Technology is at the scene of the crime, but is it the real criminal in our lives? When we talk about information overload, it's as if we believe the information is committing the crime. When Nicholas Carr talks about "the web shattering focus and rewiring our brains," we turn the finger of blame toward the worldwide Web. Carr even asks, "What kind of brain is the Web giving us?"
Excuse me, the web is giving us a brain? Can we really be so certain about cause and effect?
When we attribute blame to technology, we are implying that we're powerless in this equation, that it's "us against it." That it's war. Your technology or your brain? Can we really be sure we're asking the right questions?
Alan Kay, an inspiration in my life and work at Apple in the 1980's and early 90's was known for saying, "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points." Is the web shattering focus and re-wiring our brains or is something else happening that we haven't thought to notice, and to measure?
The Web and technology are the WHAT. There's also a HOW. How are we sitting? How does our physiology shift when we're "on technology?" Are we breathing? Does our heart rate variability change on technology? Does our pulse rise?
Using a device with an ear clip that measured pulse and heart rate variability (HRV) and displayed the data on the screen, I watched my pulse go up 15 beats per minute when I moved from reading to email. For a couple of weeks, I tested everyone who walked through my front door. I learned that I'm not alone. Many of those I measured showed similar shifts.
Only athletes, musicians, dancers and those with a consistent, long-term breathing/meditation practice showed no change in HRV or pulse when doing email.
More recently, in playing with a variety of biofeedback-based technologies, I discovered a lightweight device that isn't tied into a computer or mobile device. The ear clip collects HRV and pulse data and a small display box uses light and color feedback to provide ambient, non-invasive feedback. When I'm at the computer writing for long stretches, I attach the ear clip and set the little device on the table, now more aware of breathing and embodiment.
This reminds me of what I think is so effective about the Toyota Prius. It gives ambient, non-invasive feedback and leaves the choice regarding behavior to the driver. This same approach can be effective in enabling a healthier relationship between us and our computing and communication devices. In the Prius, the driver sees a display and has total control as to whether to pay attention to the display or not. The Prius doesn't stop the car in the middle of the highway and say, "You gas guzzling idiot. This car isn't moving another inch until you change your ways." The locus of control is with the driver who implicitly learns to shift driving behavior.
Technologies like these offer this type of support in computing and communication contexts. We can know: Are we "embodied?" Breathing? Are posture and breathing compromised? Are we chronically in fight or flight "on technology?" Or, are we learning a new "how," a new way of being when "on technology?"
If we shift our focus to the how, we can find new options. This is a call to action, not a call to a war of technology vs. humans. In our relationship with technology, we are powerful. The HOW is up to us.