Jul 18, 2012


To the outsider, the Singularity looks like madness | #SecondLife


In a recent Newsweek cover story, it is asserted that technology in general and (more precisely) access to the Internet and mass communication is somehow driving us insane.



Tweets, texts, emails, posts. New research says the Internet can make us lonely and depressed—and may even create more extreme forms of mental illness.



Let’s start the ball rolling by stating this is absolute hogwash. What we are seeing are the effects of an accelerated mind adapting to ubiquitous presence and access.







I know, the kids these days with their iPhones, MP3 players, and computers. Tablets and other electronic cocaine addictions up the wazoo only compound the issue, right? I’m not so certain about that assertion.


What I’ve noticed is that these studies clearly take the situation out of context and make half-witted assertions about what they feel is going on with the participants. Yes, they are more apt to multitask and become irritable when disconnected from the Internet. Of course their attention span is lower and not able to concentrate on a single thing… or maybe they really can focus on a single thing but only if they truly are interested in it?


That’s something I’ve noticed more than anything.


In a world of endless information at our fingertips, we’re mentally adapting to the situation by becoming exceedingly quick at deciding what is important and what isn’t. So when we’re talking to our teenagers and they’re staring at their smart phones in a text messaging conversation, maybe they are deciding in a moment that what you are saying is really not as important as you are making it out to be? More to the point is that in an overwhelming onslaught of ubiquitous information and interaction, it’s not so much what you are saying but how you are choosing to convey that information that counts? Generally speaking, we’re simply not choosing the most efficient manner to convey information, nor is that information worth the sustained attention of the person you are trying to convey it to.


I wouldn’t say this is an unhealthy addiction. If anything, this is promising because what I see from my end is a population quickly adapting to the singularity context. Accelerating returns essentially mandates that progress will quicken, information will continue to expand and time will compress. In short, it’ll take less time to do more when compared to the same task in a prior generation.


So our population is adapting to this time compression. On the surface, I suppose it looks like a sort of mental illness or addiction. We’re already in a multiplicity of persona through or digital interactions, and we refer to ourselves in many differing contexts. A generation ago that notion would have immediately been characterized as a mental instability, but by today’s standards we are expected to engage the world as a multiplicity.


However, that isn’t to say that everyone is actually capable of this transition.


There are the digital natives and the digital immigrants, the prior are the younger generation that were born into the digital context and had access to these devices and technologies from birth, while the latter generation is not so lucky to have been a native and must retrain their minds to adapt to the technology and implications it brings.


Digital natives are most likely to handle this singularity transition without much of an issue, while the ones who will see the adverse effects are likely the digital immigrants who aren’t mentally prepared for this accelerated time shifting and ubiquity.


From a medical standpoint, we term this issue Reactive Psychosis, which essentially boils down to a sudden and overwhelming shift in engagement from relative quiet to an onslaught of information overload. To put it more precisely, we’re back to the notion of the monkey sphere (or Dunbar’s Number if you will) and how the mind is adapting to handle the inner-sphere and the outer-sphere. In the case of digital natives, they are already adapting to handle both inner and outer-sphere through highly adaptive prioritization of importance. To a digital immigrant, however, they have a predisposition to believe that all interactions hold relatively the same attention weight in order to remain courteous, and that mentality is the precursory to a mental breakdown when all things seemingly require full attention to be polite but the sheer number of interactions is overwhelming.


When we look at this more in-depth, I suppose we can assert that the recent generation has a much higher affliction of A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. but I’m wary to say that is really a bad thing. I’m sure in an analog context, those things are bad, but instead of diagnosing the individual with an attention problem, maybe we should be diagnosing our means of information stream myopic instead?


I’d like to hypothesize that those with attention deficit disorder really have nothing wrong with them at all, but instead they are adapted to handle a hyper-contextual environment which the standard methodologies today aren’t capable of delivering. A single mode of communication and, more importantly, a single thread of interaction is not appropriate in a ubiquitous environment. These digital natives are adapting to handle many things at once and actually perform better when able to interact with many things in shorter bursts.


In an education aspect, and I know many reading this are keen to perk up their ears, this means that the textbook approach to learning is dying a quick death. What education needs is a multi-sensory and immersive context in order for our digital natives to focus. Not only that, but there needs to be an open-ended context in which exploration of that immersion and many paths can lead to not just a predetermined outcome but the possibility of different outcomes.


If you’re an educator and into virtual worlds, then this is a perfect justification for integrating virtual environments into your classroom context. That doesn’t mean a linear environment that walks students through a lesson plan is appropriate, however. What it means is that the students literally thrive and focus on multi-faceted immersive contexts.






Now, I know Rupert Murdoch isn’t exactly the most trustworthy person to quote concerning all of this, but if you put aside the unsavory actions what you have is at least a man who understood this situation from his own perspective and what would need to be done in order to move forward.


I’m not one to agree with Rupert Murdoch, but on this he is absolutely correct.


So far our solution has been to diagnose our kids with a disorder and pump them full of drugs to slow them down. I find this disturbing and amusing simultaneously because we’re approaching the situation in the same manner as the scientists in the game Portal where GladOS was becoming too smart and too fast, so the solution was to attach other cores to her in order to add noise and slow her down.


It’s disturbing because we’re addressing a symptom and not the problem, and amusing because instead of evolving our own methodologies, the digital immigrants immediately see this behavioral change as bad because it is very different than their own, and so they have to “solve” it by diagnosing it as a problem and prescribing drugs to handle it.


The problem isn’t the kids, and the problem isn’t technology. The problem is now that the digital natives aren’t being spoon fed information and context in a trickle that is an analog or singular context scenario, they simply aren’t tolerant of the old methodologies any longer. Yet our classrooms and digital immigrant society is still rooted in analog methodologies and contexts, so they decide that something is wrong with the new generation for not acting like they did at their age.


The problem is the methodologies and approach to interaction and learning. It’s no longer a world of single stream context, but instead we’re in a world of ubiquitous and hyper-threading context. Short bursts and high impact.


I suspect this is also the reason why my own blog is considered “hard to parse” or read for the average person. We’re used to a single graphic and a burst of text, 30 seconds of context and then we move on. However when we’re faced with long reads and deeper context, many people refer to the Cliff Notes version.


That being said, I’m still a digital native myself. I can get on with a smart phone and short burst conversations, but sometimes there are things which need to be given due diligence and time in a discussion. I think when we begin to cultivate a balance between the two, we’ll get along just fine. For those that are full-tilt digital natives; These are the people who are the future. Don’t treat it as a disorder or negative addiction. We’re addicted to information and the world. We’re soaking up all things of interest at a hyper-active pace. We’re retraining our minds to learn like we did when we were children…


Think about it.









  1. I think your probably right, but, because our education systems have yet to catch up to this change(and probably won't for another 10-20 years depending on political reasons), we are needing to use what we have, and what we have is a way to slow down that 'Synapse' so that they can pass that all-important class or grade that is built on the 'analoguos' sytem currently in place.

    There is a responsibility of the parent to prepare the student for the future but at the moment there are two futures - the multi-threaded one that you portray and the one that is still reliant on past technology and philosophy. For many, they must pass through the latter to reach the former. The parent must help the student achieve competence in both in order to give them a chance at a future at all.

  2. It's an interesting argument that Digital Natives and somehow more adept at deciphering "what's important". However, it takes time for the mind and body to understand and to feel the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions. For some kinds of thoughts, especially moral decision-making about other people's social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and reflection.