If you’ve been following any of my ontological musings, you know that our language is directly tied to the way we see the world and the way we see the world affects our possibilities in the world. In coaching we talk about our inner monologues a lot — the little voice that has been echoing the same language for so long we barely hear it anymore but we certainly operate from that belief system. Our language is also affected by our community, our culture, and our overall context. I’ve been noticing a trend in our culture that has seeped into all of our language lately – it’s the reverence for all things digital. We have elevated the value of all things digital as being modern… advanced… better. Are we losing our analog view of the world? And at what cost is this happening?
First, we need to address the “better”ness of digital over analog. I’m not sure how we came to the group conclusion that all things digital are “better” but for several decades now we’ve been discarding analog in favor of digital and creating some false perceptions of what we’re gaining. Often, people mistake digital to suggest greater accuracy. For the record, it’s actually the opposite. A digital world is limited to yeses and nos, ones and zeroes, ons and offs. It leaves no room for maybes. There’s no grey in the digital world. As a result, we have lost the precision of all that lies in between. The digital clock reads 9:03. But I’m not sure if we’re closer to 9:04 or if it just turned 9:03. But looking at its analog complement I can see the minute hand ever so slightly closer to the next hashed line on the face of the circle. Even on a sun dial, if I watch intently, I can see the shadow shortening. Or lengthening. We lose all of that context in the digital snapshot. Digital is NOT more precise. Yes, we can program more precision in but but by its very nature, digital is less precise. When programming our digital world we make a decision on how much precision we are willing to lose. Do we want to show nanoseconds or not? Our analog view gives us room to draw conclusions, though we are indeed limited by the lens with which we choose to observe it. Yes… we choose.
Another example… We have grown to appreciate the ease, portability, and cheapness of digital music by way of MP3s and before that, the digital recordings on compact disks. Remember magnetic tapes? We came to favor the reproducibility and longevity of these formats over the richness of vinyl, which offered not just the music recorded into bumps and jumps of the needle following a track on a rotating disk, complete with scratches and hisses and the dings created by time. But I think we all can appreciate and treasure that ephemeral but unquestionably valuable experience of live music, complete with the richness of risk and reward that comes with the possibility of flaws.
So there’s a point, where we are willing to give up on richness of possibility for simplicity and ease… and in our current cultural context, we have been habitually doing this without mindfulness. And as usual, that’s where the challenge shows up… in the habit… and then it starts to seep into our language and start to really affect our world. It’s when we start looking at our choices through a binary lens. We tend to look at the possibilities before us as being distinctly binary. I can have a career OR I can have a family. I can have a relationship OR I can be alone. I can be a perfect mother OR I am a total failure. We have a tendency to eliminate so many possibilities by focusing on extreme, all or nothing propositions. Life seldom makes good on these extreme promises and the result, regardless of the choice, is often a mood of disappointment or resignation. Our reverence for all things digital has resulted in a binary thought pattern that is limiting our possibilities to all or none, on or off. All the richness of what’s in between is slowly becoming lost.
But there’s another option. When I struggle over a dessert menu and can’t decide between the cupcake and the gelato, I like to say, “why say OR when I can say AND?” AND is freeing. It creates so much more possibility.
What if instead of I can have a career OR a family…. I could have a career AND that career supports my family goals. Or instead of I can have a relationship OR I can be alone… I can have a fulfilling relationship with others AND by completely secure and satisfied when I am alone. And perhaps we can reject the notion that I can be a perfect mother OR I am a total failure… in favor of… I can be a great mom AND a human who makes mistakes, has bad days, learns from them and teaches my children. The expansion of our language expands our possibilities into the analog range which is truly limitless. Now we have options!
When you do you notice that you’re slipping into a binary view of possibilities?
Restate your problem replacing the OR thought process with AND… For example: How can I do X AND still make Y true?
Generate possibilities for solutions. Enlist your network of support.