I have been putting off starting this blog for almost a year. It isn’t because I don’t like writing, as I do like putting things into words. It is more the fact that I don’t like to commit to publishing anything that isn’t thoroughly thought out, researched, and supported. As a scientist, I always feel I need to have data and careful analysis behind all propositions I put forward, and yet life seems to be moving faster. The rate of publication of information, opinions, and scientific literature has been accelerating at an exponential rate. A fear of becoming outdated or irrelevant pushes me and perhaps many others. And more importantly, we face highly disruptive changes that require thought, discussion and appropriate action.
Technology has always increased the power that people are able to exert. Physical technologies allow greater abilities to move, create and destroy than ever before. Information technologies allow faster and larger transmission of ideas, images, and experiences. They form a feedback loop so that technology helps us breed more technology at a faster rate, involving more people as well as automated systems. I would argue that our bodies and brains have not been able to keep up. Convenient foods that are designed to appeal to our drives for salt, sugar and fat have led to increasing obesity and other health issues in the US. Social media, video games, and video binging are all trends that play on the brain’s need for stimulation; yet provide it at an addictive pace that is often disconnected from the natural rhythms of our body which our brain must always manage.
I am not saying that we can not manage. The brain is amazing in its flexible ability to adapt and change. People adapt to challenging climates and rigorous environments from outer space to mines to extreme poverty or war. Yet, the degree of change due to technology brings up issues we have never faced. At what point does life begin and end? If someone’s physical body is alive, but their mind and memories are gone, are they the same person? What if you change someone’s body, or someone’s mind or someone’s memories? How do you weigh the life of a person, a dog, a rat, a sponge, an endangered fungus or a species of bacteria? What if changing the bacteria in your gut changes your mood or your political tendencies? Is it worse to increase the chance of cancer of a million people by five percent or eliminate a factory and a thousand jobs? The list goes on and on and grows by the hour.
A natural tendency of humans when faced with such uncertainty is to fall back on older patterns of behavior or relationships that we trust. We need to rest and regroup in preparation to attack the challenge, although we sometimes find it easier to deny a problem exists and avoid it. Unfortunately, the widening dislocations arising from rapid technology growth tend to isolate people into pockets of trust that can not always find the proper connection to other groups that might help navigate and solve the inciting issue. This is acutely seen in some of the extreme fractionation of opinion and information during the recent 2016 US presidential election.
We need to learn how to grow trust.
Scientists acknowledge that they need to communicate their insights and understanding better to a wider audience. Engineers acknowledge their creations fit into a complex ecosystem of cause and effect that need to be designed appropriately to balance different goal. These are important steps, but as a systems person, I wonder about how we take these steps to a place of growing trust with all the parts of the entire ecosystem. Consumers, manufacturers, lawmakers, and regulators; people good at art, people good with boundaries, people good with their hands; all are tied together facing different demands and opportunities in a rapidly changing world.
I want to be able to grow the energy and motivation in people to want to understand themselves, their world and the complex connections between them. I was previously a therapist and psychiatrist and later a neurofeedback clinician, seeing many people trapped by the structure of their lives, their beliefs, or even their brains. Although there are techniques that can help individuals to move forward and grow out of some of these traps, I believe that if we wish to turn around the broader disconnection and loss of trust described above, we will need to build or repair teams, institutions and even rituals. We need trusted guideposts to bridge the gaps between people, and even between the different parts of ourselves – our thoughts, our feelings, our behavior, our spirit.
My goal is to use technology to grow and expand trust connections in a stable network that is dynamically balanced between segregation and integration. A truly stable network requires different amounts of each at different times to maintain both strength and flexibility. I personally plan to first work on storytelling: how people write stories, connect to stories, and find truth in stories. I want to keep the larger goal in mind while pursuing this plan, as the mind (and much of life) works in a fractal framework with the specific focus tied to the patterns of the bigger picture.
So, to conclude this blog, I am asking for feedback. It can be feedback on my writing grammar or style. It can be on my arguments and ideas. If this makes sense to you, this attempt to begin to describe a project of humanizing technology, humanizing our processes of work, legislation, education, and interpersonal connection, then let me know how you see it from the perspective of your work and your connections. How do you see a project like this moving forward and how would it have to function for people like you to be able to contribute?
It is time for us all to talk, discuss, and make some new things in the world.