The more the (world) changes the faster the value of what you know diminishes. Success hinges on the ability to partici¬pate in a growing array of knowledge flows – John Hagel, John Seeley Brown, Lang Davison
Success can be defined a number of ways. One important measure of success as we get older is the degree to which we maintain our independence.
To be fair, most of us are up to date in some aspects of our lives and we may even be the “go to guy” for some things or have someone to rely on for certain things. My brother Dan is my “go to guy” for everything iPhone – even before going online. Why him? Because he understands the problem from a perspective similar to mine and doesn’t talk over my head.
I don’t need to know everything the iPhone can do, but when I see people using cool features that seem like they could be useful, I want to learn how to take advantage of them. If I don’t, my smartphone isn’t very smart, it’s just a phone.
I’ve heard many people say that they don’t care; they just want to make and receive phone calls. But phones are so 20th century. Mobile phone, especially smartphones make up part of he context of the 21st century – being connected in rich ways. Not adapting means:
YOU miss out on experiences that could be relevant and meaningful to you.
YOU become less able to function independently in more and more situations.
What’s Singing Got to Do With It?
Well, here is a story that illustrates my point.
Recently I participated in the OLLI lifelong learning program titled “The Joy of Singing” taught by Lauren Carley. I had heard Lauren talk about her approach to teaching older adults to sing. This intrigued me because it seemed like a great why to embrace six of the seven themes I believe are essential for a rich and extended life. More about them in a coming post.
Lauren had written the words of three simple songs on a white board and proceeded to teach us the rhythm, variation in tempo and quickly got us singing. After a few minutes she stopped and said, “I want to point out what Marie is doing and want all of you to do the same. Marie used her phone to take a picture of the words but even more importantly, she is recording us singing. This is important so you can practice on your own between classes.”
One half of the class quickly got out our phones and put them to use. Some of the others said, I have a smartphone but don’t know how to record singing or play it back. About one third of the group sat there looking dazed – no smartphone and no know-how. Lauren quickly seized the opportunity by asking the people who didn’t know how use the record or camera feature to hold up their phone. Then she asked the “in-the-know” class members to help them get started. In minutes, smiles emerged and conversation started drifting to all things smartphone.
Lauren quickly refocused the class and offered a solution to those without smartphones. She asked Marie to email the photos and recording to them. She also explained that most PCs or Macs have a media player that would replay the recordings. I know that this will work and you probably do too! But the look on the faces of many of the non-smartphone people was fear or a sense of alienation. They want the joy that comes from singing but now were being made to feel “out-of-it.”
I’m not selling smartphones, I’m making a point about staying in the past without the mental and emotional resources to adapt. Adapting so one maintains self-reliance.
The point is that by not adapting, a person loses out on opportunities for meaningful experiences. You probably see how this relates to living in the past. Not adapting is a form of withdrawal or indifference, which works for a while. But, when the situation becomes relevant or meaningful, like recording the songs, it can produce anxiety – not just because you don’t get the song, but because it exposes your inadequacy to yourself. It confronts you with one more example of how you are living in the past and not able to enjoy the present.
This Can Be Intimidating
The rate of change and increasing complexity in today’s world can be very intimidating to many older adults. Well, you are not alone, it impacts everyone, and those who don’t adapt lose value at work and even in their social relationships – at any age.
How Much of What You Need to Know is in Your Head?
In 1987 Robert Kelley, a researcher at Carneige-Mellow University began looking into this issue.
In 1987 he ask a sample of employees, “how much of the knowledge that you need to do your job is inside your own head?” In 1987 the answer was 75%. We were reasonably independent back then.
By 1997 the answer was less than 20%. By 1997 the world was changing fast and becoming increasingly complex. We need to interact with more people just to do our job.
I don’t know if Kelley has tested people since then but I am sure you will agree that the world has continued to change rapidly and has become more complex, increasing the likelihood that more people will be living in the past and losing out on new opportunities and meaningful experiences.
Kelley was talking to people’s ability to do their job. Think about how much rapid and disruptive change impacts the average person.
The Social Solution
What happened in the singing class? Those who knew how shared their know-how with people who were equipped and eager to learn. Equipped with a smartphone and motivated because they had a meaningful reason to learn.
You don’t have to try to learn everything and keep it stored inside you own head, in fact, that is no longer possible. You do need be on the alert for situations and technology that will enable you to have meaningful and fulfilling experiences. And you need a social circle or online social network to help you with the know-how.
Hopefully, the non-smartphone people in the singing class see this as a motivator to get a smartphone and recognize the adaptive potential existing in rich and social connections that can be helpful in a non-threatening way.
Unfortunately, there is a slippery slope here. Those who feel “out-of-it” or alienated are also more likely not to have a social network with adaptive potential.
If you feel like you are slipping into the past, it might be a good time to cultivate a new social network.
To learn more about how to improve the quality of your life download, Everyday Ways for a Rich and Extended life.