The digital swirl is real, it’s disconcerting and it’s loaded with possibility

For millions of years, we’ve evolved to live in community.

Our brains, which are hugely expensive to maintain, got bigger and bigger, primarily to support our ability to engage with others. It’s not simply a useful way to pass the time–it’s a survival tool like no other.

And so we got very good at reading body language. At detecting threats. At finding friends and avoiding strangers. We can spot a liar from across the room (or so we think) and we become despondent when we’re alone for too long.

Suddenly, though, here comes the digital swirl.

Now, instead of 150 people in our core circle of trusted acquaintances, we’re exposed to thousands. Now, instead of pheromones and handshakes, we’ve got to find nuance and cues from video images on a Facetime call.

It’s no wonder we’re stressed out of our minds. All the inputs and outputs have been turned upside down in the course of one generation.

And yet…

And yet, we can find a true friend in Perth. And yet, we can learn from a teacher in another country. And yet, we can see and be seen in ways we never expected.

It’s a swirl because we still haven’t figured it out. We don’t know quite how to sit in front of the camera, or read other people’s intent. We’re not sure how to prioritize the incoming. We invent motives and threats and conspiracies where there are none. We ignore the real threats because they’re gradual and come wrapped in likes and smilies. We hesitate to commit. We over-commit.

Of course we do. It’s a swirl. We’re still inventing cultural conventions and still defining rules of thumb.

And the cognitive load is enormous.

There’s a reason we get stuck in ruts. Ruts are easier. Ruts give our brain a rest.

The breakneck pace of piling up likes, seeking out the newest while watching the old (old? Yahoo is less than 25 years old!) disappear… it’s exhausting.

And thrilling.

Because doors keep opening. They open faster than the others are shutting. There is possibility around many (but not all) corners. The possibility of learning, of connection, of seeing and being seen.

We simply have to discipline ourselves enough that we don’t burn out on it all. We have to find the strength to turn it off, to use it with intent, to realize that it’s simply a tool.

The first step is to acknowledge that it’s a swirl, that it’s new, and that we’re not good at it (yet).