Zat Rana is a writer who is a frequent contributor on Medium a forum to which I subscribe. In late September of this year, he posted an article on Medium in his Personal Growth series that I found thought-provoking and at the same time, just the tiniest bit frustrating. I’m going to link to it, in case you want to read all of it, but I’m going to quote the (IMHO) pivotal points and take things a little further.
As Rana suggests in his Medium post:
“Growing up in a generation even as recent as the mid-20th century meant that your sense of self was mostly shaped by a combination of your local cultures, popular media culture, your education, and whatever life experiences you accumulated living in the real world. Today…the internet has not only completely shattered and broken what we think of as popular culture into million little pieces, incapable of making a coherent whole, but it has also equipped us with all of humanity’s knowledge…too much information and too many cultures and too much knowledge only overwhelm, and given how the human mind works, leading us to confusion.”
If you’re like me, at this point you’re thinking “shhh-yeah!” It’s hard to imagine anyone with a modicum of “pay attention” not nodding their heads in agreement. Confusion, along with change seems to be the lei motif of your age. And if you have as much runway behind you as I do, you’re also probably thinking, “But this is not news. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.”
The Tofflers gave the phenomenon Zat is referring to a name. The called it “future shock,” in their their book of the same name. In essence, Future Shock is the exposure to too much information too fast. If you’re interested in a really thoughtful, way ahead of it’s time look at it, just follow the link.
I should note (parenthetically), that the Alvin and Heidi had a specific take on what “too much information” was. To them, it wasn’t simply a lot of new, random information. It was new information that (at first) cracked and (later) broke, existing paradigms.
In the simpler time in which I grew up, I had a built-in break from the bombarding we take from the world. I had my swimming work-outs, chores and homework to do and a couple of hours of leisure in the evening to align (or reject) the information with which I had been bombarded with my (admittedly flawed) sense of self and place.
But in the Internet age, as Mr. Rana points out, breaks have to be engineered into our lives. Compulsive learners in particular need help with this.
“In the global village created by the internet, on the other hand, the node of your digital self is constantly bombarded by the larger network, which is itself shaped by hidden algorithms, mostly manipulated by those who happen to shout the loudest. For the average person, the amount of consumption far exceeds the amount of time they have to rationally make sense of it. And when they can’t rationally make sense of it, they take shortcuts, which is clearly apparent in the rampant and blind tribalism on most social media networks.”
Mr. Rana goes on to conclude:
“The most effective people learn to close the gap between what makes sense and what is right. What makes sense is what is coherent only if you ignore anything that doesn’t suit your existing narrative. Rightness, on the other hand, is the willingness to embrace temporary incoherence — or a state of confusion and nonsense — long enough that a broader and more honest mental model of the world can be created.”
I’m personally aligned with the drift of his post, as far as he took it. But as someone who spent the first 20-some years of his life in uniform, hypothetically defending these United States, I find myself missing the other half of the equation in Mr. Rana’s post. Cohering our individual model of the world with what’s happening around us is certainly part of personal growth.
But it is only half the job we humans sharing this world with other humans and other species must accomplish. The other half of the job is finding a way to coexist harmoniously with the other inhabitants of our biosphere. We are of and part of, the world in general. Our place in it is as much about contribution as it is about clarity, comfort and fit.
Whether we are referring to dovetailing the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change with the needs of a complex society, simple personal disagreements or the overarching priorities of our governance, our personal growth is (or should be) in part about contribution. It borders on cliché to quote (possibly) JFK’s most famous line from inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country,” quote.
But that line became a cliché for a reason. Embedded in that single line is the fundamental, understanding that however diverse we become, we are nevertheless one body. In time, we must as a biosphere come recognize that truth on a global scale. Our place is not simply in our nation. It is our place in the world writ large.
Long term, there is no other sustainable perspective and we all know this. Recognition of a non-egocentric membership in that global community is perhaps one of the prime indicators of personal growth. This is not a denial of self. It is a declaration of a kinship and the ultimate reflection of the best we can be.