, how we’re evolving technology and how both are evolving culture.
- Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern.
- Data becomes information when assembled into a coherent whole, which can be related to other information.
- Information becomes knowledge when integrated with other information in a form useful for making decisions and determining actions.
- Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in anticipating, judging and acting.
- Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principles, memory and projection.
Further, I map this evolution to a timeline:
Noise to Data
Data to Information
Information to Knowledge
Knowledge to Understanding
Understanding to Wisdom
Today, we are Knowledge Workers evolving into Understanding Workers. Understanding Workers use technology to anticipate, judge and act. Think about it. This is what we’re doing with FitBit, Quantified Self, 23andMe.com, Facebook, and so many other technologies of this era.
As we move into an Era of Conscious Computing, we’ll also be moving deeper into Understanding and closer toward Wisdom.
O’Reilly Media hosted yet another invitation-only, mind-bending, inspiring, fun Foo Camp.
In years past, we’ve enjoyed these unconference sessions, laptops glowing, perched on laps, on tables. Technology everywhere. Notes being taken, emails and tweets constantly flowing.
This year, Sara Winge pointed out, “open laptops were rare in sessions.” iPads were everywhere. “They sit flat on laps and tables, like paper,” Caterina Fake mentioned that and the contrast to screens as barriers between people.
People appear to sit comfortably, posture and breathing less stressed while using the iPad. Some have specifically commented to me that while they notice they have email apnea when using their laptops, they breathe easily when using their iPad.
In the slow news session moderated by Steven Levy, Jennifer 8 Lee, and Kevin Kelly, the iPad as a platform for news and magazines was one of the topics debated.
It was during that debate that I realized — Apple has done for reading what the iPod has done for music. We tune out the world, that 24/7, always-on world, once we engage with our iPods. The iPad is the iPod of reading. The world around us disappears when we engage with it.
The iPad, so gorgeous, with such a natural interface, offers the same opportunity. Particularly in the case of the brilliantly designed (by Schulze and Webb) Bonnier magazines. The world around me disappeared when I dropped into this iPad magazine experience.
I don’t have an iPad (yet). I’ve enjoyed noticing the impact it’s having at various high tech gatherings as well as on less techie friends, many of whom seem to be making this their primary platform.