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TechnoSpirit, the Future Cure for TechnoStress

by Dan Shoemaker, Mike Whitty and Tony Drommi

"I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper." --Pat O’Brien, 1940

Entropy—disorder within a system—isn’t just a notion belonging to the world of Physicists and Cosmologists. It applies to society as well. In fact, W.B. Yeats probably did a better job than Stephen Hawking does of connecting the impacts of entropy with the average person’s perception of life.


"Turning and turning in
the widening gyre.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."


Which is an awfully precious sentiment when you consider that the year was 1921. Back then technology was progressing at a rate of (maybe) one civilization-transforming advance a decade. Now, seventy-nine years later, try to imagine poor Yeats’ state of mind. You would have to have been in suspended animation to miss the continuous bombardment of technological change since then. So if entropy was a problem in 1921 consider how far things must have fallen apart by now. Back in 1970, Alvin Toffler called it Future Shock. Whatever the diagnosis, the symptoms are clear: mind numbing advances in technology accompanied by the stress of increasing competition with a much larger group of folks, who used to be kept out of the game by the constraints of distance. The result is a sense that civilization in general can’t seem to get its feet under it. Or in more precise terms, a state of general entropy exists in everything from the social fabric to business processes. The very apt term coined by Michelle Weil and Larry Rosen to describe this phenomenon is TechnoStress; and alleviating it is what this article is about.

TechnoStress: Bad Business

Pragmatists in the technology community may view this new term as one more brick in the Great Wall of PsychoBabble. If they do, they should consider the results of an exhaustive study published by Weil and Rosen (1999). In it they quantify the increasing resistance in the business world toward the use of technology. This study tends to substantiate the reports of disenchantment with technology that have come from authorities in other sectors. That includes the Nobel economist Robert Solow who characterizes the problem this way: "We see computers everywhere except in the productivity statistics." (Brynnjolfson, 1992) And according to Brynnjolfson this view has serious implications for technology’s future since, "Productivity is the fundamental economic measure of a technology’s contribution. Consequently, CEOs and line managers have increasingly begun to question their huge investments in computers and related technologies. While major success stories exist, so do equally impressive failures."
Another disquieting rumble comes out of a decade long study published in The Harvard Business Review (Roach, 1991 and 1997). It presents a very telling statistic.
During the 1980s, the sector that invested the least in information technology (manufacturing) achieved the greatest increase in productivity. The business sector with the highest investment (services) realized no gain at all. Roach calls this a "productivity paradox". In essence, there is an inverse relationship between the money spent on information technology and productivity. Weil and Rosen substantiate that problem with their study. They surveyed 2,228 full time employees of a cross-section of companies in Southern California. Their report describes the change in attitude toward technology among Clerical/Support Staff and Management/Executive groups at these companies. Each group was broken down into three types of attitudes (Eager Adopters, Hesitant "Prove-Its" and Resisters). Over time, the Clerical/Support Staff showed a decrease from 32% to 26% in the "Eager Adopters" group while Managers and Executives showed a drop from 42% to 28%.
Simply put: "Over a 43-month period, Clerical/Support Staff have become more hesitant and resistant toward technology while Managers and Executives have become more hesitant" (Weil and Rosen, 1999). And as far as anybody involved with technology is concerned that couldn’t be considered good for business.

Try a Little TechnoSpirit

As Weil and Rosen say "It is harder than ever to stay healthy, calm and sane in our rapidly changing technological world. Technology invades our personal space with intrusive sights and sounds." (Weil and Rosen, 1999) So how can we counteract its pervasive influence? Well, for one thing, with technology. That sounds like a very strange syllogism... Until you consider the vast community building and spiritual resources of the Internet.
If TechnoStress is so pervasive and pernicious, there might very well be a mandate to revive that age-old cure-all for any form of human distress: spiritual practice (or spirituality for short). Which means that the most effective antidote for TechnoStress might be a revival of and a heightened sense of TechnoSpirituality. A number of authors have suggested that this approach might be the best option for survival in the next Millennium. According to Michael Bauwens, "One of the fundamental aims of spiritual practice has been to extend human identities, to overcome feelings of separateness with the rest of mankind, nature, and the Cosmos. Some of the techniques of spiritual practices could be used to arrive at a more holistic view of technology. In that sense, the merging of man with technology could be seen as part of larger mystical task within the context of the universe." (Bauwens, 1995)
Mark Pesce, the inventor of VRML and one very hip ‘code kid’ (his words) has some interesting and sensible points to make about the concept of wholeness and community and the World Wide Web. "The Web is assuming the role of the collective mind of humanity, in the very specific sense of a storehouse of memories, histories, and factual knowledge; soon, all of our own ‘knowing’ will be in reference to it, rather than to a particular individual, or school, or culture." (Pesce, 1998) He concludes: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? The spiritual impulse, then, is more than a luxury to be cultivated by those so inclined; it is the only way to maintain our integrity in a coming age of unity, the link between the individual and a super-planetized (Teilhard de Chardin’s phrase) mankind. Beyond this, the Web transforms the entire culture of humanity, making its needs the cultural imperative. In the impossibly short space of four years, the cultural project of humanity—as a whole—has spontaneously self-organized, cutting across all boundaries." (Mark Pesce The Circle Round, 1998)
Although this lays out the path about as clearly as possible for a humanity that is being dragged kicking and screaming into a technological era that most perceive as not of their own making, let’s let Gregory Rawlins have the last word. Most of pop culture considers him to be the king of futurology (at least where the computer is concerned). So his thoughts regarding the future of humankind are particularly germane: "We, all of us, are part of the most thrilling adventure ever unleashed on planet Earth. Instead of looking backward in anger and fear, let’s look forward to the next dance step in the adventure we’re crafting for ourselves. A century or so from now, the earth may simply be the home world of a species rich and strange, a fiercely new and amazingly interesting species—-transhumanity. The human adventure is just beginning. Let’s dance." (G.J.E. Rawlins, Moths to the Flame, 1999)

Conclusion

There is one aspect of this piece that may need explaining, and that’s the quote at the front. It was chosen not so much because we are advocates of football (Detroit is Hockeytown), or Notre Dame (we are a Jesuit institution). We chose it to symbolize our message.
Rockne’s "Gipper" speech is a prime example of the active focusing of the concepts of community and spirit to motivate people to rise above themselves to overcome adversity. His little piece of locker-room mythology amounts to both a dandy definition as well as a matchless example of what we mean when we use the term TechnoSpirit. Nevertheless, one important caveat should be made. We are not talking about TechnoSpirit as if its domain is limited to any single culture, or element of society. By the power vested in us through the use of information technology, we have the potential to create a human state on the order of what Rawlins is talking about.
Wrestling with the concept of transhumanity is going to take a lot more time and space than we have here. So we simply offer the idea and leave it for others to discuss. But one final point ought to be raised. TechnoStress has gotten a lot of media play because it is a scary concept that most people can identify with. TechnoSpirit is a lot more amorphous. What you have here is the classic pessimist-optimist dichotomy. Technology, in-and-of-itself, isn’t bad. It is in the application of technology that people have the problem. We can either be run over by an out of control monster, or we can use it to raise ourselves up. The point is that the choice in every respect is ours. We will leave you with that thought.

 References available from New Renaissance.

The authors are teachers at University of Detroit Mercy, College of Business Administration. They can be contacted through: Box 19900 Detroit 48219 USA or mikewhitty@hotmail.com

The three authors have begun research into the relevance of spirituality to the future of technology. This essay is part of an interdisciplinary dialogue which seeks to put some soul into the computer. This paper (edited for New Renaissance) was initially read at the International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Meeting (2000). Contact mikewhitty@hotmail.com to join this futuristic, global dialogue.

 

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