Dr. Bob Deutsch
During my childhood, skimming rocks on the surface of a lake was an occasional fun competition between friends on summer vacation. But at least while getting to the lake, as well as when leaving it, such friends would be engaged in face-to-face conversation. It’s a good bet those days are now fewer and far between.
A number of social networks have intruded.
When these new venues came on the scene (or on the screen) they were thought of as a new way and a faster way to get information and make connections with other humans. In some cases that still remains. But now we’ve come to a point when these same capacities have often not only altered how we experience space and time, but also have shortened tempers and perverted truth. Paradoxically, that’s because many social networks have tended to separate people from themselves and each other. What remains is mostly impulsive extremes. How did that come about?
Our digital life has diminished real life which has depth, idiosyncrasy, contradiction, personally-created imagery, desire, pain and joy. In contrast, most postings on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and Twitter are depictions of how we want others to perceive us; and artificial intelligence (AI) systems are relatively lifeless, superficial, linear and a probability-based method of simulated intelligence and intimacy.
Display Is Now the Alpha Animal
The popular intention now is “me-as-display.” Like me, watch me, attend to me, admire me…me, me, me, me. Chris Rock is right: we have become addicted to attention, the more we get it, the more we want. In this pursuit, everything gets exaggerated and puffed-up like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. Kardashian, Kanye (or Ye), and the whole American celebrity-as-influencer culture are the new alpha animals, we watch their extreme behavior the most and that is what we measure our own worth by. Even in the middle of a sneaker commercial, an imitation Martha Stewart is inserted as a summersaulting Olympic gymnast.
This dynamic has touched professional sports, too. Just recently the 2023 N.B.A. All-Star game unselfconsciously transformed a game, that even with superstars is fundamentally a game of teamwork, into an orgy of exaggerated slam dunks. If you are not the greatest, the highest jumper, the most acrobatic high-over-the-rim player, you are nothing. And the fans — us — eat it up. In a sense, this is no different from a leading member of Congress having more interest in pandering to his supposed base than he is in creating legislation that provides for the common good.
Digital life has also altered much of how business operates. People have been replaced by the category “consumers” and marketing methods that once sought to understand what individuals are motivated by, now only assume to explain a population by recording overly simplified categories of behavior and coding these as binary ones or zeros in so-called “Big Data” sets. Algorithms rule the roost. Passion, pain, imagination and non-logical, emotionally-based cognition of real people have been replaced by conceiving of humans as two-dimensional stick figures who follow simplified steps from product awareness to purchase. The world is only considered as a marketplace, often run by people who expeditiously skim over the top of real life.
Doing v Being
It’s all poppycock. Why? Because categories of momentary “Doings” have replaced caring about the more insightful but harder to quantify ways individuals embody and deploy their ways of “Being”. Business has gotten lazy and enamored by all the data points it can collect from tracking smartphone activity. Result: real humans are made into flat storybook characters, defined by a litany of their recent activities.
The raw drama and utter beauty of real life, have been erased. The superficial and the spectacle are now proffered as the ideal. No wonder Americans are feeling sad, lonely and let down. To uplift is a forgotten purpose. The pandemic exacerbated our current cultural aesthetics, but the coronavirus didn’t create them. Living on the surface of things has made us all more demanding, more myopic and more herd-like. The presence of mind to be your unique self, which by definition is uncommon, is becoming extinct.
Following suit, the gap between America’s two parties has widened. And let’s not forget that when identity meets up with religious or political belief, emotions can run wild and even crash though the doors and windows of the U.S. Capital Building.
Knowing v Believing
What one knows and what one believes are two different knowledge systems.
Beliefs are deeply-felt and emotionally-based. A belief can deny information and facts, not only of election results. Actually, a person can agree with an argument that goes against what he or she knows and still cling tenaciously to the related belief that person holds.
The way to begin to step out of this cultural quicksand is to go deep, go deep into creating what can be called one’s “self-story” that is authored by your true nature and serves as a sieve to transform data into your own blood and guts.
Self-story is the basis of creativity. Bob Dylan shows us the difference between data and self-story. When asked where he was born, Dylan could have answered “Duluth. MN.” Instead, Dylan’s response was “I was born very far away from where I was supposed to be born; I’m always on my way home.”
The World Needs Real Creativity
Creativity is what the world needs; creativity not only by rainmakers who start new businesses, but by all of us no matter what our station in life is. That calls for self-knowledge plus imagination that is energized by one’s intuition. Yes, there are political extremist who only experience anger and hate. But they are a small, albeit loud, gang. For the larger “vast-middle,” the requisite capacities underlying creativity are already in us: sensuality — recognizing what one is feeling and how one feels about what is being felt; metaphorical thinking — seeing similarities between different things; and integrating paradox — the ability to combine contradictions so as to make a new thing. The artist Wynton Marsalis has noted that Jazz came about by combining the raucousness of Saturday night with the piety of Sunday morning.
May we all be artful. If so, skimming will be left at the lake and America’s severe partisanship will be replaced by real talk which could make us more sensitive to what we share in common.
A.I. has its place, maybe a place we humans cannot imagine. But the freedom to voice words unscripted, metaphorical, sometimes even spoken hesitantly and not generated by probabilistic algorithms, are the only ones that can help free us from the too-small binary-boxes that now limit us.
Go real humans