I recently attended a New America event called the Future of Getting Lost.
Being a Brit, I was intrigued by the title, having being told, on many occasions, to do precisely that.
The Panelists, Jeff Wise (CNN); Wendy Harman (American Red Cross); Matt Gross (BonAppetit.com); and Clarence Wardell (CNA Safety and Security), all experts in either getting lost or being found, discussed the role of technology in finding people during times of disaster. As they started to explore our inherent desires to, at times, lose ourselves amidst our dense technology jungle, I started to follow them.
Three questions came to mind;
-- If, in our increasingly mobile, networked, always-on world, discover-ability and find-ability are taken for granted, can we get lost, even if we want to?
-- If getting lost becomes less common, what does this mean for serendipitous discovery?
-- Most critically, where is technology leading us?
As an avid user of mapping, translation and location-aware applications, I am never lost. Wherever I venture, near or far, smartphone in hand, my discoveries increase, experiences deepen, and horizons expand.
However, even as a technophile, I'm concerned about our increased conditioning to being continuously connected to the worlds' knowledge and information. Watching recent ads from Google, Apple and Samsung, one could conclude that without our devices; our creative expression is lessened. Admit it. A day without our phone or computer, we feel the loss, compromised, even disempowered.
Fret not. As battery technology improves, wearable tech penetrates our very beings; we'll enter a state of euphoric constant connection, always traceable, our loved ones trackable and never, ever lost.
Does the road of universal connectivity lead us to networked nirvana? Although the Internet's contribution to our humanity, productivity and progress is unquestionable, we must remain cognizant that the further networked technology take us, we risk losing touch with something more important, our ability to remain connected to our innate creativity.
Human progress is fueled by our hard-wired desire to invent, innovate or pursue creative endeavors. The inventive process is not a formula, yet many artists, inventors or problem-solvers share certain creative patterns. Take Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory. He would spend much time contemplating, considering and reflecting on ideas walking along his so called "thinking path," a sand walk near his South of England home.
We all have those times and spaces where we escape the company of others, lost to the world around us, when original ideas flow and clarity forms; those moments of reverie.
Reverie, a rarely used word but a state we often feel; drifting through a daydream, mindlessly musing, absorbed and inattentive to the world around us, is no place for technology. Wherever we find our reverie; a walk, a run, a swim or relaxing in a chair, eyes closed, in deep thought; it's at risk from the creeping constriction of connectivity.
Plugged in, concentrating, preoccupied, distracted, tempted and sometimes tormented, we lose our ability to get lost in our minds, hamper the happenstance from heightened self-awareness or stifle simple serendipitous sparks.
In 1754 Walpole coined the word serendipity, inspired by an old fairy tale, 'The Three Princes of Serendip,' "Where the Princes were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."
Of the many tales where great discoveries or inventions were stimulated by a serendipitous jolt or born in a moment of reverie, neuroscience played its part.
Neuroscientist Rex Jung (PH.D) defines this mind state as transient hypofrontality, when our powerful frontal lobes down-regulate. Our brains shift from a conscious mind-state, the 'explicit system' to the 'implicit system' where our unconscious mind takes over. This enables us to process unlimited amounts of data, deal with complexity, creatively solve problems, spot opportunities, generate new ideas and push ourselves beyond our perceived limits. We've all had the feeling of 'being in the zone', or what is currently referred to as a flow state.
In a recent Fast Company article, Steven Kotler, author of Rise of the Superman, argues "flow is the ultimate state of being" and that anyone can apply flow triggers to any task. Working in a creative field, I know how to switch off from the present, to let one's eyes wander, mind wonder and capture ideas from the ether. For me, switching-off from technology is critical to switching-on my unconscious mind.
Why is this important? Back to Darwin, evolution and where technology is taking us.
Pew Research recently canvassed over 1,800 global thought leaders on the impact of advancing robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Unified on the implications for industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance, they were divided over the economic and employment impact. Dystopian visions of vast increases in income inequality, unemployable masses and the breakdown of social order were countered by a belief in human ingenuity creating new jobs, industries, and economic opportunities.
Facing the expansion of AI, and as robotics threatens to reign, our relationship to technology lies in balance. Do we surrender our creativity under the mountainous march of machine intelligence or activate our creativity to take us to new unimagined heights of human achievement.
Slaves or masters, captives or controllers, winners of losers, the outcome will not be resolved by technology but determined by political and social policy, driving a behavioral debate about our relationship to technology.
It's up to us to imagine, shape and build our desired reality by creatively applying technology to bring new superhuman ideas and inventions to life. To achieve this, we must learn to consciously activate our subconscious minds and flow states.
As controllers of technology, individually and collectively, we must balance technological connection with disconnection, have the discipline to lose ourselves in our unconscious minds, and have the focus to listen to our souls.
In doing so, we can discover what we never imagined and reach our future through simply getting lost.