The first month of 2014, January, went by in a blur. I prepared for the month and hit the ground running armed with my ubiquitous black Moleskines and Lamy fountain pens. It’s amazing what pieces of paper, a pen, and a system can do for productivity. At the end of the day, we can simplify our productivity needs to 1. capture data (measure), 2. make sense of the data (mine), 3. implement the lessons of the data (manage). So many people have iPhones and smart phones and have read all sorts of productivity articles but aren’t anymore productive than they used to be without the fancy stuff. In fact, many are even more distracted.
It’s simple. If a person cannot measure, mine, and manage current data, that person will not be able to do better with more data (in the form of messages, games, news, alerts, etc.) coming at him.
For the disciplined person, a smart phone will cause him to be exponentially more productive. For the undisciplined person, a smart phone that gives access to more data points, will distract and cause lower productivity.
Like money, power, and access to information is power, doesn’t make us who we are, it enhances and highlights who we already are.
Some of the dangerous things the Internet has highlighted for us, in my opinion, are the following:
1. We put more emphasis on “appearing” than on “becoming”.
For many of us, what matters most is how we are perceived, what people think of us. Doesn’t matter if we’re depressed, what matters is that we seem like we have things put together. It doesn’t matter if we’re really clueless about life, what matters is that we look accomplished. It doesn’t matter if we’re really scoundrels, what matters is that we look holy. It doesn’t matter if we’re really broke and buried in debt, what matters is that we look successful. Doesn’t matter if we’re really lost, what matters is that we look pretty and handsome.
The problem with this is: WHO WE ARE DOES MATTER, and it matters more than who people perceive us to be. Who we are perceived to be now is temporary. Who we really are will determine the fruit of our lives.
Fake it to make it can only go so far.
I want to be clear that the point here is not that people might find out we’re fakes. That’s the least of the consequences of this emphasis on appearing instead of becoming. The real consequences are like the following:
If we only appear to be successful and never actually become successful we’ll miss out on our goals and dreams. One cannot go to a shop and purchase a book by simple “appearing” to pay. No. One must actually pay, and to do this one must have actually become able to pay. You cannot “appear” to be succeeding towards true success. We must truly “become” successful through discipline, handwork, perseverance, discovery, and faith.
To be continued…
February 10, 2014
Ok… Where were we? Dangerous things. The second one is:
2. Mistaking information for understanding, virtual for actual, witnessing for experiencing.
One thing the Internet gives us access to is an incredible amount of information – and information delivered fast. Through Google, we can know the answer to the billions of questions that go through our heads. We’re so well informed. We know facts, we know data, we know opinions of pundits, we know what’s in and what’s out, and we know more than our predecessors. It’s incredible to talk to kids and see how knowledgeable they are.
There’s really no problem with knowing stuff. Between a person that knows a lot and a person that doesn’t know much, all things being equal, the person who knows a lot will be a more valuable person to connect with. But knowledge isn’t everything. In fact, the Bible says, knowledge puffs up. Knowing much doesn’t mean someone is actually more effective. Sometimes it simply means they’re more bloated – mentally bloated.
Despite the exponential increase in knowledge, what has not kept in pace is an increase in understanding or wisdom. We have more information than ever yet at the same time many are unable to make proper decisions.
I don’t really know why that’s the case but maybe one reason is because knowing too much (or thinking we know too much) can paralyzes us. There’s a saying among entrepreneurs that says “not knowing helped me because I didn’t know that what I was trying to do was impossible and so ended up achieving it.” Sometimes people these days know and analyze too much that they’re bogged down by over-knowing.
But I think the worst part of knowing is “knowing without understanding”, which means, having information without the ability to identify the context, comprehend the purpose, and/or utilize the data meaningfully.
I see this quite obviously in the proliferation of quotes. There’s soooo many quotes everywhere but if we really checked ourselves, has it really permeated our hearts and minds to the point that our decisions and actions have changed? I don’t think so. If we lived out these quotes half as much as we post them we would probably be more secure by now, or wiser, making less mistakes, happier, more content, spending less, doing more meaningful work, being more disciplined, but it doesn’t take a researcher to recognize that most people aren’t these things. In fact, social media seems to have made people more isolated, more prone to envy, and more insecure.
There’s also a lot of relationship advice going around, a lot of lists, and life hacks. But are lives really better? Are relationships? Sometimes, yes, sometimes no. But based on divorce rates, on crime rates, on unemployment and underemployment, poverty incidence and genie coefficients? I don’t anyone can say we’re actually better.
Another example are these life hacks. How many of the people who have shared a life hack article has actually practiced one? A hundred nice ideas on our walls won’t help us. Just one idea practiced can make a difference.
More information and less understanding can also be dangerous. Take for example the kids who are making bombs using instructions over the internet or the ability to secure drugs and weapons and other illegal things over the web. The power of the Internet is great but without understanding that same power will hurt us.
Sometimes the dangers are not so black and white. Sometimes they’re little thoughts in our heads, little lusts, little materialisms, little attractions that take us to more little things, that lead our minds away from wisdom. I’ve seen so many feel-good articles that people like and share that I are contrary to my personal convictions. It seems that too many people have forgotten that just because something is popular, just because something is widely accepted, doesn’t mean it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s right, doesn’t mean it’s beneficial.
Ideas are powerful. The smallest ideas are seeds that can grow into fruit-bearing trees. The ideas one receives online if unfiltered with understanding and a strong foundation will toss one from one wave to another. The scary part is how so many of us look to the internet for answers, and take the opinions of others, many of them strangers, strangers with unknown profiles even, as truth. This is very common and also very stupid.
We must seek understanding to go with our increase in information.
The book Necessary Endings very simply explains that there are 3 kinds of people in the world: wise, foolish, and evil. The wise people are those who make decisions purposefully for the right motivations, evil people are those who have the wrong motivations, who are malicious, and foolish people? These are the people who live life thoughtlessly, who sort of accidentally go through life, who don’t have the understanding to make sense of the information life throws at them.
Wise people, when given more information, become wiser.
Evil people, when given more information, become more evil.
Foolish people, when given more information, become more foolish.
The internet doesn’t make us who we are but it multiplies who we are and reveals us for the kind of person we truly are, whether we are wise, foolish, or evil.
To be continued…
3. Growth of external systems of control and the decline of internal systems of control (such as personal resolve and conviction).
Usually, my Friday evenings begin with an intense workout with my fitness coach Kirby Martin. Kirby is a Canadian Crossfit coach, and is incredibly serious about health, heck, he’s more serious about my health. A few weeks ago he was so angry at me after finding out I only slept 3 hours that day – that I usually only sleep 3-4 hours every day – and he threatened to stop coaching me. He angrily explained that we were wasting our handwork because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. He finally cooled down when I committed to sleeping at least 6 hours a night. It’s been tough but I’ve forced myself and actually feel better.
I start with this story because I want to give an example of what happens when an individual lacks the internal controls to make something happen: he either has an external control take over or nothing happens.
In my case, I personally don’t have the self-discipline to push myself to greater heights physically so I hired Kirby to push me and beat my body up. The reality is I could save a whole lot of money by doing this myself but the reality is I won’t push myself as hard. Because I lack the internal strength to do things, I now have to surrender to external strength to get the results I want.
In today’s world, there are so many external controls. Apps to help us get healthier, diets, guides, to-dos, must haves, there are so many external guides influencing our decision-making. One thing that seems to be declining are internal systems of control, in other words, self-discipline, or the ability to choose based on an internal set of values and not simply decide on external influences, pressures, and outside currents.
This is the irony of today’s generation: We want more freedom, our technology affords us more freedom, yet at the same time we willingly subject ourselves external controls to decide our consumption and decision-making.
One of the most prevalent and powerful external forces of control is popularity. We’re suckers for what’s popular.
1. We want to listen to whatever music we want yet when I ask people about their musical choices I many times get “It’s so popular now” or “It’s number one on the charts”. I ask people what the song means or “why” they like it and they usually start with “um… I don’t know. It’s nice.”
2. We want to watch whatever we want yet when I ask people “why”, usually it’s the same answer as with music. “It’s nice.”
3. We share a bunch of articles, and it’s not uncommon to see an article shard multiple times on our news feeds, but when I ask people about their posts, whether they’ve tried the sandwich they posted about a month ago, or tried any of the life hacks they keep sharing, or lived out their own version of the touching video they liked, and the answer is usually blank.
4. Even in community development work it’s incredible to see how large the groups we’re able to mobilize for events to help others yet how many of us as individuals have the personal strength and awareness to daily serve others – which probably means doing many unpopular things.
Popularity is a dumb reason to consume or do anything.
Let me give you proof of why popularity is actually many times a sign of where not to go.
Where are the popular people of high school in college, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the prom king and queens? No idea. Where are the unpopular ones, the nerds, the geeks, the ones who did the uncool thing of actually studying? They’re probably your boss.
Miley Cyrus. I don’t need to say more. If you waste time on her you deserve her.
My friend pointed this out to me before, “Isn’t it interesting that our most famous shows have bad values on their titles? Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, Gossip Girls, Revenge, we’ve come so far down.” I thought that was a very insightful realization. Then I pointed out to her that she watched all these shows. She told me, “I’m just saying. I didn’t say I didn’t watch them.” What she was really saying was “I’ve seen how far down we’ve gone but I’m not able to break away.” On hindsight, it was an example of what I’ve seen in most people, an inability to distinguish between what’s right and what’s popular, too many times mixing the two as if they’re the same thing, and ending up with tragic results.
While popularity may be good, it is not automatically good. Many times it’s the opposite because popularity is made-up of the majority, and the majority of people don’t think, and when they do think, they don’t think deeply. Now why would you want someone who doesn’t think or doesn’t think deeply dictate the choices of your life? Why would you want thousands, even millions, of people who don’t think nor don’t think deeply dictate your choices?
The only reason I can think of is that you’re part of that majority who does not have the sense to think through things and dictate your own choices.
Many people think they’re making their own choices by breaking free from rules and self-discipline. On the contrary, self-discipline, inner convictions is the ultimate freedom, it does after all mean, we are self-controlled or controlled-by-self. Lack of discipline, lack of inner structures, “do whatever I want” thinking indicates no personal control. This is the ultimate slavery – you are now a slave to the chaos of a million influences. You are a ship tossed and beaten in the unpredictable ocean of life.”
When I was young the excuse, “But everyone’s doing it!” never worked worked with my parents. Never. Here’s what they would tell me, “But you’re not everyone, David. You don’t do something because everyone does it. You do things because they’re what you’re supposed to do.” This taught me an incredibly important lesson: Don’t be guided by general opinion. Be guided by inner conviction. And if that inner conviction conflicts with general opinion (which very often does), be strong enough to stand by your conviction – and fight for it.
Here’s what I encourage you to do:
1. Pray, study, and think deeply about your own personal values. These will be your anchors.
2. Write them down. Define them. It’s not the length of your description but the clarity that counts.
3. Surround yourself with people of like-minded values or with people who have the values you’d like to live out.
4. When going through life, when making decisions, when about to do anything ask yourself, is this something I really really really value? Does it go against what I value?
I’ve found that every time I went against my values I hurt myself and others. I don’t really care about getting into trouble anymore but I do care about the damage I cause. By being more aware of what’s really valuable in my life I am able to minimize trading them away for the inferior foolishness and wrong decisions I’m prone to make.
Ok, I have to get breakfast.
(To be continued…)
4. Rise of social networks and sharing and the decline of originality
5. Mistaking sharing for curating, curating for producing, and producing for creating.