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
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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.
These days, the discussions about information overload are contributing to the overload! It’s refreshing to the tenth power when there’s a glimpse of what IS preferred vs. where we’re stuck.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been noticing that about 1/3 of people walking, crossing streets, or standing on the sidewalk, are ON their cell phones. In most cases, they are not just talking; they are texting or emailing — attention fully focused on the little screen in front of them. Tsunami warning? They’d miss it.
With an iPod, at least as the person listens, they visually attend to where they’re going. For those walking while texting or sending an email, attention to the world outside of the screen is absent. The primary intimacy is with the device and it’s possibilities.
Do you intentionally take time away from the screens in your life? Please share your story.
One of my favorite 8 year olds can’t get enough of his Wii. I enjoy this child and hung out with him recently while he played his favorite video game. He was hunched over on the sofa and I promise you, his breathing was undetectable. With some coaxing, he moved to a wooden chair. For the first 3 minutes, he sat up straight, then he smiled at me, said, “I like to slouch,” and continued his game slouched in the wooden chair.
Did I mention that this is how he spent his Saturday morning just before going to an appointment with the doctor helping him with his ADHD issues?
Shallow breathing and temporary breath holding up regulates the sympathetic or fight or flight nervous system response. I call this email apnea. If your child has ADHD or impulse control issues and also hunches in front of a computer or video game or in front of the television, it might be time to consider an intervention that involves teaching a breathing technique that up regulates the parasympathetic or rest and digest response.
I recently spent some time playing with the HeartMath emWave Desktop software. With short games, a player manages his/her breathing pattern as part of game play.
At TEDMED 2009, Dr. Daniel Siegel mentioned research he’d conducted using breath training to manage ADHD.
Sometimes pharmaceuticals are the most effective option for treating a condition. In many cases, for conditions involving impulse control, regulation of emotions, ADHD and other attention issues, it may be worth looking into options that help”re-set” the autonomic nervous system: various breathing techniques, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, cranial-sacral, and certain forms of acupuncture.
Performance, particularly dance and music, often involve training in breathing techniques. The same is true for certain sports.
The way we breathe is central in regulation of attention and emotion, cognition and memory, and social and emotional intelligence.
Recently, Nicholas Carr wrote a piece: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.
Can we really know that’s true? It’s the web? Is this a declaration of war on technology? After all, it’s shattering focus and rewiring our brains, according to Carr.
My latest Huffington Post piece, Are We at War with Technology, considers the relationship between the WHAT (technology), the HOW (how we’re using it) and the human (us).