Fundamentally, people excel at doing two things. We invent games. We tell stories.
Most of our daily activity can be placed into one of these bins. Even if we are on autopilot while doing repetitive work, we may tell ourselves stories as we think about our past or future.
How is technology shaping our stories and games?
It's Your Move
Let's define a game.
A game does not need to have game pieces. There doesn't even need to be a winner or a loser. A game might be something to pass the time, such as counting the number of people wearing red shirts that we walk by in a big city.
A game is an activity that you want to do. It is not necessarily related to what needs to be done, but it makes the necessary steps more enjoyable. It is telling that games are found across cultures and history. Boredom may pay us a visit, but we self-stimulate to try to place ourselves at a less-bored equilibrium point.
Our games are personal: our skills match the challenge that we invent. We set the rules and objectives according to what we find fun. Nobody would play a game called “remember every license plate that I saw on my boring commute to work today” unless you have a photographic memory.
In Teal workplaces, where people are encouraged to express their natural needs (and reciprocally understand those of their co-workers) instead of hide them, games are very common. Factories properly running a flavor of Teal tend to increase in efficiency because of games. Line workers, instead of being measured against a stopwatch, learn to operate their stations at a rhythm that matches their needs.
By making the job empowering, it allows one to form personal rules and internal rewards. The job becomes personal and meaningful. There is no need for quotas and punishments for missing quotas. There is simply trust that everyone will play their game to the best of their ability, eventually allowing folks to find their flow.
Imagine that: a workplace that is more enjoyable and runs better when basic human needs are understood rather than suppressed. Oops.
If you haven't noticed, I have been telling a story.
Once Upon a Time
Storytelling is built into the fabric of our lives. We live story-to-story.
No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we act on factual, logical arguments, the truth is that we are beholden to our biases and our emotions. Scientists, the epitome of rationality, are not immune to this effect either. They are biased toward their work and beliefs even to the point that some are blinded more easily than the rest of us. The availability heuristic, combined with them assuming their position on society's pedestal, may make them less able to incorporate conflicting viewpoints into their own due to the need to appear infallible*.
We hear facts daily as a means to convince us to do things: 77% of people doing this activity have this problem, so cut it out! Even though it sounds great to show up with facts – in my case, about e-waste or environmental crises – these are not stories.
Can we reconcile these two?
I believe that facts have little value in stories.
We tell ourselves stories, too. Stories about where we have been and where we hope to go; it helps us understand our world. If someone is angry at us, we think “He was made at me because _____.”
* Flawed study needed to replace anecdotal commentary.
Every day, we pass from game to story and back again many times. Stories and games complement each other and serve different purposes in our happiness. Stories are about the past or the future, and games are about the present.
Technology has tried to combine these two with unfortunate results. Instead of allowing us to learn the brilliance of living in the moment, our smartphones have convinced us that it is fine to simply snap many pictures or video and “relive” the present whenever we choose.
Our brains do not work that way; by photographing life, it passes us by. The story that we remember is based on vague impressions from the photos that we took, not from the event itself.
Simply reading this post will not convince you to change your habits for happiness. Until you have experienced living in the moment, it is hard to distinguish between being distracted and being happy. The former is akin to numbness.
So why do we settle for being distracted? What kind of story is that?
It's actually very simple. Games and stories provide us with stimulation: internal stimulation. Technology is externally stimulating. An external stimulation is a distraction. A thing that goes bump in the night.
And, by definition and like any drug, our addicting technology must continue toward increasing external stimulation. We become bored with a particular repeated external stimulation over time and want a harder drug. This is why Facebook and others use variable rewards as their stimulation mechanism.
Hardware is the same: nobody released a laptop with a monochrome display this year; we want more pixels and more colors! More than our eyes could possibly see! Companies know that the stimulation rate must be approached carefully since people fatigue and burn out. This results in lost customers and sales.
Technology selectively tells us the stories that we want to hear and agree with. Internet searches allow us to control our stimulation precisely by allowing us to avoid the uncomfortable and find the comfortable. This behavior can lead to reduced empathy.
Empathy is listening to someone's story and trying your best to play their game by their rules. It sounds simple but is perplexingly difficult to do well. We are not taught to be empathetic even though it is one skill that could greatly improve people and planet at a global scale.
Technology is subconsciously convincing us that empathy isn't necessary. We can live inside of a digital bubble and only see the things we want to see. Perhaps this is why so many people stare at their phone for hours on end, not even noticing when there is a hurt soul sitting across from them at a table.
Hard talks are uncomfortable. Mindless scrolling is comfortable.
The Untold Story
Creativity is in demand. No problem, I'll just wake up tomorrow and be more creative! (Did I mention that some stories are fictional?)
Creativity flourishes when one is in a flow state: when everything seems to be coming together with ease and at a comfortable rhythm. It is a game, living in the moment, with no distractions and no sense of time.
Stories are about what has already come to pass. Technology tries to mix games with stories by exploiting addictive behaviors while showing us messages that we want to see. We may stop and realize that we are going through life looking through the rear-view mirror, wanting the present to be the past.
To top it all off, once we shake away the addictive grip of the tech, we are surprised that driving forward while looking behind us leads us to somewhere that we didn't want to be: hours wasted on social media or watching TV because it told us a comfortable story.
Most digital technology today is simply an addictive replacement for kinship. When we want to see a friend, it is because we actually want to control our level of stimulation. A night out was the old-fashioned way to do this: an introvert may feel happy to have one once a week with a close friend, while an extrovert might need every other night with a group of friends.
It is all about the individual and what they need and want. Big Data and AI techniques are used to predict exactly the right level of stimulation: tell us only the stories that we want to hear, no matter how harmful or untrue they are, as often as we want to hear them.
Technology polarizes us while weakening our desire to empathize.
It also fails to understand that growth is a byproduct of struggle. Reading an uncomfortable story has benefits. Conventional tech promises to make our lives unbelievably comfortable, but even if this were a true story, it is not happiness.
We need to start telling ourselves different stories about our technology. Our existing stories of unfounded optimism about tech-for-the-sake-of-tech is not helping us, our community, or our planet.
Shift Sight will tell a story through Jade. A story of sustainable technology that empowers people. One that encourages people to make games and write their own stories; stories that can be passed on to the next generation, unlike the mountains of e-waste being created by other companies.
We are all storytellers. Let's make sure that the next generation can have a voice about their future.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.