“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Humans are the reproductive organs of technology. We multiply manufactured artifacts and spread ideas and memes.” –Kevin Kelly
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Everywhere around us in modern American culture are bright and shiny machines. All of these different types of devices and technology are becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous every single day. So why are so many people dissatisfied, depressed, or distracted? The cold truth is that many of them are becoming servants of these devices, social networks, and technologies they purchase. They have failed to adopt the mindset to ensure that the technology they use serves them. In our modern era, if we want to be mission-driven, we must seek to master technology. We thrive when we use technology as our servant and suffer when it becomes our master.
Portals to Anywhere & Everywhere
“The internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter.” –Kevin Drum
We’ve seen that technology is anything which allows us to do more with less. By itself, technology is neutral; it doesn’t do much of anything until we interact with it. It’s up to us to make sure we interact with it in a way which increases our abilities and productivity, and not the reverse.
Most people have no heuristics, rules, or tests set up to assist in deciding what technology to adopt and what to avoid. Creating rules about adopting technology prudently doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s as simple as being honest and objective about assessing if the technology or service we’re using is making us happier.
Once we have an idea about the pros and cons of what technology provides us, we can selectively choose the specific technology we want to adopt. Consider the Amish– the extreme example of “slow” adopters. But what appears as slow adoption to us is really just methodical. Each community has to vote on what to allow or disallow. We don’t have to go to a communal for a vote, but we should take a vote with our self. Does (this device or social network) make me mission-driven? If so, great! Keep using it. If not, consider taking a break from it.
The goal of this section is to remember one core heuristic: we should be masters of technology. “Master” in this case means being able to select, utilize, control, and adopt technology that makes us mission-driven, or a better human, in some measurable way.
This may seem like a lofty goal as there are examples all around us of people being used by technology. We see people hunched over their phones, incessantly tapping the screen for quick hits of dopamine. Even when we’re driving in the car, there is a good chance that the person in the next lane is only partially interested in the road. The people driving with their phones over the wheel are unknowingly seeking quick hits of dopamine from the bright lights and notifications of their phone. This is a complete demonstration of addiction. Ever since the first televisions came into American homes, people have talked about how they would bring in wonderful educational content. Millions of hours later, that’s definitely questionable. Many families went from no TV in their lives to devoting 4–8 hours each day to watching TV. Technology will always let us do more, but it’s up to us to make sure that “more” leads to a virtuous outcome for everyone involved. It’s up to us to decide what we want “more” of. This requires work, strategy, and setting up systems on our part.
Skills for Mastering 21st Century Technology
The three following ideas and concepts can help us use technology to find meaning, instead of distraction: Curation, Filtering, and Synthesis.
This means personally regulating, adding, dismissing, or testing the technology we use so we exercise mastery and awareness over what it brings to our daily lives. This might mean we have a Kindle to read with no apps on it to ensure we read only what we intend. Or, it might mean we’re highly selective about the newsletters we subscribe to.
The most important idea behind curation is that in order to justify the use of a new technology or technological service, we should be able to articulate or measure what that technology is allowing us to do, and how it is helping us become who we want to be. Or even more simply, “Is it making me mission-driven?”
After we thoroughly consider which technologies we will use and why, we can then selectively use other technologies to create barriers that filter what we consume. This helps mitigate the downsides of using technology.
By introducing the mindset of filtering, we can develop heuristics such as “never pick up a portal to everything without specific intent.” This heuristic can help control our impulses of mindlessly picking up our Smartphones when we’re bored. Or, we can set a specific time of the day to check our messages and notifications.
We can also use simple filtering mechanisms on our computers like Rescue Time to turn off the Internet while we are working. We can use filters such as Feedly to consciously select content and put it into a single feed. These filters can prevents us from wading out into the noise of the Internet and getting distracted.
People as Curators and Filters
One of the benefits of living in an interconnected world is that the best content is being curated for us. There are people, websites, and influencers who are motivated to help find the best and most useful information and present it to you. This is an immense benefit. By finding trusted sources for content relevant to us, we don’t have to continually expend extra resources sifting through old mainstream news and information sources.
Why does developing a mindset primed to filter what comes through our digital devices matter? We’ve already covered the concept of Willpower, and we each have a fixed amount of it to use each day. Dr. Kelly McGonigal explains that as we encounter distractions throughout the day, we slowly decrease our finite amount of willpower for choices. This means that as we distract ourselves and the day wears on, we slowly degrade our ability to concentrate and do what matters. By using filters and curation sources, we can keep out the inputs that will degrade our willpower, saving it for choices that matter most.
We want to be actively thinking about what we’re creating with the technology we’re using. Are we taking full advantage of it? Are we using it to fuel new creations? Or are we using it to consume and distract ourselves?
Synthesis is the process of using technology to help zero in on the resources and information we need. It urges us to find specific tidbits of knowledge that we can use to plug gaps in our skills, which will help us reach our goals. The goal is to synthesize every interaction we have with technology and direct them towards the outcomes we want to create.
An example of synthesis might be studying our use of technology and seeing if we’re using it to create new things. If we’re only using it to consume, how can we change this? Often, with better curation and filtering, we’ll find ourselves naturally taking the next step to use what we’re learning for creation. It also doesn’t have to be a tangible physical creation; we might simply be seeking answers to a specific question we have. Either way, we begin to synthesize what we’re taking in from technology when we can cite specific ways in which it’s benefitting our lives.
“It’s hard to say exactly what it is about face-to-face contact that makes deals happen, but whatever it is, it hasn’t yet been duplicated by technology.” –Paul Graham
“Blow up your TV, throw away your paper…” –John Prine
This strategy and action section offers some ideas to help curate, filter, and synthesize technology. Feel free to use these ideas, discard them, or put your own spin on them.
The idea to master our use of television starts with placing a buffer between us and the content from our television. Cable TV is largely a gateway to reruns, commercials, or news. By eliminating cable, we effectively set up a buffer between our minds and advertising-based content. Now we can take control of the technology and add an application to our television to synthesize what we take in. An example might be to connect our television to the Internet, or link it up to Netflix, Amazon Video, or a Google Chromecast. Now, we have a barrier where we’re forced to make a conscious decision about selecting what to watch instead of just turning on the television and consuming.
Rescue Time: This app lets us turn the Internet on our computers on and off for a predetermined length of time. I like to use Rescue Time to turn off the Internet on days like today, when I’m writing and don’t want the temptation to start looking things up online that can interfere with my work. Rescue Time helps filter out the noise which would degrade our willpower first thing in the morning. When we control the Internet on our devices, we make conscious choices about how we’ll use it.
The Game Changer
The most valuable ways I’ve found to control and drive my use of a Smartphone and laptop are as follows:
- At night, before bed, I create a to-do list for the next day on a 4×6 note card.
- From that list, I will select or write in the three most important things to do. The idea is that if I get nothing else done, and only complete these three things, I would still make progress towards a goal or outcome I want to create.
- The next day, before I do anything online, before I even TOUCH my Smartphone, I do those three things. No outside stimulus until they’re done.
This is a simple way to get where we want to go, without derailing ourselves or chipping away at our willpower first thing in the morning. This is an act of defiance towards always being connected; it’s a way to refuse to be a servant of technology.
Content Curation and Filtering Online
Feedly: This app brings all the feeds from your favorite websites into one place where you can read or share select articles and content. Simply login and add the specific sites you want to get news and updates from. The app doesn’t bring in advertisements, so you’re able to read things without constantly seeing display advertising. If you’re learning something, or trying to break into a new industry, simply add those websites of curated content from influencers into your Feedly. Over time, you can use Feedly to build a custom stream of highly relevant, amazingly useful content which will save you hours of time.
Upside Exposure: The best and most scalable way to increase our exposure to opportunities is to set up online social media accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn. Depending on your industry, using Medium might be helpful, but we don’t need to worry about that for now. These accounts allow us to capitalize and create opportunities where we are using technology instead of it using us. If you don’t have a personal website at this point, don’t worry. LinkedIn can hold your resume and be the hub of your online presence, while Twitter is a more specific opportunity generator.
An opportunity generator is something we set up which can advertise and promote ourselves while we’re not directly working. In business, we might call the creation of these opportunities “lead generation.” In our personal lives, many people just call this smart. Many people have grandparents who told them to never look for a job, but always look for an opportunity. Having social profiles set up to work on our behalf to uncover and expose us to opportunities would make our grandparents proud.
Platforms as Opportunity Generators
By investing small amounts of time into building or improving opportunity generators, we can reap huge rewards. These rewards may include: new friends, business connections, job offers, expertise requests, help with starting a business, and much more. The idea is to interact with others, send cold emails, write articles in our industry, and link them back to the platforms containing our resume, proof of skills, or even work that shows proof of our imagination.
Twitter: You don’t have to tweet, but by having this set up, you’ll be able to claim your name and prepare for when/if you do tweet. Just sign up and post a single tweet. This helps in case anyone on Twitter searches for your name, and this single tweet can direct interested parties to the appropriate place.
“Thanks for stopping by! Too busy to tweet at the moment, but let’s connect (link to your email address or your LinkedIn profile).”
The link to connect can go to the places we mentioned above, or to your profile at your current company, your personal website, or even a short 30- to 60-second video introducing yourself, your skills, and, if you’re a job-seeker, what you’re looking for.
LinkedIn Profile: If you’re looking for a job, opportunity, or promotion, this is the place to start. Recruiters scour LinkedIn all day long looking for applicants. There are a million free resources online showing how to optimize your LinkedIn profile, so I won’t bore you with details here.
The idea is to set up a LinkedIn profile and, over time, add more than 500 connections. The LinkedIn publishing platform is still in its infancy, and it’s a great time to use it to begin writing industry-specific articles. The publishing platform will likely grow even larger and more esteemed as time goes on. Getting involved now and having a public place such as your LinkedIn profile to write and become noted in your industry is a great way to generate opportunities and serendipitous connections.
If you need a job, make sure your LinkedIn profile is cleaned up and your resume is posted. Then, on LinkedIn’s publishing platform, write a post titled something along the lines of “Ten Things I Didn’t List on My Resume.” Include everything, such as stories or decisions which have built your character.
You can follow up that post with “10 Reasons I’m Ready to Work at (company name here),” citing what you bring to the table. Or something like “10 Ways For (company name here) to Increase Their Sales.” The idea is to stand out from the traditional channels of resume spamming and find opportunities before they’re advertised to the market.
LinkedIn’s long-term goal is to turn up contextual economic opportunities for the right people, at the right time. If you’re not 100% sure what this means, look it up and write a post about why the long-term vision of LinkedIn is important. If you get it right, LinkedIn will likely want to promote your writing. If you’re a horrible writer, record what you want to say and have it transcribed, or hire an editor on Upwork to proofread your work. LinkedIn is a platform which can unlock thousands of opportunities.
Personal Website: This isn’t needed at first, but for specific creative types (artists, designers, or engineers), this might make sense. The credentials of the future involve being able to cite proof of skills at a moment’s notice to show a potential employer, friend, or business partner. Creating a personal website by using an incredibly cheap and full-service solution provider like Squarespace is perfectly suited to showcase our proof of skills.
Launching a personal website is also a great excuse to grab the domain name for your name. Most .com domains will be taken, but there is a good chance you might be able to find a .co or suitable alternative such as (www.YourFirstName-YourLastName.com). If you want to blog or start a business and sell products or services from a personal site, Squarespace lets you sell digital products and services using the awe-inspiring payment processor, Stripe.
A Few Notes on Platforms
Ensure congruence across platforms. Make sure that all your social media profiles display the message you want to convey. For the advanced folks, or those who already have LinkedIn and Twitter accounts set up and are using them well, you can consider other opportunity generators such as Medium or AngelList.
AngelList will be incredibly useful as we dive into reverse engineering entry into high-growth technology fields in the next article, so if you’re interested in this, consider setting up a profile there.
Medium: This is where you can write about certain industry or life-specific topics and give those writings exposure to a large audience. This is an alternative or supplement to publishing on LinkedIn, and might be a bit more useful to those interested in startups, technology, design, art, or writing.
AngelList: This is where you can learn all about startups and technology businesses and discover how to land jobs with them. If you’re a qualified angel investor, you can start looking for companies, funds, or syndicates for investment. Anyone interested in technology should become familiar with this site. AngelList is the best platform on the Internet to connect early-stage businesses with funding and employees. They’re also building index funds for investing and are beginning to raise large amounts of money to invest in startups. You can always find where the future of industries are heading by studying where investment dollars are going on AngelList.
All of these platforms we have mentioned can become opportunity generators if used appropriately. Once you’re set up, at least on LinkedIn and Twitter, you’ve embraced the mindset of exposing yourself to good things. Now, when you start seeking out opportunities, you have an online presence to capture opportunities and introductions as you go.
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