Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Complexity ...

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the fast paced world we live in has evolved to a  place where the average person finds "keeping up" to be a challenge. Keeping up with texts, emails, FB messages,status updates, tweets and of course...real life interaction with spouses, kids, coworkers and friends.News is reported by the minute on a 24 hr cycle and  there seems to be a societal expectation that we "must" keep pace with this whirling dervish we now call social media. It is as much a time suck as it is a useful tool and you must decide which one it will be for you. Having said all that, the thing that stands out for me the most about social media and the "real time" society we have created is the increasing level of complexity that is the result of this progress. Complexity that exceeds the boundaries of this post to be true. Just know that when you touch one shiny object hanging above your cyber-crib...it moves several more that are connected to the first and so goes the process of communicating and functioning in this brave new world. What some call a new found freedom, others would characterize as digital slavery. Alas, it is always our choice.

Complexity has crept in to our everyday lives almost in a stealthy way. Think back ten years ago and try to recall life without Face book, Twitter, texting and reality shows...well maybe fifteen years back for reality shows...but I relish the thought of a future without scripted spontaneity. What did you do with your time back in the days of the Techno-Luddites? Well, you likely watched more television (old school screen time) and according to my completely unscientific straw poll, the average person read more books and spent more time connecting with the world around them in real life. Now the need to update (minute by minute), connect,link and friend (as a verb) dominates our calendars.These trends have created multiple new dimensions through which human beings now communicate and the thing they all have in common is that they require effort to maintain.Time must be spent to ensure correctness, appropriateness, and timeliness of the messages we use. Then there is the threat of the dreaded hanging "is". It beckons us to bite the digital apple and succumb to a moment of self aggrandizement that can only be described as the modern sin of e-vanity.If we are honest with ourselves we must confess that much of what we push out in to the cyber-universe is shameless self promotion or contrarily, mundane information that neither informs nor interests our target audience. Yet, we still post when we probably should be exercising or reading a book.

It turns out that we have adapted and evolved to accept our new normal. With a price of course but  our society is now built around this new model of ever increasing communication that adds multiple layers of meaning, and of course the resulting complexity I mentioned earlier. It is driven by soft connections and linkages that don't mean as much to us as the time we give away to attain them. In a symbolic but rather meaningless gesture, I once gave away a bag of chips to celebrate my 200 th Face book friend, and somehow I felt obligated to mark the occasion. Odd really, but I guess being unconventional and novel fits with the new normal that is now our reality. The thing that makes this new way of being so challenging is that our 24 hr clock remained the same and I don't see that changing anytime soon. The peace I have made with the hydra is that I have resolved to manage it and not the other way around. Blackberry free days happen more often and I recently took a trip where I left the electronic leash in the car at the airport. Three days un-tethered from the Blackberry was something I had not done in years and I experienced peace, focus, intentionality and a drastically reduced sense of urgency - in Las Vegas!. If ditching the device can make a difference there,it can make a difference anywhere. It reminded me a little bit of, well...1985.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Canada Day...

Never one to miss a reflective moment, I couldn’t resist the opportunity this morning to consider what it means to be a Canadian on our nation’s 145th birthday. As I stepped out of the shower and wrapped myself in a gigantic Hudson’s Bay striped bath towel (no joke), that I received for Father’s Day, I was reminded of the importance of our nation’s symbols. The iconic Hudson Bay stripe pattern is as much a part of Canada’s history as the globally recognized image of the Canadian “Mountie” atop his trusty steed.  Granted both of these symbols are now controlled by foreign entities, Disney & Onex Corp., but this does not negate the fact that what we are really known for is the characteristics that our many symbols represent. Consider the industrious beaver, lumber jacks and hockey players. We are known for being hardworking, resilient and friendly. These images collectively tell an unwritten story about a country that many would argue is the greatest in the world. At the risk of sounding too modest (Canadian), I would have to say we are certainly among the greatest nations of our modern time. The UN consistently ranks Canada in the top ten of developed countries for our high standard of living. http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/. That is nothing to apologize for.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remembered how I used to inquire of my parents about why as Canadians we didn’t wave our flags like the American’s did on TV. My mother would answer with some sensible explanation about how our neighbors to the south were just more “patriotic” than we were as a country but not necessarily more proud. I never really understood patriotism in its proper context until I was old enough to know the difference between patriotism and jingoism. Still, I was at times jealous of our American neighbors with their fireworks, bunting and streamers celebrating every 4th of July like it would be the last one. During the Cold War that notion was not too farfetched for some and also a useful political device in crafting public opinion at the same time. I also remember the instructors of my youth telling me that as Canadians, one of our most distinguished characteristics was that, “We’re not like Americans”. This also bothered me and didn’t seem like a true identity. I wanted our nation to be known for who we were, not for who we weren't. Unlike the famous Canadian Marshall McLuhan, who said “Canada is the only country that knows how to live without an identity”, I believe we have solved that puzzle and agree instead with one of the greatest statesmen of all time, Sir Winston Churchill, who said, ” Canada, is the linchpin of the English speaking world.” I believe that statement to be even truer now than ever before.

Now decades later, we are waving our flags more and apologizing less … for being - if you will pardon the irony, “All that we can be”. This too is a good thing in my estimation. Canada plays a much more active role in international affairs and we are no longer described only in the context of our relationship to the U.S.A.   Some may argue that we have moved closer towards the images and ideals of our American cousins. I would argue that we just figured out how to be unapologetically Canadian, now that we are all grown up. National confidence is not jingoism. It’s a pre-requisite for greatness. This grand experiment we call Canada is now almost a century and a half old. With the last thirty years entirely under our own steam , in my opinion, we are now more than ever... all about who and what we are … and not at all defined by who or what we are not.  I’m proud of that and I hope you are too.

Happy Canada Day