Going Borg

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Recently by William Green: 7 Billion Cavemen?

     

We evolved staring down predators, not staring at computer screens. Our ancestors ate bone marrow, not donuts. Grok the caveman followed game, not twitter feeds. These kinds of “disconnects,” between the primal lifestyle our genes evolved to expect and the digital lifestyles we live, stress us out. But here we are. And as I argued in Will humans become obsolete?, the exponential growth in technology means we will be forced to assimilate it or be out-competed by it in the labor market, just like Grok was forced to throw out his stone ax for iron. So how can we stay competitive and yet happy and healthy at the same time? Either we match the technology to our genes and/or we modify our genes to fit the technology. We can’t genetically engineer ourselves yet, so here’s my three step plan for staying on top of the food chain: 1) Identify technologies that can enhance my performance, 2) Assimilate them in such a way as to maintain or enhance my health and happiness, and 3) Repeat.

This is a twist on Mark Sisson’s approach in Primal Blueprint, which is to identify the behaviors and environments that turn on ancestral genes and generate biological responses for health and happiness, and find ways to incorporate them into modern life. We can’t hunt woolly mammoths like Grok, but we can eat mostly meats, fats, and vegetables, spend lots of time outdoors, and rise with the sun every morning. This is what folks mean by “going primal,” and I can testify to it’s effectiveness: The Primal Blueprint has made me fitter, trimmer, and happier for about a year now.

Here’s my twist on the primal approach: I don’t really want to go primal. I want to “go Borg” to as large an extent I can and as fast as I can while still retaining, or better yet, increasing the health and happiness of myself and others. We can’t stop technological progress. Either we assimilate it, or it will assimilate us. Not that I want to stop it–it enhances our health and well being, but we need to assimilate it intentionally and carefully to avoid negative side effects. So here are the details of my two steps to assimilating technology while maintaining or enhancing my quality of life:

1) Identify new technologies that can do activities I need or want to do better or for less cost than my body and/or mind alone. I’ll use the law of comparative advantage here: I may be able to cook burgers better than a robot, but if the robot can do it for me cheaply while I do something only I can do that’s worth more to me, then I give the task to the robot.

2) Assimilate the new technologies in such a way that they do not adversely affect my health and well-being, and look for new activities that can replace the role these activities may have played in generating health and happiness in my life and. In his latest book, The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson shows how technology can substitute for the behaviors and environments that produced optimum health and happiness for our ancestors. One study found that simulated windows (digital screens with outdoors scenes) had a positive psychological effect on people. Likewise, I can testify that waking up to digital birds singing on my Android (Gentle Alarm) is much less stressful than being jolted by screaming beeps. There is probably a potential technological solution to every primal disconnect created by technology.

3) Repeat as often as possible to be the fastest, smartest, healthiest, happiest human possible, realizing that the definition of “human” may change somewhat along the way.

How about some examples, just ten to get us started. Please help me add more. The first one’s easy: Step 1) The days of memorizing facts are over. My memory is easily expandable, through the internet, to all published “facts” in the world. The time it takes for me to type in a Google search is all the time it takes for me to “recall” a fact from my internet “memory.” Step 2) I will try to replace rote memory tasks with the internet in order to free up mental resources for tasks that Google cannot replace (yet). Just as calculators allow me to spend less time calculating so I can solve more and harder problems, switching from organic memory to Google will allow me to spend less time memorizing and more time problem solving.

Is there some potential negative side effects of this? Does rote memorization have some beneficial in my brain that affects my health and well-being? I don’t know, but I doubt it. In fact, I think it probably reduces stress not to have to worry about memorization. But I need to be on the look out for such negatives and address them. For example, while it seems like a no-brainer (pun intended) to replace rote memorization with Google. I want to be careful I don’t let it think for me. And there is an obvious caution here: Don’t get distracted from your task. The internet is a tremendously distraction-rich place. But hey, there are tech tools for staying focused as well.

Example #2: Step 1) Commuting stinks. It takes too much time and fuel, and increases the time I spend sitting on my rear end staring at asphalt and the backs of cars. It can be replaced by remote/online work. Meetings and classes can be attended remotely using Google Hangouts or Skype. As a teacher, I can collect assignments and deliver content through Moodle and Youtube. Drawbacks? While remote work may decrease face time with colleagues, it stands to increase face time with the people most important to me. Conclusion: Try to work remotely/online as much as possible.

Example #3: Replace paper planner with Google Calendar.  Reminders are awesome, aren’t they?

Example #4: As an avid hiker, I like this one: Replace orienteering courses with GPS (but carry a compass just in case).

Example #5: This one’s obvious, but I have room for improvement on this: Replace paper filing with scanning, online forms, digitial memory and DVD backup.

Example #6: Replace some reading with listening to audiobooks or lectures while commuting (yeah, I haven’t implemented Example #2 yet). This has been my secret for years.

Example #7: Replace stores with online shopping. Be careful here. I’ll lose face time with people and need to be sure to use some the time saved to increase time with other humans in my life. But I don’t mind trading time with stranger for time with loved ones. Another caution: Make sure you don’t waste MORE time online than you would have in the store. Amazon is fantastic, but a potential black whole for your time.

Example #8: Online banking, automated bill pay, payroll, bookkeeping and billing. This is a work in progress for me.

Example #9: Texting, while not safe on the road, is quicker than the phone and a great way to keep in touch with real people in your life. My students keep in touch with parents like they never could before. In fact, despite all the whining to the contrary, I think Facebook and Twitter can draw us closer to real friends and family, especially distant ones, as long as we don’t get distracted by all the extraneous “friends” (acquaintances) scrolling (and trolling) down our feeds.

Example #10: In school, why even bother with long division anymore? Why memorize derivatives and integrals? And let’s not stop there. Wolframalpha.com can do everything a calculator can do and much, much more, let’s take advantage of it. Are we worried we’ll lose basic math skills? So what, if we gain greater, more advanced skills? How many of us can do long-hand square roots, for goodness’ sake? And how many kids knew what an integral was in high school 50 years ago?

Example #11: Your idea here. (Please add your ideas as comments.)

The future: I’m waiting for a Hyperion-style direct brain interface, so I don’t have to type in Google searches and can run WolframAlpha in my head. That will be cool. And when I can write a blog post with my thoughts, that will be really cool, too. And of course, the Star Trek Transporter will be awesome (not to and so will Bones’ scanner).

So my plan is to repeat the 3 steps as often as possible until I am as “borg” as I can happily and healthily be. Grok is great, but if he stays Grok, he won’t last long. He’d better switch to Cybergrok if he wants to be happy and healthy in tomorrow’s technological world. And to tell you the truth, the primal life is not really my “ideal” life. If I could avoid it and still be healthy, I’d rather not kill animals for food. If I could do so and still be healthy and happy, I’d eat donuts. I love donuts. As yet, we don’t have a technology that will allow me to eat them healthily, but I will rapidly assimilate it when it comes.

Bill Green [send him mail] teaches chemistry and biology at a government school and operates a private tutoring service. He writes as the Hartford Libertarian Examiner and at williampgreen.com.

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