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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Two Major Shifts: Dematerialization and On-demand

Last year I led a sessionyoungspock on the Future of Education for the Orlando extension of Asbury Seminary. We discussed two major cultural/technological shifts- Dematerialization and On-Demand- and their implications for education over the next few decades. What are the implications of these same shifts for the mission of your business, organization, or church?

DEMATERIALIZATION

Dematerialization has been a major shift in the entertainment industry.

Think Blockbuster and Netflix. (This was spotted for you almost two years ago in our “How Life Changed in the Last Decade” series). The material, brick-and-mortar business is gone. The digital business thrives.

It’s a major shift for readers. Think Borders (now gone) and Amazon (now ubiquitous). Think paperbacks and Kindle.

What are the implications of this shift for brick-and-mortar business, shopping malls, universities and seminaries, and churches? An example of the implications of Dematerialization comes from the world education in the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). Through Udacity a student can earn a Master’s degree from Georgia Tech for about $7,000.00. And you don’t have all those expenses related to relocation. And now, as MOOCs team up with Educational Institutions AND employers, this is a game changer.

Here’s the fun part: Imagine a university or seminary campus 25 – 50 years deeper into this century. What do you see? Any university or seminary that is investing in brick-and-mortar facilities needs to consider the “dematerialized” future.

ON-DEMAND

How many of you have needed to learn how to do something and immediately turned to Youtube for the answers? My wife, Niza, came home from a college class a while back confused from a lecture. She searched it on Youtube and found the videos that helped her understand what she was supposed to be learning in college.

The three “Rs” of learning used to be reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Add “R”search. Today, we can discover what we want/need to know on-demand by searching for it online. But the key here is not that we can find what we want, as cool as that is, but that we can find it when we want it.

On-demand.

This means ultimately customized and personal. What might the implications be for your organization? Not in 2050, but today?

THE DEMATERIALIZED AND ON-DEMAND FUTURE

Ok, so let’s paint a picture.

You’re a young person in India or Kenya born in 2015. futurecityWhen you’re in your early 20s, you feel a calling to study X — engineering, theology, etc.

Unlike the first billion people on Earth who came online during the bulky desktop era, the last billion people to come online, of whom you are one, all did so in a completely mobile digital world.

High quality content comes to you, wherever you are whenever you want it. The quality of your learning corresponds to the level of your interest. You are in charge of how much, how deep, how fast, and how far you go.

And the goal isn’t even a degree.  The immediate goal is a skill, a practice, a competency. The long term objective is to be deeply connected to opportunities for life long learning.

Ok, back to the present.

Leaders, you’re probably already responding to these shifts whether you know it or not. And, an important skill for leadership in the 21st century is the ability to fearlessly describe the present. But, just in case, here are some processing questions for you and your team.

  • Are we seeing these shifts in our field and relationships?
  • How are these shifts changing behavior?
  • What are ways that we’ve already begun to shift our practices and strategies?
  • What are some strategically intentional shifts we can make to pre-position ourselves for these shifts?

Alex McManus
Author of Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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.

Makers of Fire by Alex McManus

Thanks to missional maven, Alan Hirsch, global peacemaker, Bob Roberts, and professional futurist, Jay Gary, for their kind words featured in the Makers of Fire Video Trailer below.

Thanks to those of you who’ve purchased my book — now available on Amazon amzn.to/1rjTqzJ  — or have emailed me encouraging notes. Thanks!

What’s comes after the Laptop?

I’m thinking about what’s after the laptop, after the ipad, after the iphone. The video below is a pico projector — a tiny LCD projector that is already available in South Korea and China and will be become widely available soon. But what next? Perhaps eyeglasses that let you see your computer screen and keyboard semi-transparently superimposed over the world around you?