« Illusory Designs & Mind-Hacking Carparks | Evolation | $2 Million House “Staves Off Death”? »

The Post-Digital Lifestyle

I recently came upon the term “post-digital”, here described by its (presumed) creator, John Maeda.

I am often asked what my term “post digital” signifies. It is a term that I created as a way to acknowledge a distinction between those that are passed [sic] their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology. It is not an expression of Luddite-ism nor is it a loaded term like that icky “post modernism” business. If we are to consider the book by Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, as an affirmation that the computer has arrived, then the “post digital” generation refers to the growing few that have already been digital, and are now more interested in Being Human. Buying a good computer is easy. Being a good person is something that cannot be merely bought… even on the great god of eBay.

This idea is really interesting for a few reasons: for one, it’s important to realize that technological “breakthroughs” don’t necessarily signify real progress. The only progress we can measure is what happens in our own heads, the awareness we have of ourselves and our world, the new thinking that comes with these new technologies. If we don’t acquire a fundamentally new (or fundamentally more complete) reality as a result of our technologies, we are actively losing ground.

Technology’s Not Evil

When I say “losing ground”, I don’t mean that technology is evil, or that we should work to decrease our reliance on it (at least, not necessarily). What undeniably seems to happen, though, is that each new breakthrough affects our belief in previous paradigms. When given appropriate evidence, we instinctually believe our previous ideas to be in error (or shaky, at the very least). Until we’re fully aware of what a new technology can do, we tend to assign it more capabilities, greater capacities, rather than less. But until we actually know what’s possible, this “leap of logic” distracts us from the mastery we’d otherwise have.

The implications, the possibilities, are not what matters. What matters are the ways that things really work, devoid of all theory or philosophy. Discovering agriculture actively changed the way that things could be done, or even thought about. Designing messaging systems that are instantaneous (email) and available anywhere (txts) drastically affects the flow of information, making everyone “available” at all times. (This regardless of whether anyone actually wanted to be available.) When rockets and space travel became possible, we knew that certain aspects of our consciousness would not (or could not) stay still for much longer. We had no more excuses, no more reasons not to move beyond our prior bounds.

In many respects our current technologies are little more than refinements. The necessary cognitive “reorganization” required to operate them was put in place (in most cases) some time earlier. In the case of computers, we were already able to understand the notion of a machine that exists for our personal use (something granted by basic agriculture), the idea of an adding device (the calculator/abacus), and a communicative device (the telephone). What really requires a leap of logic is the instant-on, always-accessible world granted by mobile Web access. But is our being surrounded by knowledge (or, perhaps, lack of knowledge) a step forward in our day-to-day lives? As Nicholas Carr wrote in The New Atlantic, is Google just making us stupid?

In a word, yes. Not only is Google making us stupid, but having access to Google means that our mode of thinking, by defWhaault, includes Google as a viable solution. Google becomes an answer in itself.

What we really need are new questions. We’ve moved far beyond “the medium is the message”; now, we need new messages. We need worthwhile messages. In a truly post-digital world, the only survivors are beauty, truth, and awareness.

One finds beauty by removing complexity, by confronting ambiguity, by stopping to observe without judgment or desire.

One builds truth by confronting your sources, by examining your beliefs, and by reframing your questions.

One builds awareness by looking in the right places, by uncovering a wider range of potentials, and by thinking holistically.

No technology can do this for us. It may bring us towards the right places; it may give us more sources to question, or things to observe, but it cannot and will not take these steps for us.

These are thoughts I certainly hope more of the developed world embraces in the future, as they have the potential to reverse a lot of fundamental wrongs– such as the ways in which our culture has systematically eradicated much of the world through insistence on “more”. Take the process of creating and distributing our (genetically modified) food, for example. Remove the complexity and one finds that a beautiful life is one in which food is grown closer to home. Confront the ambiguity, and one finds that beauty is when food is comprehensible and direct. Stop to observe, and you’ll find that beautiful food is food that your body runs well on.

Now do the same for truth: where does this food come from? Do I want that? Is there a way I can find similar advantages by doing this differently?

And awareness: what if better, more nutritious food is available elsewhere? What foods have I not tried, but might be best for me? What does my action (or inaction) perpetuate? If one billion people behaved exactly like me, what does the world begin to look like?

Living in a post-digital world, in a Human (capital H!) world, means living in harmony with beauty, truth and awareness. Whatever means you use to get there, whatever technologies you employ, know that in asking the questions you are in fact Being Human, using the digital world as a tool and not as an occupation. You are using technology for its beauty, for its potential to reveal truth, and for its ability to further your awareness.

Ask these three questions as often as you can, and you’ll find your life almost miraculously shedding bullshit. People who bother you will seem different. Things you wish you had or think you need might be forgotten entirely. Ideas you spent your life working on may just “not feel right” anymore. And most importantly of all, you’ll learn to think for yourself.

Er, I mean, you’ll stop Googling something every 30 seconds.

Hey! I’m working on it.

Image: Ages Astray by Michael Cook.

Bookmark and Share

About this Post