Script from the Unplugged Pecha Kucha

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Presentations, Technology

Performed at Tanner Auditorium, Yokohama International School on Saturday, June 27th, 2010.

(Click here for the video)

I’m Adam Clark and like you, I’m wired – me mostly on cycling and coffee – but also on technology. I think there is huge potential, joining us together and helping us address our collective problems collectively. In mental health and from the outdoors, I’m not so sure about being plugged in incessantly.

But I want to learn, too… because from Zen we know that Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

Smartphones putting the power of the internet into our palms where palm pilots never dared to fly. Sales of blackberrys, iphones, symbian, androids up 24 percent while the mobile market flies level. An increase in the sale of micro-boredom in the name of productivity.

And the unknown of the iPad. The experts sleepily thought 3 million by September but we did that by June.  So now they are backpeddling, back padding, paddling forward up the river looking for the place where the water may fall and the numbers are astounding at 7 million, 13 million, 15 million more.

We revel in these devices because they save us from ourselves. We, and our previous time wasting, non-linking, non-tagging, non-networked, couldn’t search it to save our inefficient ways. Don’t get me wrong, I love them too. Afterall, I’m in grad school, with a wife, two kids, and full-time job to boot. Revel is an understatement. Without these I’d fall with them I dance.

Even the visionaries like Tiffany Shlain yelp a little but then they connect. She raises our hackles but then comes correct. Reminding us that answers lie not in our isolation but our collaboration. Not our disintegration but our unification facilitated by the world’s central nervous system – the centrally nervous world wide web.

All of us super-taskers, super-tankers of digital finesse. When I was a kid, the AV crew was all geeks and freaks. Now we are all multi-tasking, multi-basking, twiddling away the minutes – our days. But ask yourself – is your mind really made for this? Left to my own devices, I only have one or two vices and not at the same time.

No, these are skills you say. Look, the US Military redesigned their war-bot controls around the user interface of game systems and cut their training costs way way down taking advantage of the visual attention that’s way way up of the world’s fittest, most courageous, most visually attuned gamers ummmm actually I meant soldiers, drone pilots flying in Iraq from a cockpit in Arizona.

But who are you kidding? We don’t multitask well unless by “we” you mean the 2.5% of us that don’t actually drop in performance when we try. Just ask Stamford. Just ask me. Worse just ask my kids when I’m trying to get that wordpress gallery to look just right. This is not a conversation about gifted teen savants, it’s about fat, socially inept, and angry, 35 year old dudes.

We are called upon to unplug.

To stop Tweeting from the toilet.

To give Facebook a rest.

What? 36% of us updating after Sex? Whatever happened to cigarettes?

It goes on…

But Clark University fights back with a Day of Slowing

International days of unplugging. Mayhem.

Those, people report, are good ideas.

All because luckily for us, lately we are learning a lot about these 3 of multitasking, dopamine, and downtime. Not just how we connect but how these connect to us when we are constantly connecting, bombarding our frontal cortexes with stimulation, simulation for the real work we might do if we weren’t so occupied being productive.

So why don’t we get better when we practice? Because unlike our mom’s told us, our brains aren’t really our mental muscles. OK in some ways they are when it comes to dendrites and pruning but in other ways they are more like dopamine batteries that need to re-charge. They are cranial junkies that want a new dopamine fix and they get their hit from the novel and new.

It’s our lower brain that takes in all these sights and these sounds and people like Nora Volkow, one of the world’s big brain’s herself, says that technology is re-wiring our neural bits. Unfortunately for us, that’s not really true…our brains are doing just like they always do. Looking for lions, tigers – staying alert through email and games. At the end of the day we’re cognitively lame.

So what do we know about impulsivity? We know that dopamine is released with anything good. But in a recent study published in the journal of neuroscience, we find that when our dopamine levels high our decision making is low opting for short-term, lower return gains. Instant gratification instead of long-term aims.

We get frustrated between Nihon-Odori station and Bashamichi when we lose our 3G. It takes about a minute but we can’t bare it. No bars yet, yet, yet, not yet. Is that email a friend or foe? I don’t think I’ll feel right until I actually know.  We used to crave the end of long flights for nicontine now we can’t wait to get back on our screens.

According to Dr. Daniel Amen expert on ADD – The more dopamine we use the less there is for schoolwork, homework, chores, and other must-do’s and have-to’s. To get neurotransmitter sheik for a minute, we need time for dopamine re-uptake. Our pineal gland needs us to step back from screens so it can feel the mela – mellow-tonin beat of our circadian rhythm.

I love this one. Down-time scientists along with Matt Richtel – Tech evangelist for the New York Times – went off into the field and did research. They went rafting and discovered through qualitative journaling and sophisticated mood analysis that…yes…vacation is good for us. We feel better when we aren’t bombarded by text messages, tweets, emails and reminders.

Experts also say we need to log-off so we can process. Down-time is for the brain like sleep is for the body. We need time to synthesize and organize. It’s for this reason I chose sand for this show… because sand and technology really don’t go. The beach and the rivers remind us to slow and from time to time retreat.

When those aren’t enough there’s always rescue time. Monitoring our top page on our computers, telling us where it all goes. But this won’t work for me I’ve got an ipad, a MacBook and a Blackberry. And besides I rarely use just one anymore but I guess it would be kind of interesting to know.

First quoting Sophocles and then inspired by Shlain “Nothing that is vast enters into the life of mortals without a curse.” In order to fully tap into the internet’s connective potential we need to recognize this lion and keep it at bay by occasionally venturing off into the disconnecting sand to relax…

Thank you for reading this and supporting me in this endeavor. – Adam

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