Why this Matters
As part of the “coastal elite” where busyness and stress are status symbols, I struggle with being a workaholic and actively work to keep my compassion muscle pumping. It’s easy to get sucked in and forget that my suffering and viewpoints are not the only suffering and viewpoints out there.
Smartphones, social media, constant notifications and even upcoming augmented and virtual reality technologies create walls between our minds and the world. The human mind in it’s natural state is already programmed for bias and bending reality. New technologies only make it easier to remain deaf and blind to the suffering of others.
It’s easy to blame technology, and it’s important to make a distinction between our use of technology and the technology itself. Take a look at your hands right now — those are two beautifully designed pieces of technology. What you do with your hands is up to you.
Looking Inside Ourselves
Opening Our Eyes and Hearts to Compassion
This year America looked inside herself, and what we saw wasn’t pretty or kind. Our eyes were peeled open to the suffering of black Americans with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And this week, our eyes were torn open again to the suffering of disenfranchised white and other voiceless Americans.
The feelings of middle America have been a complete surprise and shock for many. I’ve seen protests and tears in the cities, liberals and foreigners trembling with the feelings of fear and powerlessness. It’s not just middle America that voted for Trump, but there are “silent supporters” off the blogosphere such as this Muslim woman and immigrant who recently wrote about why she supports Trump.
The United States is a beautiful painting of contradictions, like almost all people and places are. As a nation, we have been particularly repressed, locked behind pearly white smiles and political correctness, where 10% of Americans are on antidepressants and racial bias is blatantly obvious but not spoken of.
For or against Trump, this election year has been a painful but a wonderful opportunity for us to begin the process of feeling compassion for everyone in this country.
The Good, The Bad, and Reality
Taking Away the Labels
We’ve become a bit obsessed with labels. Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, Communist or Democratic, Christian or Muslim, Sunni or Shia, black or white, good or bad. This makes sense for a binary “us vs. them” worldview.
Now more than ever, with globalization and the rapid advent of many humanity-changing technologies, life is colored far outside the lines of easy labels.
Let’s take a look at charity and compassion, for example. Not giving as much to charity is highly correlated with wealth. African Americans statistically give more of their income to charity. Is this trait correlated with the wealth gap? And does it have to be?
Is one way of life more good or bad? Sometimes being selfish brings joy and harmony, sometimes it brings suffering and discord. Sometimes being charitable brings joy and harmony, sometimes it brings suffering discord.
Some of you might ask, how can being charitable be harmful? In the classic example, if you’re exhausted yet agree to give your time to someone, it’s easy to become resentful, harming the relationship in the long run and yourself in the short term.
The SMR Echo Palace
Social Media Reality & Technology-Induced Busyness
Navigating this world of unlabeled gray requires openness, awareness, and flexibility. It’s not about behaving rightly, but behaving smartly and effectively. Knowing when it’s time to be selfish, time to be charitable, time to love, time to set kind boundaries, time to protect, or time to sacrifice. Flexibility and openness, however, are not usually associated with technological development or innovation.
Technology has historically liked labels and lines, it makes it easier to put things into a structured, relational database which has powered our business logic engines for the last 50 years. Only in the last handful of years have unstructured or NoSQL databases become widely used (Cassandra used by Facebook for example). Even still, these databases rely on labeling, although not as rigidly.
My personal piece of technology, my iPhone, makes me feel busy and a little bit elite. It’s constantly buzzing and popping with updates, sending my dopamine system into a high but never satisfied overdrive. Not only does it make me feel busy and important, it knows me almost better than I know myself, sending my labels out to apps who send back customized information just for me, creating my own personal Echo Palace. A place where I’m Queen and everything is catered and customized to my every Like or Comment.
It’s SMR, Social Media Reality which can be just as mind-bending as wearing a VR headset.
The Big Questions for Technologists
Growing and Nurturing the Heart Muscle
How can we use technology to increase our flexibility and awareness, so that we can choose our actions more deliberately in the confusing and challenging gray areas of reality? How can we do this and make money at the same time? After all, an enlightened and aware populace might not buy as much!
How can we use technology so that economic incentives line up with increasing joy and minimizing suffering? The use of blockchain is already changing how we trust financial institutions. Maybe in the future, our most basic concepts of money and finance will change as well.
Technology is an extension of our culture and our bodies. In a way, without knowing it, we have always been gods building ourselves. It’s inevitable that we will continue to shape ourselves. Every decision, every design, every click shapes the future.
My goal with Compassionate Technologies is to create a framework for building flexibility and awareness into ourselves. Brainstorming how we can design technologies, companies, and investment communities which thrive not only on business but compassion KPIs.
In an increasingly flexible and globalized world, I hope that we can find ways for compassion, technology, and business to advance together.