One of the background debates going on about internet is whether it is smartening us up or dumbing us down. The smartening up side argues that more exchanges and especially more content creation by broader sectors of the population makes for smarter dialogue and faster problem solving. The dumbing down side argues that the exchanges are mostly trivial and perhaps getting more so. Buried under an avalanche of trivia, most people don’t see the benefit. As a result, culture gets dumber, perhaps even as a few of us get smarter. Not good for building community, I would say.
I have been searching for a word that provides the right focus for what we are looking for when we say we want to get smarter. It is a word that describes what happens when we are smarter and excludes what happens when we are dumber. BTW, I started this line of thinking after watching Christof Adami’s TED talk about finding information signatures that show life on earth and on other planets. I am looking for information signatures that show smarts, though sorry aliens, my focus is human only.
Here is the word I came up with - traction. Smart people exhibit a lot more traction than people who are not so smart. They have a better system for knowing what to look for, finding it, using it, and regenerating it into new ideas. BTW, if you want to see traction in action, just watch Christof. Wow! Or watch Richard Sadoway on inventing new batteries and mentoring. Or watch Juan Enriquez - Evolution in real time. This is exciting stuff!
So how does a traction system work? How do we build up traction? That is a good question that could spark quite a lot of debate. But I would start with this proposition. It starts with a skill. The skill to exclude things from your attention. To prioritize search, discovery, use and learning based on future needs. I am reminded of how Richard Feynman worked. He worked with great intensity and focus and then stopped for the day to let the creative side of his mind be free. He took up sketching, for example. Coincidentally, this model is a lot like Jim Loehr’s engagement model (engage - rest).
Hmmm … already I have a sense of what is wrong with the internet. For most of us, the internet is an attractive nuisance. As we wander around, we get less and less focused on one thing. And one might argue that for some of us, our ability to exclude things is weakened. We are easily amused but not necessarily to creative thinking. Not necessarily to building identity based on focused effort.
So do you feel a lack of traction? I would confess that I do. I am spending a lot of time reviewing and creating web content. But most of what I see is a distraction. Hmmm …so how to gain traction. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a platform out there that could help you do that?