Digital ignorance and the society of abundance

"The fit disciple is not led by desire, anger, ignorance, and fear." 

In 2003 I joined the federal government as an internal communications specialist. 

While I was there, the agency was going through a period of transition. (That's always happening, but this was a heightened change phase - a reorg.)

During that time, I had occasion to hear the chief of staff at that agency speak about how to effectively manage human capital during a transition or any time. He said, roughly paraphrasing:

"Most people think that sharing information is like giving away slices of their apple pie. But that's not true. The more you share, the more the pie simply expands."

Truer words were never spoken. Most people are afraid of letting go of "their" information. The logic runs roughly like this:

1. If I share information, I lose information.

2. If I lose information, I lose power, because now nobody needs me.

3. If nobody needs me, I will get fired and somebody else will take my job - my money, my status, and my office.

In the "olden days," maybe this was true. Just like if you had an enormous machine gun and you had to keep your enemies away. You would never share that technology. 

Or if you had a fertile piece of land. You would hold onto it with an iron grasp and guard it with the machine gun. (Wait...we're mixing centuries now. It's whatever weapon you have.)

However, we are entering a completely new phase of history now. The age of abundance. 

That's right. Despite all our worries over the depletion of natural resources. Despite fear of economic ruin. Despite arguments over land. Despite everything. 

Scarcity is not our problem. Rather, we are hampered by the four things mentioned by Buddha:

1. Fear: We aren't used to abundant thinking. We still don't understand: It's the very fight for turf that puts us in jeopardy - not the lack of turf itself. 

2. Anger: Our fear of being left behind leads us to get angry at, hate, and envy those who seem privileged or successful.

3. Greed: Whatever we have, we want more.

4. Ignorance: We don't know how to harness the technology that could set us all free to live the lives we want.

The first three are what I would think of as evolutionary psychology. We have a misguided survival instinct and it's telling us to act badly.

The fourth has to do with a simple lack of knowledge: We are surrounded by rope but we can't seem to pull ourselves to the surface.

A story:

I was in the Apple store the other day, making a purchase. 

An elderly lady interrupted the purchase, saying to the salesman: "I have a question. Can you help me when you're free?"

She seemed really nervous to get the question answered. I was impatient but I also felt the urgency wafting all around her. She was a short lady, but her intensity lit up the room.

The salesman keyed my credit card information into the handheld computer. It was so cool. I signed on the smartphone. Apple is awesome.

Meanwhile the lady was virtually tapping her feet with impatience.

I said to her, "What's your question? Maybe I can help."

She said, "I'm a teacher and they sent me some files. But I can't send them back."

I said, "You mean you need to send an attachment?"

She said, "Yeah, the computer can't read the DPF."

I said, "The PDF?"

She said, "Yeah. I don't understand how to use Gmail."

She had come to the Apple store not to buy anything, but for email assistance.

I offered to help her, but the Apple salesperson stepped in. Which is why Apple is awesome (yet again) and I have converted to their brand.

I looked around and the entire store was filled with elderly people. Learning to use the computer. 

Thinking about this, I realized that these people were incredibly smart. They understood that ignorance was the real threat to their survival. Believe it or not - it's not about age, or infirmity, or economic limitations. 

It's about knowledge versus ignorance. These people wanted to be on equal footing. And they were taking a lot of time to get up to speed.

As a company, Apple wasn't going to make any money off that interaction with the customer. But they understand the principle of sharing information.

When you share information, you create abundance. You get something, the other person gets something, and other people besides the two of you benefit.

When you hoard information, you create snarls of confusion. Slowdowns of process. Projects don't move. Nothing gets done. You perpetuate ignorance. And bad things happen:

* You wonder: "Why are we so inefficient around here?"

* You fear: "Everybody's out to get me." - Just like you hoard information, you think others are hiding it from you. The fear gets all mixed up with anger and hatred of others who seem to be competitors, getting in your way. 

* You rationalize: "I'm not going to look for problems by bringing up problems. I'm here to earn a living...let me just get through the day."

Lots of problems are at the root of these issues. But today, one of the most prominent is digital ignorance.

Just like you have to know how to drive, you have to know how to use a computer.

If you can't learn technology and use it effectively - you are in effect illiterate today. 

We can't afford to be a society of digital illiterates. 

We must train ourselves to use computers and help other people who don't know how to use them. 

Ignorance benefits nobody.

Knowledge benefits everybody.

We hold the keys to a limousine holding endless abundance in our hands right now. We just have to start the engine.

Let's do this together and not fight turf battles that only create more problems in the end.

Let's have faith that there is a higher power whose will overrides all our efforts. Very simply - as Joel Osteen puts it - "G-d can do what man (woman) can't do....G-d doesn't want your tears, He (She) wants your faith."  

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!