The Most Important Network Is Still the One Between Your Ears

Among the advances that civilization has experienced over the past fifty years, none overshadow the growth of networks.  An initial crawl has accelerated to a mind-numbing velocity.  WAN’s and LANs have evolved into a labyrinth of professional and social networking tools that permeate our daily lives.

But what of the first and most important network, the one that drives our cognitive reasoning and our interactions with and contributions to the world outside?  People interact on social networking sites, but do they engage?  Like meteors bouncing off a rubber moon, the interactions run the risk of touching but never fully penetrating the surface.  It’s only when we absorb the content, let it take a ride on our neural networks, chew on it a bit, and finally synthesize it all into a response that shapes and adds to the discussion . . . it’s only then that we’ve leveraged the full potential of these amazing tools.

The pros and cons of our socio-digital landscape are like a “good conscience” and “bad conscience” parked on either shoulder:

  • It spreads information quickly . . . including false information
  • It helps some students do better at school . . . and diverts others toward lower grades
  • It both facilitates face-to-face interactions . . . and cuts us off from one another

The list goes on and on (see for an excellent summary).  But the critical inflection point is the “. . .” transition above, which one can view as these digital waves passing through our cognitive processes and filters, where WE decide whether and how to act upon them.

Insights into the duality of this landscape came recently from a most unlikely source . . . Pope Francis.  He wrote:

  • “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”
  • “The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.”
  • “The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us.”
  • “While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.  It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters.”

Social networks and digital media spread information faster than ever before.  But the “rapid fire” nature of the information exchange and social sharing can lead us to alternate between dodging these bullets or leaping in front of them with our bodies, but never quite catching and digesting them. So . . .

  1. Choose carefully when deciding who you will follow or grant more of your attention.  Is there thought leadership in the content they feed you, either through original work or by making connections between disparate ideas?  Are they curating for you in a value-added way, only passing along content with significance?  Or are they simply adding to the rapid fire body blows?
  2. Seek to pull out themes from the flow coming over the transom.  Time constraints will dictate that we can’t delve deeply into all the incoming traffic.  But it doesn’t mean that patterns aren’t forming and presenting themselves to us in the topics that percolate, if we take time to connect the dots.
  3. Challenge.  We serve a greater good when we question, validate and perfect the information and ideas presented to us . . . or alternatively filter out the misrepresentations and falsehoods that poison the stew.
  4. Share selectively and add value to the content you share.  It can be the “ah ha” moment that came to you while reading the piece . . . The insight it triggered because you made a connection to another piece . . . Or your view on the piece’s particular relevance.  Your choice, but leverage it to add your cognitive stamp on top of the piece for the people you’re effectively asking to take notice of it.
  5. In your role as leader, mentor, manager, parent . . . any situation where you influence the development of others . . . seek to grow and empower analytical and problem-solving skills in them.  Issues often require a deeper level of analysis than might be implied by a 140-character culture.  Teach people to walk around an issue and view it from different angles in their quest for a solution and path forward.

Remember, technology is amazing and is rapidly acquiring more of the real estate of our daily lives.  But it all sits upon the land that is our cognitive skills, emotional intelligence and creativity . . . the dimensions that comprise and project our humanity.