The title is not a misprint. I do not mean Tech-Aware. I mean Tech-Awake. Here is a little story and some thoughts:

Last Wednesday I was driving home from work and encountered an illustration of the problems of trying to set appropriate rules for traffic.

A High Energy Story
The road in question was a connecting road through an estate. It had a 30 mph speed limit and there was a barrier in front of the opening of a path. I was about 200 yards away from the path when I saw some children walking out from it and congregating next to the barrier. Some of them had bikes and I could see there was a possible hazard. Although the speed limit was 30 miles an hour, I decided to reduce my speed to 15 miles an hour. Sure enough when I was about 50 yards away from the barrier, a high energy child came whizzing out from the path like a particle shot from an accelerator and zoomed out across the road on his push scooter to the other side. All without looking for traffic coming from my direction. At 15 mph it was no problem to stop, leaving about 25 yards between me and the young boy in question.

This is not a rant about the children of today or the lack of parental control. Children bring life to the adult world and this boy certainly had plenty of it! I find myself wanting to celebrate that life.

I would rather question our indiscriminate and mostly unconscious use of powerful technologies that in truth we have less control over than we would imagine. A mantra I have is that accidents happen due to bad judgement. When a bad judgement coincides with the use of a powerful technology, such as a car or aeroplane, the situation is ripe for a tragic outcome.

So let me assess the situation I am in as the driver above:

Firstly : Technology amplifies my existing capacities, or gives me new capacities. Cars allow me to travel faster than walking; Aeroplanes allow me to fly (Wonderful!); and a final example: Computers amplify my thought – well a certain type of thought anyway.

Secondly : I can make mistakes. I am not a machine. I would not want to be a machine – a point of view that I believe confirms my sanity! Like our young children, making mistakes can bring life to our world. I enjoy musical improvisation where frequently a mistake can be turned into a beautiful thing.

So what am I to do?

Time to Wake Up
I have wanted to publish this post because I think that our use of technology is asking a fundamental question of us. It is asking us to become aware and most of all to WAKE-UP in our use of these tools.

The reason why this is so important is that when using a car, aeroplane or computer it is too easy to have too much trust in the system and frequently we go to sleep in some way. We may fall asleep at the wheel, rely on buggy fly-by-wire systems, or let computers (try) do some job we would be best doing ourselves.

So here we are – going to sleep, when we need to be waking up.

With flying it is blatantly obvious just how important it is to be careful. All you need do is look out of the window to the ground thousands of feet below while you are trusting the engine to keep on working. This is why as a pilot you are expected to learn a lot about the aeroplane and its systems, far more than you are expected to learn about car mechanics.

I have heard it said that the best way to make a car driver safer when driving around is to put a 6 inch knife blade on the steering wheel pointing towards the drivers chest! Hmmm. Not too sure about that but I can see the point. (Pun intended 😉 )

Would it be possible to work at holding that awareness of how powerful a machine you are using and to bring your awakeness up to meet the situation? I know I can do it when flying and I do my utmost to do so in the car. Though I can look back to the consequences when I have not done so and have felt especially stupid in those moments…

A Question to Ponder
Well there are some thoughts to consider and this time I will leave you with a question…

Is it asking too much for people to become more awake in their use of technology?

Problems of the Inquiring (or Technological) Mind

Well it has been a long while since I last posted here, and for that please accept my apologies, but there have been good reasons. I have been re-assessing life somewhat. I am hesitant to call it a mid-life crisis, since it feels like it has been happening for most of my life!

One of the problems of having an inquiring mind, a curious mind, an analytical mind, is that you tend to deconstruct everything, i.e. you pull it apart. Sometimes there need to be boundaries as to what you will and what you will not pull apart. I must confess I have had problems with where to place those boundaries. And I think I am not alone in this. As I have mentioned before, the puzzle becomes the thing ,and if you have an analytical bent, you can easily forget why you wanted to solve the puzzle in the first place, or maybe sometimes you don’t even know, which means you are usually doing it just for fun.

The impulse to re-assess has come from a number of directions and has a lot to do with a dawning realisation about just how damaging this sort of mind can be.

Firstly has been my attendance at a Science conference in Stourbridge on a rainy weekend in late February (see footnote 1); secondly I have recently started reading what I am finding an inspiring management book called “Theory U” by Otto Scharmer (see footnote 2); and thirdly an article recommended by a friend about a breathtaking display of technological hubris by neurology professor, Henry Markram at the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne (see footnote 3).

So what on earth is it that pulls all these threads together and is giving me such a hard time? Well… deep breath… I have been finding it harder and harder not to worry about various environmental concerns and bury my head in the technological sand, saying that we will be able to find solutions to the issues coming our way. A tipping point was when I watched a TV program about James Lovelock originally broadcast in April 2010 (Episode 2 of the “Beautiful Minds” series). Here is a man who is a great polymath and a scientist who is quite happy to be on the outside of the mainstream, pointing out the inherent problems of working within mainstream science at this time.

These different threads have led me to the point where I feel very strongly that there are not just limits implicit in the current mode of thought we have, but that there is a fundamental flaw that is causing wide scale havoc with our environment.

Favourite Metaphors, Quotes and Insights
Thanks to the minds of various giants I like to think I am able to stand on their shoulders and have assembled here some of my favourite thoughts from them that, together, encapsulate some of what I am going on about.

J.W. Goethe: Life is a Conversation. Ah yes, the wonderful idea of Delicate Empiricism.

David Bohm: Thought as a System which creates the world and then says “I didn’t do it!”. So our collective thought is creating organisations which are prisons, and then we can blame the “system” for all the problems, which, remember, we have created.

Rudolf Steiner: The problems of Dualism and the terrific difficulty of getting to Monism (which I link to a holistic way of seeing), though Henri Bortoft helps…

Henri Bortoft: We cannot know the whole in the same way as we know a thing.
This is worth more words here: The whole is not a thing. The way to the whole is through the parts. It is not to be encountered by stepping back and taking an overview. The whole is to be encountered by stepping into, and passing through, the parts.

Couple these ideas with the realisation from my own experience of how difficult it is to recruit competent, thoughtful, software developers and perhaps you can see why I am going through a rather angst-ridden period.

So I have now come to realise that we must must must change the way we collectively think. Obviously this requires us to individually be more clear in our own thought, but there are issues of social technique that we need to learn, which I believe are key to how we turn this around. Now here is a kicker, there is a major link with the whole Risk Averse rant I usually bore friends with. The trouble with all this tech is that there is a risk of letting it do the thinking for us.

My favourite example is the use of a satnav. I hate using a satnav that is telling me which way to turn. I once tested one and found its route choice to be flawed at best. No. I will choose the route thank you very much, and I will use the machine as a very useful map follower which traces where I am on the map. This is exactly what pilots are recommended to do when flying with a GPS. This is a prime of example of how to consciously use the technology.

So… the link to risk aversion. Well if you do not consciously use the technology, you stop thinking. This is comfortable, but in the end, dangerous. It is also very convenient for any government. Since to have a population who are quite willing to follow orders is just fine by them. Risk aversion also puts you in a comfort zone. Again this means you stop thinking. Which is of course tied up with existence :-), as Descartes realised:

I think therefore I am…

And thats enough for now.
See you soon.
Thanks for reading.

1: This was Science from an anthroposophical perspective (the Steiner lot if you don’t know what the word means). I co-presented one session about the “Conscious use of technology”. The conference in general was a positive experience that has started me tentatively re-approaching some of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas. In preparation I read Paul Emberson’s book called “From Gondishapur to Silicon Valley” which I found a difficult read as I felt it was rather too evangelical about just how nasty our present computer technology is. In recent days I have come to have a better view of this, but more about that in a later post.

I have found that, so far, the book called “Theory U” by Otto Scharmer is an inspiring read. It is early days as yet since I am about one third of the way through, but his insights from a personal perspective stop it being a dry book, for me at least, and I can relate to a lot of what is being said. His drive is to get to understand why we carry on doing things that are so destructive, and don’t seem to be able to change the results.

A close friend sent me a link to an article in the Daily Mail about Prof Henry Markram trying to make a conscious computer system. As far as I can see this is all an effort to get some more funding and investment. His approach is breathtakingly short sighted and is yet another instance, to me, of someone playing with their toys.