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RAY APPEN
Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarden but forgot before college
Life in the digital age

by Ray Appen

January 29, 2012

My wife Christina asked me the other day if I wanted to take a meditation or yoga class with her. I said "probably not, because I already have my own meditation that's what I do when I run and when I swim."

I think, though, I actually may take her up on it I am lucky that she would want me to join her. That being said, it started me thinking.

When I swim early in the mornings (at the YMCA), I transport myself a thousand miles away from Alpharetta and then another thousand in the water. I never know where I will go or end up. Frequently while I swim, I inadvertently put a few of the puzzle pieces together see a few links, understand a few causations just enough usually to get a slightly larger view of the world around me.

Or sometimes I just get more confused or often both. Most of the time when that light bulb goes off in my brain, it burns brightly for a few moments, then fades back to black as I reach the wall at the end of the pool, turn and head back the other way.

Talking with my youngest child, the 15-year-old, more often than not has taken on a similar orientation as my swimming in the sense that our conversations frequently turn into small ignitions of knowledge or ideas with me learning from him.

I've always sort of agreed with that popular idea that, "All we need to know about life, we learned in kindergarten." But yesterday, I think it dawned on me that our knowledge is greatest at that time and simply decreases steadily the older we get.

That is, we unlearn what we once knew as we age. That is a common theme in literature turning the world upside down writing about children with the sensibilities and wisdom of adults, juxtaposed with adults behaving and thinking like children and worse.

Most of what I learn from Carl is usually about technology, the Internet or today's culture. For example, this week he mentioned something about "Anonymous," which I decided to check out.

I was aware of it, but it wasn't what you would call "on my radar screen." Talk about stepping into a rabbit hole. Google "anonymous" and read the Wikipedia (group) explanation. It may help explain in a sense how and why the "Occupy" and "Arab Spring" movements occurred and are connected. Both were driven by unrestricted access to information. (There goes my small brain trying to put the pieces together again.)

Much of what I learn from Carl is frequently a near revelation. The ideas, thoughts, apps and knowledge that seem so earth-shaking to me are but passing and effortless ideas and routine stuff to him.

What I struggle mightily to understand, he just seems to absorb naturally. It is the same way with his older brother Hans, who works with us at the paper.

I feel like every day I am losing ground in almost every possible way relative to what is happening with technology and on the Internet, while every day Carl absorbs and processes more and more new information at the same rate that I am losing it or perhaps faster.

And I think it is not that he is so smart, even though he is quite smart. It is because he is young and his brain uses a more current and faster operating system than mine. Simply, it is a better mousetrap, or at least a more evolved one.

So I am not sure what I am going to do to start catching up, and I am not even sure if that is possible.

Wait. Actually, I met someone this morning who told me about a software program called GOM, which is a digital book reader and a video player that actually speeds up the content so that your brain begins to learn how to process things faster as you use it. Right.

So anyway, one of my favorite ideas about the impact that the Internet and all this technology is having on us is found in a book called "Free" by Chris Anderson who also is the Editor of Wired magazine.

In "Free," Herbert Simon, renowned organizational theorist, is quoted: "In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information it consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of the recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."

Smart guy.

If you Google that string, you can read about "attention economics" if you wish. Right.

We're living in a different world today. The nature of "change" is even changing. Having almost complete access to more information and being more connected than the world has ever known is creating many opportunities and benefits. But they all come with a cost, and it's a cost that changes every minute.

The impact of it all will be enormous and probably not imaginable to us today. So hang on, we're in for wild ride that is, if you can pay attention long enough to notice.