Strings in our Minds
A revolution is an event that happens when the current order is changed almost overnight. In the
past the Russian, Industrial, French revolutions changed everything for ages to come. Revolutions
have a few aspects in common, it eats it own leaders and the real change and pain follow
afterwards in the shadows thereof. Voltaire and Rousseau lost their heads and Stalingrad became
Yet…James Watt (83, centering the Industrial Revolution), and Thomas Edison (84, giving us light,
recorded music and the movies) were lucky to survive and carried on inventing and patenting till
the every end. In contrast to politicians, great engineers seem to never seem to die!
We are now living in the shadows of, perhaps the biggest revolution of all times, the information
revolution. Let’s wonder a bit on what it means to us.
Stumbling upon the IBM 360 some 35 years ago, addicted me forever to bits, bytes and the joy it
brings. At the time there were less than ten computers in the entire Western Cape. We
manipulated everything with yellow punch cards and often had the database reshuffled if
somebody fell down the stairs.
Then the painful progress to UNIX workstations, Fortran, Cobol, DOS, Windows and eventually
Web 2.0 was like being born in an ox wagon and to later fly to the moon. In my filing cabinet are
piles of business cards of 1997. The commonality? Now email addresses nor websites!
Since the advent of the new millennium we were surprised when yet again the heads went to the
guillotine when the Dotcom crash wiped out pipe dreams as seldom before in history.
Yet, we survived and we are today connected, webbed and facebooked with more than 2 web
pages created for every living soul on this earth and ten of thousands of blogs created daily that
nobody ever reads.
What did we win, what did we loose, what does it mean for us?
“Please do not disturb me; I cannot talk people as I am busy adding friends to my Facebook”. “I will
quickly Google it and answer you in a jiffy”. “I do have time to read anymore, just give me the
abstract..”, “ ….no problem I will Wikipedia it quickly for you..” all this happening while our critical
sense, hearing, is switched off by the great miracle, the iPod.
Even our babies and toddlers are not spared as the toys on offer are all ready made with all the
buttons and flickering lights in place leaving little room for imagination. Long since forgotten are the
miracles of Meccano and Lego…
Our minds work in a way that the neurons need to be stringed together like a washing line. The
brain loves these “strings” and to hook things onto it. The mind hates to be scattered. In his new
book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us about this as the 10000 hour concept:
When the Beatles played gig after gig at the age of 16 in the sleazy joints in Hamburg harbour,
when Steve Jobs and Bill Gate focused their minds on only one thing, and Warren Buffet since the
age of 12 looked at value from a deeper viewpoint, they did their 10000 hour apprenticeship in
building their minds on thing only. It worked for them because the mind loves to build connections
and hates to be distracted. They stringed there minds to become the greatest.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney sang about the “Long and Winding Road” describing exactly
what we should do to our minds.
Each of us is bombarded by at least 5000 ads each day and needs to spend at least 2 hours daily
to answer cell phones and reply on SMS’s. In the process the neurons in our minds are scattered
as we are googled into stupidity. Bit by byte.
Data, and even more data are light years from real wisdom. Warren Buffet lives far from the hustle
and bustle of New York, barely ever looks at a graph, yet at the age of 80 still wipes the floor with
thousands of upstarts. Just more data, more senseless newspapers can actually destroy our
The great Thomas Jefferson said: “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I
feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
The mind just loves continuity and loves things to be hooked onto a golden thread. Imagine a
washing line with pins keeping wet clothes in the air. If only all we do, talk, write could keep that in
mind, we will be endlessly more clever than being scattered and distracted by Google, Wikipedia,
Skynews and MTN.
So..to be clever, wise and just be a better person, technology is a great aid but a threat in a velvet
glove. The answer is simple, exploit every bit of it, but be painfully aware that there is a downside.
Talk and move amongst real people. Read whole books on our discipline, read great novels and
the odd poem, sit in the park alone, pull out the iPod and just be more in life. Build those brainy
pathways that will serve us well tomorrow.