Digitally stupid – Is digitization making us all shallow thinkers?

Modern man is above all one thing: absent-minded! In a time in which we are mostly digitally overstrained, one elementary question arises: Will our thinking become increasingly flattened by the Internet? How can we stay focused, reflected and inspired?

Work-life balance is a thing of the past

Where recently there was talk of work-life balance, today a new skill has become important: The ability to escape the digital world – the ability to switch off and be “off”: The digital-analog balance! Whether it’s a mail, a message or a WhatsApp message – stimulus satiation is the motto – and this has long since ceased to be just a professional issue – but increasingly also a private one: while you are busy with something today, you are regularly – incidentally – confronted with a flood of information: The mobile phone is buzzing, mails and messages from social media are popping up. Most people already have their smartphone in their hands shortly after waking up.

Our everyday life resembles an all-encompassing permanent distraction

This is not without consequences. Some researchers see our ability to concentrate deeply is already diminishing. “Deep-Reading”, the ability to concentrate on a text, for example, is in danger because the brain is constantly distracted instead of concentrating. The psychologist Patricia Marks Greenfield‘s studies conclude that each new medium develops some cognitive abilities at the expense of another.

The psychologist Greenfield assumes a connection between cognitive abilities and available media: In their opinion, the increasing use of digital media leads to a strengthening of spatial-visual intelligence. On the one hand, this enables us to cope with tasks that involve rapidly changing signals, but on the other hand it provokes a weakening of our ability to cope with complex cognitive tasks, such as long-term attention – which is necessary when reading a book.

A look at the past is reassuring: After all, people did not stop reading books just because they got radio and TV. Technologies can exist in parallel. Why shouldn’t it be the same with the Internet? Or –

Will our thinking in the future only be enough for cat pictures and short radical statements?

Media psychologist Tobias Rothmund assumes that the extreme flooding of information in the digital media public favours the great success of false reports. Today, news providers are trying by all means to generate attention.

Our world has, in a strange way, ignited itself: Only information that is short and concise is received and processed. Balanced, factual messages are in principle at a disadvantage compared to radical or scandalous messages. Journalists learn, for example, that their texts have to be written online in much shorter time than in printed editions. The concentration of the readers often does not reach to the end of the text. Links are often not opened and yet comments are made in the social media simply because of the headline.

Is the Internet destroying our sense of distance?

Some people have well over a thousand friends in the social media and are analogously still lonely. It seems as if the Internet impairs our sense of connections, our understanding of near and far. The psychologist Robin Dunbar used the number 150 to describe the number of stable social relationships that a person is able to enter into. He deduced this figure from the relationship between the size of the human brain and the size of social groups. If his thesis is correct, many of us are already completely overwhelmed by the number of their digital friends. Our ability to separate important people and things from unimportant ones is put to the test by digitization. Our mental capacities are overstrained by our “permanence-on”.

Quantity instead of quality – is the content becoming more and more secondary?

What is an important message and what is not is usually determined by click rates today. Media that scandalize, exaggerate and alarm, are noticed by users and often provoke panic. We are becoming victims of digitally fuelled fears that can spread online, like cognitive epidemics. At the same time, the increasing networking of life and work means that we are increasingly unwilling or unable to do without our mobile devices. It seems as if we have created an echo chamber of our longings and fears with digitalization, which permanently challenges us. I think many people today have already become aware of the constant echo of the digital echo. It is clear that digitisation not only liberates and empowers, but also restricts and limits.

The human longing for balance

The human being basically seems to strive for a balance between individual and society in order to be able to react to deep alienation experiences. In this context, the sociologist Hartmut Rosa coined the term “resonance”, which for him is even one of the basic needs of human beings. In the meantime, we no longer speak only of a need for resonance, but of a whole needy society: The resonance society! How do we create the counterweight to our digital echo chambers – how do we go into resonance?

Opposed to flat thinking? Careful!

If you google the term mindfulness, you get about 122 million hits. Mindfulness has become a star, a mega trend. It has made it onto the covers of major magazines and even became the founding idea for magazines like Flow. In the same way that digitalization once connected life and work, the counter-trend of mindfulness is doing so today: in many German companies, mindfulness and emotion trainers are already displacing hordes of management consultants. In a working world run by robots, the future belongs to professions with emphasis on empathy and creativity. It has long been recognized that in the digitization debate – which today is often conducted in connection with artificial intelligence – technology must not be the focus of attention.

It is not about the Internet of things, it is about the Internet of people. No longer should technology determine our lives, but our lives should determine technology – and thus also the economy. Mindfulness overruns technologies – Meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace are all the rage. Wherever you go, more and more people are breathing, buying, eating, communicating and living attentively. There are so many counsellors for a better life that they are already offering each other their counselling services.

This psychological trend has its counterpart in the physical world: minimalism is becoming a life principle for more and more people today. Living in Tinyhomes, bartering instead of buying and free time instead of a full-time job is a desirable goal in life for many today. The minimalist communities exchange information on the net worldwide and continuously increase their number of followers. Against the background of a growing world population and dwindling resources, this trend is certainly still in its infancy.

Digitisation is creating a completely new movement

The fluid-digital reality of our epoch has given people a special gift: grateful serenity, anchoring in the present, reconciliation with the past and an optimistic view into the future has become the motto of many people. Very few people today can still make sense of the “no-future trend” of the eighties of the last century: Living instead of hoarding, stability instead of growth and a thinking in possibilities – positivism – these are the maxims that will gradually establish themselves in the middle of society and determine our future. This serenity should not be confused with the absent ignorance of days gone by. It is not about self-righteousness, but about the connection to oneself in a global and just world. The possibilities for realised utopias have never been as good as they are today.

A small but noisy minority of the population is swearing about digital

Critics of this trend may at this point certainly speak of the excitement moralism in the filter bubbles of social media. I would like to call this one: These people are not the majority – they are just a digitally present minority – a ridiculously small but noisy minority one would say in the analogue world. According to the studies of Stephan Neubaum from the University of Koblenz-Landau and Shira Dvir Gvirsham from the University of Tel Aviv, the majority of people in social media even belong to the digitally silent discussion mufflers.

Most people are digitally relaxed

The majority practice active digital serenity. She has her own opinion, which she doesn’t constantly blurt out into the digital world. She is sovereign and does not flail around in the digital media driven by affect. She does not have to prove anything to anyone because she has started to look inside – to be faithful to herself. Authenticity and self-realization are the concepts that increasingly determine our lives. The path is the goal – the attentive introspection provides answers to the really important questions: Who am I – how do I want to live? What is my place in the world? What kind of world do I want to live in? These questions were of course also elementary in the past to define an identity. But today, the answers meet a huge global digital networked world full of possibilities and like-minded people.

Unstoppable: Connectedness with everything and everyone!

The counter-trend of mindfulness is already spreading through all social classes today and cannot be stopped. Historically, social countermovements have always been established when a technology threatened to dominate people’s lives. Digitisation has taken hold and changed the world globally. Their counter-movement heralds post-capitalism in quiet and attentive breaths: And this – through the digitization itself – rapidly and worldwide!

For me there are some reasons to hope that we humans can become smarter and better than we have ever been in our history.




“I love myself!” – this is the quietest, simplest and most powerful revolution ever. Nayyirah Waheed

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