In our Western quest for instantaneous knowledge and sensory stimuli, we have left a more precious treasure behind.
Your “Smart” Phone is quickly becoming smarter than you. As Artificial Intelligence saturates the headlines in the tech and business media, your intelligence may be waning. For there is something inbuilt into the programming of A.I. that our species (at least in the “developed” West) is quickly losing — concentration.
You may have heard the story about Apple’s founder Steve Jobs not allowing his children to play with the iPads or screens. Other famous tech C.E.O.’s limit their children’s use of technology. There is a wealth of wisdom in observing this pattern. Do you think that the C.E.O.’s of Monsanto feed G.M.O. “Franken-Food” to their children and grandchildren?
As a result of us plebeians allowing our offspring to be babysat with Smart phones, iPad’s and screens, our children will be lagging behind our more affluent and savvy contemporaries’ children. Perhaps this could be part of a larger agenda to reinforce the American “invisible” class system?
What Can We Learn from the So-Called “Primitives?”
Modern Western Man has an unhealthy sense of misplaced pride. We pride ourselves on how “advanced” our generation is in contrast with other times and cultures. We pity those “poor” so-called “developing” nations, some of whose populations may not have electric power in their villages. We think because we can tell “Siri” what worthless piece of crap we are looking for on Amazon, or which route to take to our Mac Store we have some advantage? But, do we really?
Number one, it is ridiculous to feel “advanced” because we have learned some tricks on a machine you could train a dam monkey to do. It is arrogant to take pride in our technological advances if we ourselves did not personally develop it. So what, you were born in a time when G.P.S. was common? Does that make you smarter than someone born 4500 thousand years ago when the pyramids were built (a feat we still cannot replicate today?) Does that make you smarter than someone born into a village without electrical power?
You merely got lucky, like winning the lottery. That does not make you more “advanced,” and certainly not more intelligent that the 99.9% of the rest of humanity that existed before you or live in another hemisphere on this planet we share. In my opinion, it does not even make you particularly “lucky” — IF you equate the purpose of life to be something akin to personal growth or development. You are actually at a keen disadvantage. Because these times and different cultures had (or have) the advantage of environmental factors which train their abilities in the realms of concentration, focus, and the development of patience.
Why is concentration, focus (and their daughter; patience) so lacking in our modern culture? Every time we engage with our instantaneous modern technology, we are reinforcing IMPATIENCE into our neurotransmitters and the hardwiring of our nervous system. We get angry when it takes more than 3 seconds for a webpage to load. If we do that 30 times a day, every day of our lives, will we be able to develop the patience we need to raise children? Or, work hard (like the farmers and hunters of old) for long term goals? Or, to maintain relationships with lovers, friends, and co-workers who are not as quick and efficient as these technologies we spend most of our waking hours with?
The distinct advantage our so-called “Primitive” ancestors or kinsmen in developing world hemispheres is they had (or, have) factors inbuilt into their living conditions that reinforce on a cellular level the skills of concentration, focus, and patience. This may not mean anything to the people in Silicon Valley, but it adds a tremendous advantage in cultivating something we care so little about in our instant-results society — Character.
What Can You Do to Reclaim the Lost Art of Concentration?
I believe the solution to our societal problems of becoming a world of A.D.H.D., impatient, and concentration-challenged generation lies in not a rejection of technology, but a taming of it. We need to do something that the great Catholic monk and thinker, Thomas Merton, called on his generation to take heed of 50 years ago. We need to ensure that technology serves humanity, not the other way around. We, being the often arrogant creatures that we are, think we have things in control, when often these “things” are pulling our strings.
What can we do on a pragmatic level? Below are some suggestions to try to reclaim the lost art of concentration:
- Learn a difficult skill: “Primitive” skills, such a fire-building, survival skills, tracking, shelter building, etc. teach us to slow down, observe, preserve and push until we succeed. In learning these skills, you have the added bonus of getting a mainline rush of mother nature, which is both grounding and healing. Consider enrolling you and your children into a retreat or training.
- Train in Martial Arts: We all need exercise to be healthy. For over 35 years, I have gotten the bulk of my exercise from training in martial arts. I do so, not for the reasons I began (to learn effective self-defense) but for the overflow of character and “soft-skills” development training these arts provide. Nothing will keep you focused and concentrated more than having someone trying to knock your head off. You instantly become 100% there “in the now.” And, when you are not, you have immediate negative reinforcement to pull your head out of your ass and CONCENTRATE. You get hit. We all hate getting hit.
- Train in a Mind–Body Practice: Practicing Tai Chi, Qigong, Meditation, or Yoga disciplines your mind to be in that most holy sacred place — in “the now,” right now, inside the temple of your body. Having taught Qigong and Tai Chi for 15 years, I have seen many students begin training for the health benefits, continue training for the effects upon their concentration. These provide profound benefits for our careers and professional lives.
- Take a Fast from the Technology: I would encourage people to turn off the phone and stay away from computers for at least 24 hours every week. I am sure we can all find reasons “why” that would be impossible. But what did people do before Smart phones were our constant companions? They lived. Notice the effect it has on your mind and body after taking a fast. Most people experience a powerful release of stress and feel more present and alive.
In our Western quest for instantaneous knowledge and sensory stimuli, we have left a more precious treasure behind. Unless we reclaim it, our species will become even more dysfunctional as a result. Those men (and their children) who take “the road less traveled” will mine the gold of having stronger concentration. And, perhaps even a stronger moral and mental character.