We live in a superficial age. We have lost the capabilty to form lasting relationships, have in-depth discussions and live true tolerance. Perhaps that is part of the sheer amount of information we process every day. But perhaps it is also by choice. Choices can be changed.

The capability to actually process information

I love the internet. I grew up before it was available and was lucky enough to experience its beginnings first hand. But I can still remember real newspapers to be the standard of public information. Then came BTX as the first, simple steps into the online world. Who of those born in the 80s cannot forget the sound of a dial up modem? Raise your hands!

A few years later, along came the world wide web with its magical overflow of available information and entertainment. Wikipedia might still be one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Artificial intelligence is developing really fast and might be the “next big thing” if we all learn of its limitations (at least the current ones).

Information is now readily available at any time. When we watch movies, it takes but a few seconds to answer the question “where the hell do I know that actor from?”.

The downside of this development is that people are no longer reliant on their brains for storing information. As an avid user of GTD (at least its principles), I can see the wisdom in that. With so much information all around us, our brain capacity is just far too low to work as a storage. We need it for more important things. Decisions being the most obvious.

Current science shows that most people are no longer capable (or willing) to retain information. The phenomenon has a name: The Online Brain. Scientist have also shown that our concentration span has declined significantly. We have become better at searching for information but worse at retaining and using it, thus limiting our own learning.

I am sad because I actually love technology

Technology and its development is just great. I look forward to seeing men and women set foot on Mars. I use the internet on a daily basis. All described above is visible in my own person. The amount of time I spend on my smartphone or the number of times I check it to process new communication has doubled or tripled. Probably more than that.

I also like spending time with others, though. Particularly, I enjoy discussions. It is a stimulating use of the brain. Forming arguments, learning new insights, adapting new knowledge, all of that is highly rewarding.

The actual chances of this happening on a satisfying level have declined, though. Rapidly. Perhaps (and please use the comments to give me your insights!) it is confirmation bias and I am wrong. But in my peer group, I get the same feedback from many people.

As the time to convey your message has been shortened, sometimes to a limit of 140 characters, and the capacity to process the information has declined to similar levels, real discussions, in-depth, have often come to a halt. Most topics in life are not easy. Between black and white lies a great deal of grey. Actually, the grey area is possibly what should be called life!

Dumbing down communication is superficial

But, with the necessity to cater to a specific audience, we have dumbed down communication. One can only send black or white in a span of 30 seconds or 140 characters. There is no room for grey, for reality. For its complexity and its nuances.

Thus, all discussions about important matters have turned into battles between good and evil, black and white, you and me. We seem to lose the skill to go into the depths of a matter and exchange arguments without the goal of “being right in the end”. If you don’t believe it, open Reddit, Twitter or walk into a bar and try to talk to people. Try for yourself to not fall into the trap of simplifying. It has become hard and frustrating work.

Black and white leave no room for tolerance

True tolerance comes with the explicit necessity to accept other point of views. But: Accepting is not sharing. Therefore, limiting discussions to only one outcome (convincing somebody he or she is wrong) is highly superficial.

And that is where nowadays tolerance fails, even (or, in my opinion, especially) in those claiming to be highly tolerant. Tolerance is not and cannot be limited to people sharing your point of view. And yet, this is what happens on a daily basis. It is one consequence of all the development mentioned above.

Tolerance is incredibly important. I, for myself, can say, that I have often changed my opinions during my life. Most often, this came from great discussions I had and the resulting thought process after these talks. I have been lucky having met many inspiring people who have given me great insights and things to think about. And still, many convictions I (currently) have might not cater to a certain (percieved) mainstream.

Even on the possibility of creating a shitstorm (another phenomenon arising from pure black and white thinking and communicating), I will publicly state that I think there are at least 100 more important things in German politics right now, at this moment, than enforcing a certain genderneutral way of writing. This is, of course, only one example. Beware, though: I have also shortened my statement down. The matter is complex and I am willing to discuss my point of view in depth, and it is certainly not a blatant “I think this is unnecessary crap“. So, if you want to do me a favor, spare me the shitstorm – just ask me when you see me next time and read further below.

Good news, everybody!

Futurama pun is fully intended. There is good news.

You can make a choice. We all can actively engage in discussions and actively seek meaningful relationships. And you can choose to leave your filter bubble.

A few easy steps to get started:

  • follow people specifically on the opposite end of your own convictions – I did that on the topic mentioned above by having a long, in-depth talk with someone who cares deeply about gender, diversity and inclusion. That hasn’t changed my opinion, but it has given me a greater insight why people perceive it as important
  • meet a good friend (or more than one) on a regular basis and don’t turn on your phone or TV
  • when you feel triggered on the internet next time, take a few minutes to think about what you just heard or read
  • join a network that actively engages in bringing people from different cultures, backgrounds and opinions together. JCI is highly recommended, but there are many more
  • And, become wary of groups pressuring you into certain ways of thinking. Thinking alike feels good but limits you on a massive scale – point out the fake intolerance when you encounter it and don’t let it become our standard of interaction

The first step of learning is knowing there is something to learn. The second step is to become aware what is happening. Then you can change your own behaviour. Let us do our part to turn the superficial age into a super age.


Picture copyright: S. Hofschlaeger  /