The Question Concerning Technology


One of the parts that resonates the most in Cal Newport's Deep Work is the section about quitting social media. To help us do a cost-benefit analysis to figure out whether our Internet habits are supporting our work or distracting us from it, he uses what he calls “the Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection”:

Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on those factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Rather than just taking the “any-benefit” approach, we should answer the question more deeply — by verifying the positive impact is a match for our core values. We should also apply the law of the vital few — how 80 percent of the progress happens through 20 percent of our activities — to our use of the Internet.

All activities consume time, regardless of their importance, says Newport.

The question involves energy as well — do we feel energized, or do we feel drained? There is a stark difference between the social networks of today and the early platforms. What is easy to get lost into today was the wild west when people started using it.

Today people share, like, and spread with mere clicks, while the systems prompt us back into a never ending loop — providing the illusion that we got something done. The early days were more experimental, users were moving in to do the actual building of the tools.

For the curious, the evolution of blogging has been twenty years in the making. Blogs are still going strong and there are quite a few worth reading — those that help us think for ourselves and challenge us, even those we disagree with because we can learn how to make or refute a strong argument. 

The unintended consequence of spending more time virtually than physically with ourselves and with others is a sort of symbiotic relationship with technology. Our concept of identity is shifting, and so to understand the web, we need to explore identity.

In The Question Concerning Technology, Martin Heidegger established a framework for scrutinizing our present situation of co-dependence. Responding to the challenge of what he calls Enframing, man has reduced the world of Being to his own self-referential bubble.

To prevent “an oblivion of being,” Heidegger urges us to seek solace in non technological space, learn the difference in perception between technology and non technological environments to release ourselves from “the stultified compulsion to push on blindly with technology.”

So we can reconnect with our self, learn better by building on the foundations of what we know, and think. Clarity is a result. As David Foster Wallace says:

If you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff’s necessarily true: the only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Knowledge workers understand the value of preserving our cognitive load for the things that matter. Lest we should get bored when we choose being where we are over burying our heard into our smart screens, here's a handy list of things to think about.

Our batteries charge from the inside, when unplugged.



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