Years back, one of my favorite TV shows was Hill Street Blues. At the beginning of each show, the police sergeant would conduct his daily briefing and end it with the phrase, “be careful out there”, as the room emptied and the officers headed for the streets. That phrase stuck with me and to this day has become a parting mantra for my wife when she ventures onto the streets of L.A. and into the freeway traffic each day.
But today, there’s an additional way I think about this expression, and it’s not based on the fear of crazy L.A. traffic. Instead, it’s the fear of getting caught in “hijacking” from the noise that is unconsciously reducing my internal cognitive process for developing SELF awareness. Now, the information traffic that imposes it’’s will upon us each and every day, has become the new normal. Eve Tahmincioglu, a writer for MSNBC, for example, was writing about this years ago, stating that there were 294 billion emails sent each day in 2010, up 50 billion from 2009, and that’s just e mail. That’s most certainly a new normal.
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, along with Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, are both concerned about the outer / inner balance of our mind, and how this balance must be rigorously maintained if we are to develop and regulate our higher thinking processes. Now, “be careful out there” has taken on a second important meaning for me, moving beyond the Los Angeles traffic to the outer world of digital technology traffic. As Carr explains, people are “hard wired” to seek novelty and new information, so the increasing use of innovative technologies that lend themselves to disempowering information (“noise”) is not without it’s toll. Schmidt believes that we run the risk of altering brain based processing through our increasing cognitive overload, leaving our thinking process “thin and scattered”. We are witnessing this currently, in the levels of distraction that occur in educational settings, effecting the thinking process of our youth. And through my lifelong involvement in education, it’s painfully obvious that focus, attention and depth of thinking are skyrocketing issues of monumental importance today. Even as I write this, the U.K., for example, is in the process of determining whether smart phones and tablets should be completely banned from classrooms.
To maintain our “balance”, we must be cognizant of the continuous interplay between our “outer” circles of influence and our “inner” world of positive processing potential. As we “fine tune” our SELF awareness, we become more and more adept at sorting through the negative circles that surround us, training our attention to “detect” and “select” the information traffic that supports our growth, development and fulfillment. So to become more FutureWise, begin learning to “be more careful out there”.