Monday Mornings with Madison


In today’s modern world, there are few people who get through a day untouched by digital technology. Digital technology is insidious. It is in the systems that power most appliances and machines in homes and offices. It is clearly present in the computers of today’s planes, trains, buses and automobiles. Digital technology keeps people connected across any distance via phones, text messages, email and social media sites. It is found in the medical devices used to scan organs for disease, keep hearts ticking, and control blood sugar levels. From the peaks of Mount Everest where mountain climbers have taken video cameras to the bottom of seas where submarines probe for shipwrecks, digital technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect and inch of daily life even in the most remote places of the world. Technology is everywhere and in just about everything we do.

While we all are routinely and often passively touched by technology, it is how we adapt to and leverage technology not just to make us smarter (faster, more connected and more efficient) but to make us wiser that will create ‘digitally wise humans’ or the Digital Human. That is the recent point made by Mark Prensky in his 2009 article “H. Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom.” His point is that in the unimaginably complex future world of business, a digitally-unenhanced person cannot and will not be as wise as a digitally-enhanced human.

How so? Originally in 2001 Marc Prensky said that people basically fell into two groups: those born in the pre-technology era (digital immigrants) and those born after the rise of digital technology (digital natives). His theory was that, in that divide, digital natives had an inherent advantage over digital immigrants. After that article, a great deal of controversy arose over those scientifically-unproven terms. Perhaps as a result, Prensky’s views on the topic evolved.

The Digitally-Enhanced Person
In his more recent article, Prensky explained that people are evolving to a new state of being. Meet the ‘digital human’. Digital humans will be those who gain wisdom “from the prudent use of digital technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities.” In other words, digital humans will be those who leverage technology to gain information in order to better make decisions and solve problems in everyday life, business and commerce. For the digital human, this advantage does not come from being born into a world of technology, but rather on a person’s ability to leverage technology in order to be a better person. It’s not just having and using technology, but using it to be better, do good and improve the world.

As Prensky put it, thanks to technology, in the future those who seek wisdom “will benefit from unprecedented, instant access to ongoing worldwide discussions, all of recorded history, everything ever written, massive libraries of case studies and collected data, and highly realistic simulated experiences equivalent to years or even centuries of actual experience.” Basically, the average tech-savvy person will have unlimited, unfettered access to all the information and collective experiences of mankind from the beginning of recorded time. The effective use of those resources will set apart the digital human from the ‘digitally-unenhanced person’.  When it comes to things like business, politics, and education, the least wise tech-savvy person will be wiser than the most wise tech-ignorant person. How much a person embraces technology to function in the material world will determine not just how smart they are, but how wise. Wisdom here is defined as “the ability to find practical, creative, contextually-appropriate and emotionally-satisfying solutions to complicated problems.” Digital wisdom is not just using technology but rather using the wealth of resources technology makes available in order to make better decisions.

 What are some ways that a digitally-enhanced person might be able to use technology to be wiser in business? 

  1. Greater access to a collective body of knowledge. For example, a doctor can apply a surgical solution to a medical crisis by learning about a new development by a physician in another part of the world.
  2. Conduct deeper analysis and deal with more complex scenarios. Historical data could be used test new theories instead of using just the traditional scientific method. Unlimited what-if scenarios could be considered in order to predict the future.  In an increasingly complex world, technology will help to anticipate the ripple effects or consequences of actions that the human mind may not be able to see.
  3. Plan and prioritize better. A more complex world will also require tools that will help people to organize better and sort what is most important. Tools that can help log, remind, and track will free people to focus on ways to be most effective and productive.
  4. See, hear, touch, feel and smell beyond the range of just our senses.
  5. Hold multiple perspectives simultaneously.
  6. Reach rational conclusions without allowing emotion to cloud judgment.
  7. Enhanced memory. A person can access more information than the mind can retain. Just as writing helped people ‘remember’ more information than had been possible when all history was oral, data storage devices now allow people to ‘remember’ or keep more information than is physically possible even with a library.  Technology enables people to ‘keep and store’ more data.
  8. Have greater insight into how others think and act. There are already machines that detect lies and provide digital readouts of brain waves. MRI scans can also tell about what a person is thinking. In the future, it is likely that digital technology will provide ways to read people’s thoughts and a way to achieve brain-to-brain communication.

Of course, technology alone cannot and will not replace intuition, good judgment, problem-solving abilities or a clear moral compass.  Technology is not wise in itself and technology cannot replace human thinking or spiritual wisdom. However, it will empower those who fully embrace and leverage the benefits of technology to function better in a complex, commercialized world. The question that remains for employers, parents and teachers alike is how and when to best infuse technology into daily life so as to produce wisdom.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Confucius

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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