Why we need to slow time and scale down

I wore my Grand Seiko for almost 300 days last year – whether I was going to work, staying at home, out for coffee, or on a photo adventure. In other words, it went through some serious abuse and the leather strap paid the price. It became grimy and frayed. It made me think of that time in Paris when I went to get a really fine leather strap for one of my older watches — Nomos — with my friend Tariq Krim. As luck would have it, the owners’ daughter sat next to me at a dinner and we talked about leather, legacy and the importance of social for small brands.

But I digress — the broken strap made me think of Tariq and the time we had together. The memory and information attached to it was the world of a really powerful computer and that is why I don’t think we have really put intelligence in artificial intelligence just yet. (See: Will AI match randomness of a human mind?)

But I have digressed again. I ended up texting Tariq and caught up with his life. Towards the end, he sent me a link to one of his articles. I read it. I have been thinking about it. And have come to the conclusion that it might be a simple outline for a better approach to living in the age of distraction. First, let’s recap what Tariq writes:

  1. Shift focus from quantity to quality: For example, unfollow news outlets — they are all playing the attention-grabbing game and all it does is causes stress, even without knowing the facts. Instead, follow people who can analyze and contextualize the news cycle. For me, The Economist is a good option for world business stories. Others like Barry Ritholtz are a good follow for me. For those interested in technology news, again look for people who add context and analysis. Also, read and follow science publications. By making smart choices, you are declaring intellectual independence.
  2. Go analog: In this digital age, it makes sense for us to be analog. It allows us to control the pace of time and allows us to create an environment that helps bring sanity, quality andrelative ease on a daily basis. For example, go to museums, find places to have coffee or dine, where they know your name.
  3. Unscale your life: This is actually a very big idea, because as Tariq rightfully points out that scale is no longer the force of good. Amazon, Facebook andGoogle are three examples of scale gone wrong. AT&T, Comcast andothers are examples of scale-gone-wild. How to fight the scale-goonies? Well, how about favoring independents — stores, services andpeople. In other words, get off the platforms as much as you can. After quitting Facebook a while ago, I am looking to wean myself off Instagram and for 2019, I want to shop less on Amazon — Prime isn’t as much of a convenience as it seems to be.

These three points actually point to a much larger effort we as individuals need to make in order to cope with what is more than a generational change in humans as species. We are no longer living at human speed, but instead, are living in a world moving and beating at the speed of the network. Everything is meta sized. Information, choices, inputs, and outcomes. As a result, our biological makeup is being put to test. How long can we live with an unending dopamine hits? What about the thumbs, eyes and our hearts which are facing new stresses? What about our diets that are full of sugar and are re-configuring out gut microbes?

In other words, we have to mutate, change and adapt. I don’t know if the human body can change as fast as the changes being brought on by meta-sizing of everything. As someone who loves the possibilities of technology, it is inevitable we will need computers to augment our internal capabilities to deal with these changes. For now, even the best efforts are not good enough and we have a ways to go.

We are going to fail if we try and keep up. So instead, we need to find a way to create guardrails that would allow us to slow down time enough for us to deal with everything at a human scale. Tariq’s suggestions are a pretty good way to think about making the world a bit more manageable.

January 2, 2019. San Francisco

Photo by Robin Schreiner on Unsplash

A letter from Om

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