I am nearing my fourth decade of living on this earth and have had a front row seat to the explosion of technological advances in the last several decades. We are in what has been coined the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and our species is rapidly advancing towards forms of intelligence that will inalterably change our existence forever. These changes have been driven in large part by a particular set of ideals around “progress”, regardless of its impact. In many instances this progress is a sign of maturation. In others, it is a sign of immaturity.
As a therapist, one of the things that I talk about early in a treatment is a conversation centered on what it means to digest something. The faster we move in therapy, the less we will be able to digest. The same concept is true in life. We might be able to reach a destination more quickly when we run, but the fruit of such pacing will always have a cost.
The inverse of this concept is also true. The slower one goes, the more that person will be able to sense, understand, and integrate what is around them. When we move slowly our senses are more connected. When we are more connected, we will be able to differentiate the nature of reality with greater precision. This ability to differentiate allows us to notice complexity and process that information more appropriately.
For as long as I can remember, the western mindset of “more is better” has been celebrated and marketed as wisdom. I was in college when the first iPhone was released. There has not been a season since that I have not felt the pull of “the next big thing”. This pattern is exciting and marked with a brief period of enjoyment, but the more you engage in this cycle the less each successive time satisfies. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten more, I’ve just felt more hollow and bored. I’ve noticed that there isn’t “more life” in “more things”. In fact, I have noticed the opposite. The more I have, the less I feel satisfied. The easier it is to acquire every-thing, the less joy any-thing brings.
I recognize that there is an immense amount of privilege contained in these reflections. Not everyone can actually come to some of these realizations by testing them personally. But ask anyone who has pursued the hope of “more” and you will find the same ache and disillusionment. If the idea is that we will find happiness, contentment, and satisfaction through this means of consumption, we will all find the results to be deeply disappointing. More is not always better. More does not always satiate hunger. More is absolutely not the same as health.
I think there is a truth here for us to name and accept. The ideas that many of us have bought into around what will bring happiness and fulfillment are actually sending us in the opposite direction. There is a wealth of emerging research clearly articulating the negative impact of technology on mental health and well-being. In the field of psychology, we are seeing a new wave of “illnesses” circulating amongst young people across the globe. Anxiety disorders, depression, suicides, homicides are all trending up. This pursuit of “more” has increasingly destroyed the natural world as well. All of nature and its’ ecosystems are collapsing under the weight of our progressive demands.
We may be able to acquire more and more, but health is not measured by the presence or absence of possessions and resources. Health is made evident in and through the way in which we relate to these things. So, it could also be said of what distinguishes wisdom from folly. The question for our fast-food generation is not whether we can have something…it is whether or not it is wise. Are we able to responsibly steward these advances for the health and well-being of our selves, others, and this magnificent world?
Soon our progressive pursuits will give rise to a general artificial intelligence and the inflection point of singularity (when AI can match the performance of the human mind). It will be a major technological advance. It will speed things up even more. It will change how society lives, moves, and has its’ being. AI will be a major resource if our society can steward it well. It is not the savior or the devil, but it is powerful. It is not inherently good or evil, but it has potential for both. Its existence will undoubtedly be defined by how we relate to it and wield its’ power. Like everything, if we go too fast there will be consequences.
As I was reflecting on these things, I was reminded of a story from the Judeo-Christian scriptures. The story goes that there was a Creator who fashioned the Earth and all that was in it. This Creator specifically designed humanity to steward the rest of the creation and bring it to life and flourishing. To support them, the Creator made sure the rest of their creation could support humanity as well. There was enough for every lifeform if the creation worked together in harmony. Life naturally flourished in this environment.
But, despite the heavenly enough-ness of this reality, humanity wanted more. They didn’t just want to be with the creation, they wanted to be over it for some reason. They didn’t just want to possess the knowledge of good; they also wanted the knowledge of evil.
The Creator warned that such knowledge, in their hands, would destroy them and lead to death. But this warning fell on deaf ears. Rather than enjoying the countless other options available to nourish and bring life, the first beings took a hold of the knowledge they were warned to avoid. And like God promised, there were deadly consequences to eating that fruit.
From the very beginning, humanity has grasped for the option to choose itself over all else. We have surely become like God in our possession of this knowledge but have literally killed the body of that God in the process. The co-operative relationship that was meant to exist between humanity and the rest of creation is in shambles. Good and evil, after all, is simply revealed and expressed through the way in which we relate to life. To know evil is to know that there is a way to take advantage of something. There is a kind of relationship that harms, degrades, and eventually destroys what is alive. This kind of relationship no longer holds, honors, and respects the life in all things.
But despite all the warnings, we just keep choosing this path over the alternatives. The gift in and of life has always hinged on our ability to live in harmony, but we continue to prefer a life of ownership over a life of communion.
More is not always better. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same things. To hold infinite power in one’s hand is quite dangerous if you don’t know how to steward it. The consequences of constantly wanting more can and will destroy all that is alive.
If we want to see the gift of life, we must slow down. We must begin to walk at a pace that allows us to see what we are walking towards. We must practice this pacing and pay attention to the natural feedback.
What happens in our body when we eat certain kinds of food? What happens in our imagination when we listen to silence? What happens in our friendships when we confess our inner lives more frequently? What happens in our hearts when we give our things away?
If we can pause our grasping for long enough, we will start to notice the difference between the things that bring us life and death. And more often than not, that wisdom does not come in the forms we usually expect.
Like Adam and Eve, we get to choose the fruit we eat today. Like Adam and Eve, we too will suffer the benefits and consequences of making those choices. Our eyes will always be opened to something. I hope we can truly see it.