Smile: the humanizing power of technology

Technology is an extension of the hands of man.*

We fight with our fists and by extension with bombs. We heal with our hands and by extension with scalpels. With fire we warm our homes and we burn villages.

The power of humankind to hurt and to help are magnified by the technology we create.  It extends our reach.

Recently, Listerine commissioned the creation of an app that allows the blind to “see” a smile. This is an example of how technology amplifies our humanity. And this is just the beginning.

Kudos to Listerine. Sure, it’s marketing. But isn’t it an advance when corporations, who are rightly motivated by profit, tap into the best of what makes us human rather than the most vulgar and vile? Love this.

Imagine: What might a future in which technology makes us more human look like?

*For more thoughts on the “new trinity” — biology, culture, technology — see Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future by Alex McManus.

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The Saddest Trend of 2015

My friend, Greg, sent me an article from a UK News Source, The Telegraph, titled, The Saddest trend of 2015. The article is about the growing popularity of the technology of “mindfulness.” The practice of mindfulness, rooted in Buddhist meditative practice and now a phone app, was so popular in 2014 that it was, in the writers words, “pretty hard to get through the year without noticing it.”

If you haven’t heard about “mindfulness,” take it as a reminder that you don’t have to travel into space to explore other worlds. The writer lives in a different world than you.

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present, and leaving behind the cares and worries of the past and the future. And it’s popping up in schools, business offices, and, as in the featured photo to this article (Photo: Neilson Barnard), even on the street. There’s even a documentary about it.

(As a side note, It figures that I would write a book on “leading from the future” in a year that was all about the present.)

The article takes a nice twist, as it cites data from the Mental Health Foundation that estimates that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every 12 months, when it asks:

“Why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe?”

The writer concludes that an app that helps guide us in mindfulness may not be enough. The problem is “our lives and how we lead them.” Rather than a practice to cope with a life that depresses us, how about a change of life? If that were the end result of mindfulness, the world could change.

Jesus seemed to point in the same direction. He also told his followers to focus on today: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6.34)

And just before this, he told them: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6.33) In other words, be intentional about what your life is all about.

So, in bullets:

  • Make sure you’re intentional that your life is about what matters (macro)
  • Focus on today (micro)

As I’ve mentioned before and expand upon in Makers of Fire, there are (at least) three undercurrents in 21st century life that indicate we’re trying to be more intentional about what our lives are all about. They are trajectories that move us from

• outsiders to insiders
• above to within
• against to with

In a thumbnail, we are trying to design a world that has room enough for everyone to benefit. (<— Click to tweet) And, when I say “everyone,” I don’t just mean everyone who is alive today but future generations too.

We want a world …
…that is more integrated, not a world of “us” vs “them, but “us” with “them”.
…that bursts open with life because it is our garden. We live within it not above it.
…of collaboration in which we tap into the genius of our species to solve problems and create solutions that work for everyone. Perhaps we might even evolve from a world of “‘us’ with ‘them’” to world where it is just us.

Then maybe we would not need to remember to breathe. We would not need to turn to an app to help us find peace and happiness. We could just open our eyes and look around and enjoy the beauty of the world and of our relationships. That would be a happy trend.