What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: Where is this drive toward connectivity leading?

William Powers: You want to be connected all the time.  This is where society is headed.  This is where the cool people are.  This is where the knowledge is.  This is where all the forward thinking people are.  And that in fact has been true for the last 15 or 20 years.  That's the direction we've all been moving in.  I called it digital minimalism in my book.  The more connected you are the better.  I think its finally donning on people that, that really deserves a second look.  That it's not taking us to the place as thinkers, as friends and parents, and teachers, all the roles we play in our lives, that use of digital technology, nonstop around the clock, isn't serving our highest purpose as it's becoming clear to most thoughtful people.

So the question is just raising your own consciousness and stepping back from it and thinking, "Am I going about this the best way?"  This always happens, I'm returning to my historical theme now.  But it always happens in the early stages of technology.  You know the telephone in the early days of marketing the telephone particularly in Europe.  It was marketed as a one-way listening device for listening to the opera.  No idea that it might be used for as a two-way conversation device, which actually turned out to be the best use of it, but it hadn't occurred to people.

Question: Is there a technological solution to our overuse of technology?

William Powers:  I think there are going to be a lot of tech solutions, ways in which the technologies will evolve to help us.  I think the ones that we have in place today that are available are not the best, you know, they're very primitive this idea that a filter can actually go through your email and prioritize what you should see now and what you should see later and so forth.  They're really, really crude and I think people who have tried them, people I know have just antidotally abandoned them.

But I think we are moving in a direction where the machines are going to become – they're always becoming more intelligent, let's face it.  You know, they're going to evolve in the direction where they help us but at the same time we can't just rely on machines to do the rethinking of the technology for us because after all these are the technologies that we're concerned about.  And they don't have brains as strong as ours.  It's up to us to figure out how to design them for our lifestyle and where we want to take ourselves.  So I think the most important task we have now and this is really what I argue in Hamlet's Blackberry is to change our own thinking about the devices so we recognize that we need balance to get the most out of them.

And that once we have that balance the devices fixing themselves will actually become less urgent because we will have done the primary work of repairing our own consciousness about the devices.

Question: Can people realistically disconnect from technology?

William Powers:  Yeah, there's so many practical steps that it's almost impossible to list them all.  In fact, in touring around talking about my book since it came out a few months ago, everywhere I go I hear about somebody who has some new twist on how to disconnect.  So, you know, in the book I talk quite extensively about rituals that people can develop in the office for example where some forward thinking companies have tried certain days of the week without emails, certain hours of the day, quiet time for employees, away from screens.

This is happening at colleges and universities.  Those rituals are very useful but there are also all kinds of tailor-made, interesting things that people are trying.  I'll tell you one that is sort of humorous that came up in a radio call-in show.  I was on a radio – a public radio show talking about my book.  And somebody called in and said – a friend of his, it wasn't the caller but a friend.  When he goes away he gives – on vacation and he knows he's going to have a hard time disconnecting, the day he goes away he gives all of his passwords and user names to various friends.

So one friend will get the Twitter password, user name.  Another friend will get Facebook.  Another friend will get the email and then on the day he leaves they're all under instructions to go in and change the user name and password so he has no access even if he wanted – if he tried to sign on when he's away, he can't.  And when he comes back they give him the new passwords.  So it's these hilarious sort of creative spins on disconnecting that people are trying because they see how addicted they are.

And I think it's wonderful.  I think it's going to be different for everybody.  The methods I talk about in the book that I've tried and that people I know tried, companies that I've studied have tried, are not going to be for everyone.  You know, I think we're all different, we all have different needs, we all have different tolerances.  I don't pretend to tell other families that they should disconnect on the weekends the way we do.  There are some parents who work on the weekends, you know, it just happens to work for us.

More from the Big Idea for Saturday, November 20 2010

 

The Disconnect of Being Per...

Newsletter: Share: