Somewhere along the way, it became unfashionable to be wise. Many of us feign nonchalance and adopt the appearance of a carefree, easy-breezy approach to life. It’s not a good “look” to appear stressed or to care too much. How many times have your teenage or young adult children admonished you to “relax!”
Truth be told, with every aspect of life running at breakneck speed, it’s hard to find the time to devote much energy and thought to any one thing. In fact, speed seems to be how we measure the value of most things today.
Consider the microwave, one of the best examples of this phenomenon. The microwave is a highly valued appliance in every American kitchen, yet we all recognize, in our heart of hearts, that food prepared in a high intensity electromagnetic field does not create a truly enjoyable food experience. Even leftovers from Le Bernardin are diminished by the process. But, we cannot deny the allure of its speed, and most of us use the microwave more than our cooktop or oven.
And, why is a fast-paced approach to life a problem, you ask?
Here’s why. According to Arianna Huffington, founder of HuffPost and Thrive Global. we are drowning in data but starved for wisdom. The phone. The tablet. The computer. TV. Alexa. Always there. Always on. Always filling the little bit of down time that we have with factoids, data, information, tidbits, gossip, real news, fake news, regurgitated news. Then there is cable with its hundreds of channels plus Netflix, Hulu, YouTube. We not only have a 24-hour news cycle. We have the 24-hour information cycle.
I’ll admit that there is subtle societal pressure to be constantly plugged in. The average person checks her cell phone about 80 times a day. You get a “bad rep” if you fail to respond to text messages in nanoseconds. I find myself apologizing for my “delayed” response when I don’t respond immediately. My daughter starts checking her Find My Friends app for my whereabouts if I don’t respond quickly (and after repeated ??? text messages). All of this fast-paced, this haste, is taking a toll on us as individuals and as a society. In fact, in 2016, the dictionary added the condition “nomophobia,” which is the irrational fear of being out of cell phone contact. Yes, our overdependence on machines now has an official name.
What separates us from machines is our ability to make sound judgments and choices based on experience. In other words, WISDOM. Wisdom is often defined as a combination of knowledge and experience. Knowledge comes from what you do with information (make it useful to yourself) and experience comes from what you learn from what you do with information.
Wise people have a sense of balance that allows them to face the vagaries of life with optimism. Wise people have a confidence and calm, based on lessons learned from past successes and failures, that they can resolve any problem and any conflict through compromise and a heaping helping of humility and empathy.
As this latest generation of machines becomes more intelligent, there is a heightened need for us to “level up.” to stay a few steps ahead of artificial intelligence’s increasing capability to reason and to think in ways that appear to mimic humans. But artificial intelligence, or AI, does not have the capacity to ever be what is the hallmark of humanity: empathetic, compassionate, to have a spirit and a soul. The Amazon Alexa and Jibo Social Robot may seem almost human in their behaviors and responses, but we must take care to remind ourselves that they are. Not. Human. If we don’t, we’ll wake up one day with Alexa and Siri barking out instructions to us instead of the other way around.
The threat that artificial intelligence will change life as we know it was described as early as 1921 by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Christian Lous Lange when he said that “technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” Unfortunately, we are heading in a direction where how we connect and engage with each other is increasingly driven by AI, which is unable to have our best interests in mind because, simply put, it doesn’t have a heart.
Sure, AI is wonderfully helpful to us. Personally, I plan to have two robots in the twilight of my senior years – one to take care of me and one to entertain me. But, I want to direct them, not the other way around. And, I sure don’t want them wired to control me in unhealthy or unethical ways. I also don’t want them to ever have the right to trump human points of view or to make decisions about morality. (Siri is reading this as I type so there may be consequences for me.)
But, we are already down that road. If you think I am wrong, consider how many times in a day you or someone you know consults technology for answers to questions. And consider that we know much of the information online is often not based in fact, but is opinion presented as fact. Now consider that we, as a society, are becoming less wise, complacently allowing opinion cloaked as fact to trump the imperative to have wisdom – to discern, to make sound judgments based on experience. You can easily see how a relentless, tireless machine can take over the planet, and the jobs on it, while we’re distracted by the enormous amount of information hurled at us every minute of every day.
AI is not evil. It has been immensely beneficial to the world. It just takes wise people to harness its power for good and to ensure that it is not used for evil. One thing I know is that we cannot allow artificial intelligence to masquerade as wisdom.
What can we do?
Let’s make wisdom hip again.
First, remember the human attributes that separate us from machines: creativity, emotion, decency, consciousness — WISDOM! Hone and polish (actively engage!) those attributes until they sparkle.
Second, slow it down. Take the time to unplug regularly with technology to give your brain and body a break from the onslaught of information. Kick it old school and let your mind just free flow. Let your thoughts drift. Drive your car from time to time without listening to the radio, talking on your phone or receiving any information input. Lift your head up from your device on occasion and embrace your surroundings. You’ll see a boost in your creativity and focus.
Third, get wise and stay wise. In a highly regarded study, psychologists were able to show that between the ages of 25 and 70, the correlation between age and wisdom is zero. Wisdom emerges from what you glean, what you learn from experiences, not how long you’ve been at it. Build a wise family unit. Challenge your friend circle to not accept the status quo. It’s never too early or too late to start. You’re most influenced by the 5-7 people you’re around the most, so encourage those around you to level up.
Wisdom takes intention, time, the will to live life to the fullest, to learn lessons from the journey and to laugh joyfully along the way. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time!
How about you?