Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Internet or Imperial-Pigeon? A False Choice*

More individuals and organizations are starting to realize that silo-d thinking and the related concept of existence as a zero sum game are not only unnecessary but counter productive. Counter productive even to traditional western definitions of success. Consider the fact that best seller status is being achieved by the book Give and Take, which provides compelling evidence that ultimately the most successful people are not those who try to maximize their own benefit at the expense of others. It is an eye opening book for anyone stuck on the idea that to rise to the top in a capitalist, technology driven society you have to claw your way over the bodies of every one and every thing in your way.

Then there is the notion that some hold onto with a death-like grip that says that digital technology and nature are diametrically opposed. This is similar silo-d thinking: one must dominate at the expense of the other. This mindset can at first appear intransigent, because clouds and computers seem so different. Wait a second...  Why do we come up with terms like "cloud computing"? Why do we like that juxtaposition so much?

Earlier this year, in the magazine put out by The Nature Conservancy there was a short spot on using mobile devices such as tablets to get our techno-swamped kids out into nature. As much as I personally love, value, pine for the opportunity to get out into nature without being trailed by digital anything, I thought that perhaps it was pretty slick to use nature apps to lure techno-addicted kids away from the indoors and get them to appreciate the natural world.

Predictably, some letters to the editor loved the idea and others thought that it was horrible. Yet this should not be an either-or choice. Tablet or tree. Smartphone or slug. (If you don't think slugs are fascinating, you should really take another look at them, especially some of the dinosaur look-a-likes from the US Pacific Northwest). It's all a matter of perspective and attitude.

But wait, perhaps it is more than that. I was really pleased to see a blog post by Richard Louv, who popularized the notion of "nature deficit disorder" making the case for the need for both the natural and digital worlds. More than a need, an imperative. In his post Louv says:

"I believe that a central goal of modern education should be ... to nurture the hybrid mind: to stimulate both ways of knowing in the world: digital and direct experience"

Louv advocates for ensuring a digital/nature balance in children, but the case is equally strong for adults, and for applying this balance to how we do business. When someone replies to you "yeah but..." and starts talking in generalities about competition and economics, respectfully suggest they pause and investigate the growing evidence out there that supports an alternative viewpoint. We can consider it as yet another interdisciplinary computing challenge.

*The Imperial-Pigeon is a type of stunningly colorful Australian bird. There are several types of Imperial-Pigeon and they, along with some of their likewise stunningly feathered relatives, will eliminate once and for all any notion you might harbor that pigeons are uninteresting.

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