bicycle for the mind

The great Steve Jobs once said the computer is like a bicycle for the mind. This whole interview is extraordinary but I’m talking about the first minute of this interview….

But how good are we really at riding mind bicycles? This clip was recorded in 1990 and he goes on to predict what is still barely just beginning in the modern workplace. The year 2020 was a turning point for many businesses who were forced to acknowledge the benefits of location independence (remote work) and the current generation of business automation.

I feel like many of us are wobbling around on beach cruisers while an isolated bunch of enthusiasts strap on their spandex gear and crush a hard ride on Saturday morning. And only a very few elite make it to the ranks of ‘pro’ to race on organized teams and cruise up vertical grade mountain climbs at 30 miles per hour.

In fact, the differences between technology users might even be greater than the gap in performance between beach cruising cyclists and pro team riders. Most people born before 1980 probably have a somewhat rocky relationship with technology. And at minimum, they think in terms of metaphors like mailing letters, stuffing documents into folders, reading linear books from front to back, and making phone calls by dialing a rotary ring.

The fact is that technology changes much faster than our limited human ability to absorb it. Steve Jobs had already imagined business technology that adapts faster than management hierarchy or geographic location can. But where are we now, three and a half decades later?

We are flooded with information all day long, without an improved cognitive ability to sort it and make any sense out of it. AI is finally starting to step in and do some of the heavy lifting for us, but that has implications of its own. When people say ‘if you use a free technology service, then you are probably the product’ – they are exactly correct. When you depend on YouTube or Facebook or TikTok’s algorithm to feed you relevant content, your mind literally becomes a product of the technology. And I’m not even saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, although I don’t choose that for myself.

But what is the alternative? An intentional approach to managing our focus, our time, our mental energy, our memory and mustering all those mental resources to do something fulfilling and productive. Think, the ‘creator movement’. Sounds hard, right? You may be right. At minimum it’s going to take some new skills, and maybe some new tools.

Going back to our bike metaphor, we are going to need to upgrade our bike, hone our skills, and do some serious training if we want to go from meandering down the bike path with the kids to rocking around a muddy cyclocross track in a timed race against a horde of grimacing middle-aged killers.

Sometimes I like to work at a coffee shop and I can’t help but notice how most people do the most mundane things on their computers. Sometimes I see someone doing some python coding or web development but the vast majority simply use it as a modern equivalent of either a typewriter or a television.

I propose actually using technology to a higher purpose – organizing our thoughts and connecting with others. Social media is such a powerful tool, and yet so many use it as a feed for brainless celebrity news and gossip on their friends. Why not use it to channel your higher intentions, and connect with others who are on a similar journey of building their own skills and building something meaningful and enduring?

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