Flat Screenery

by Peter Paul Gerbrands | June 16, 2019

I started to write this blog at the train sta­tion when I saw all the peo­ple look­ing at their screens. I could only awe at the genius of Thomas Fried­man, who already years ago con­cluded that the world is flat again. Look­ing over mul­ti­ple plat­forms, only one con­clu­sion was pos­si­ble: we live in a flat screen soci­ety. A two-dimen­sional approach to more dimen­sions and a two-axis way to inter­pret and store infor­ma­tion. We are caught in, if not addicted to, tech­nique. By tech­nique, I do not just mean tech­ni­cal instru­ments, but also the struc­tures and con­struc­tions that allow us to under­stand the world in a par­tic­u­lar way.

Obvi­ously, when using a flat screen in this way, it gives rise to flat screen think­ing and feel­ing, if not flat screen being. 

Some­thing that is both a dan­ger and an oppor­tu­nity at the same time.

The dan­ger comes from mis­taken your struc­tured world view, your instru­ment, your tech­nique for the real­ity, instead of a tool that you use to work with the reality.

If we mix those up some­thing strange always hap­pens, we get fas­ci­nated, hooked, addicted. And we start to adapt our obser­va­tion skills to the tool. Again: we start to pre-sort­ing infor­ma­tion to fit in the para­me­ters of the tech­nique if we no longer view it as an instru­ment. And this means we can­not clearly view the impact of our deeds or non-deeds have on our con­text, our orga­ni­za­tion or indeed the world.

The oppor­tu­nity is when you have instru­ments that are able to deal with all he struc­tural infor­ma­tion, with all the tech­ni­cal appli­ca­tions, you have time and space for some­thing else. 

It is not the flat screen itself that has such a fas­ci­nat­ing influ­ence over us, but the under­ly­ing call from the future trans­lated in skills from the past. We even go fur­ther in say­ing that this addic­tion to our flat screen, so clearly vis­i­ble all over the world, comes from this real exis­ten­tial impulse, to be con­nected, chal­lenged, cre­ative, influ­en­tial. But, unfor­tu­nately, is mostly caught in the sta­tic nature of the basic need trans­la­tion of dynamic impulses. 

There it is in a nut­shell. The con­tent of the book Markku and I are work­ing on. How do we get from basic need tech­niques to dynamic skills?

Strong dri­vers that have cre­ated a view of the world and a soci­ety that is solely there to ful­fill our needs from food, shel­ter, under­stand­ing, belong­ing, sat­is­fac­tion, plea­sure and self-actu­al­iza­tion. These dri­vers were designed to enable us to take care of our basic needs in the world. They gave us a struc­tural, ‘orga­ni­z­able’ or tech­ni­cal view of the world, because this was the most effi­cient way to orga­nize our life, soci­ety, the world as a struc­ture of basic need providers. 

They have been mov­ing us for­ward to a way of life that tries to achieve the ful­fill­ment of those needs. Noth­ing more and noth­ing less and it has given us much to be proud of and happy about.

It also has sat­u­rated our life com­pletely and influ­enced our infor­ma­tion intake in such a way that we view our life-style and the orga­ni­za­tion of our soci­ety, includ­ing our ‘bio­log­i­cal’ habits, as life ought to be. 

In other words, it takes an effort to think, feel and live out­side of the basic need focused world we have created.

The smart­phone is almost the para­mount of basic need design­ing, we have the world in our hand. It per­fectly fits with the basic need habit of pro­cess­ing of infor­ma­tion based on per­sonal or tribe ben­e­fit. This gain­ing, hav­ing and con­trol­ling, get­ting grip on infor­ma­tion by fit­ting it in to a model or mold, has given us a struc­tural under­stand­ing of live and nature. A won­der­ful achievement.

The prob­lem arises, when this struc­tural and tech­ni­cal under­stand­ing is con­fused with fun­da­men­tal and exis­ten­tial understanding. 

Have you ever noticed that all the tech­ni­cal designs are sta­tic by nature? And that we have to adept to them instead of the other way around? Have you noticed that you have to trans­late your obser­va­tions into the para­me­ters of the man­age­ment infor­ma­tion sys­tem, thereby los­ing the vital ele­ments of your obser­va­tion? Most frus­tra­tion I have seen in orga­ni­za­tions or in soci­ety comes from this coer­cion of struc­tures, pro­grams, schemes, laws and frame­works, because they are sta­tic. They are not able to adept to the dynamic of live and the ver­sa­til­ity and unique­ness of human beings.

Image of flat panel with a picture of a person in a space

The instru­ments we use, for exam­ple a phone or an infor­ma­tion sys­tem, stim­u­late our belief and need to get a grip on the world. This is all due to the sta­tic ten­dency in basic need dri­vers and this ten­dency is found, in the roots of every­thing we cre­ate with this mind-set includ­ing tech­nique. Sta­tic inner and outer activ­ity, has the ten­dency to become pre­dictable, stereo- and arche­typ­i­cal and there­fore eas­ily trans­lated into appar­ent dynamic real­ity. The dynamism you expe­ri­ence a flat-screen has to be ‘faked’ by con­stant “chal­lenges”, argu­ments, very basic sen­ti­ments, renewed and per­pet­u­at­ing infor­ma­tion or images that sug­gest move­ment or sto­ries and state­ments that sug­gest inter­ac­tion. Because all motion comes from the same source, it is not going to ful­fill the deeper impulses to be con­nected, chal­lenged, cre­ative and influ­en­tial. It can give a cer­tain amount of sat­is­fac­tion, but it has to be repeated in ever larger doses to keep it effec­tive­ness. Still it might give us the feel­ing we are on top of things, we are hav­ing fun, we are in con­trol, even in the lead, when we are using a tech­nique. It is a dis­ap­point­ment when it proves to be an illu­sion, not last­ing and some­times a shock when it has larger unfore­seen effects. And we have to be hon­est in admit­ting, that the basic needs world view is not capa­ble of over­see­ing a whole liv­ing system.

This may sound as a rejec­tion of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy or tech­niques, but it is not. Because if there is a real dynamic life under­neath it, the sug­ges­tion of dynamism is no longer nec­es­sary and a smart phone for instance, becomes a very pow­er­ful tool for change. Tech­nique and the tech­ni­cal world-view belongs to the basic needs era and it works well if it serves the basic needs of all. Our technical/scientific under­stand­ing of the world could well be the right plat­form to sup­port our next endeav­our. For human beings, for the world as a whole, the basic needs era is a phase in the dance of mas­ter­ing the com­bi­na­tion of the two cre­ative forces: cor­re­la­tion and differentiation.

On the other hand, we have seen just as much fear and anx­i­ety, if we stim­u­lated peo­ple in orga­ni­za­tions to let go of all these struc­tures, believe sys­tems and ‘cer­tain­ties in life’. They went as far as ‘play­ing’ to dis­cover new infor­ma­tion, because it had no direct con­se­quences. Embed­ding this newly learned infor­ma­tion or skill in a sys­tem or struc­ture is an entirely dif­fer­ent thing.

Struc­tures, orga­ni­za­tions or tech­ni­cal sys­tems in par­tic­u­lar, have dif­fi­culty with the dynamism of infor­ma­tion, the dynamism of life, because it dif­fers fun­da­men­tally from our present ten­dency to break down all our obser­va­tions into sta­tic images, struc­tures, believes and sys­tems. The nice thing is al the sta­tic infor­ma­tion, has given us rel­a­tive safety, secu­rity and pros­per­ity. We also have to hon­est about the dev­as­tat­ing impact on our planet and fel­low species our life style has. And even here the belief is strong that the very lifestyle and its prod­ucts that cre­ated these chal­lenges, will solve the prob­lems in the end.

Any idea, inven­tion or plan can only cre­ate or inno­vate what it is based on, what it believes. And our cur­rent world-view, it is very much based on per­sonal or tribe well-being and mostly ruled by the fear of or the real short­age of basic needs. It is an ugly thing to see how self-inter­est or com­bined self-inter­est is a most coer­cive and harm­ful. It is even more impres­sive to observe is how addic­tive hav­ing too much basic needs and how dev­as­tat­ing short­age of basic needs has become. 

It has lit­tle to do with good or bad but with the ques­tion: Are the deeds you do or not do based on basic needs motives or on some­thing that is more fun­da­men­tal. What is this more fundamental?

Most peo­ple want to do good with all their heart. From this good­ness comes the real exis­ten­tial impulse, to be con­nected, chal­lenged, cre­ative and influ­en­tial. Why? They want to con­tribute, if they were not pinned down by basic need cares and basic need oblig­a­tions they would do so. 

More accu­rate: In our cur­rent life-style sys­tem to be con­nected, chal­lenged, cre­ative and influ­en­tial, is over­whelmed by our basic need skills. We are trained in pre­dictable con­trol and scripted behav­ior to be able to act. If the infor­ma­tion is more com­plex, too much, unfa­mil­iar or deep, we usu­ally react in an even more con­trol-like and coer­cive fash­ion. Every­thing is stream­lined and struc­tured: the more we orga­nize with tech­nol­ogy and the tech­ni­cal mind­set, the more oblig­a­tions and lia­bil­i­tieswe seem to have. By far most of us are busy with the com­mit­ments of plea­sure, self-actu­al­iza­tion or even sur­vival when using our phone in a train station.

Image of flat panel with a picture of a person in a space

A friend was vis­it­ing a school to observe their ‘method­ol­ogy’ in math­e­mat­ics because of their out­stand­ing results. The pupils had to study frac­tions. Their assign­ment was as fol­low­ing: You have seven chop­sticks divided them in a friendly way between two peo­ple, you have to find the solu­tion in your work-group and you have to make a pre­sen­ta­tion of how your group came to your answer. My friend was amazed about the dif­fi­culty of the task because this were young chil­dren. And quite frankly irri­tated by the remark “in a friendly way”, which he thought highly sub­jec­tive and also that there was not given any indi­ca­tion about time of manor in which to present an answer.

But the pupils did not seem to mind, they worked actively and with full attention.

My friend also had to work hard. He said he con­stantly had to move away from all his ideas about edu­ca­tion because of what he saw was going on: some­thing which he later described as active learn­ing. He also noticed that the teach­ers did noth­ing to help but were very atten­tive and obser­vant. Even when he could clearly see that one group did not do very well, the teach­ers sim­ply let the boys and girls struggle. 

Of the pre­sen­ta­tions my friend later said that this was the defin­ing moment for him to under­stand the dif­fer­ence between learn­ing and teaching.

These were the solu­tions they came up with: Give each of them three, but the fourth chop­stick you are only given every other week. Give each of them three and give the sev­enth away. Get another chop­stick. You only need two chop­sticks so let the other three be. And of course, break the sev­enth into two halves. But it has to be said that this last solu­tion was not approved by most of the chil­dren, because you can­not eat with half a chopstick.

And then the teacher said some­thing pro­found:” that is true, but we use frac­tions in arith­metic if we have to break the whole down into pieces to be able to do some­thing with it.  You are able to share it or join it in a dif­fer­ent way. And for some things that works and for oth­ers it does not. So some­times it is a handy tool. Can you give me an exam­ple of what you can break down to use it?”

You can imag­ine the answers. My friend thought this was excel­lent teach­ing. But it had not fin­ished because now the groups had to tell how they came too an answer. Those lit­tle reflec­tions of the chil­dren telling about their col­lec­tive think­ing were won­der­ful, he said: “I had not pre­vi­ously known that chil­dren were so obser­vant”. It became clear that the dif­fi­cult group, that actu­ally came up with break­ing the chop­stick in half, did not had a col­lec­tive intel­li­gence process at all. One boy already knew how frac­tions worked and told the oth­ers this was the answer and left lit­tle room for any alternatives. 

The teacher asked every group:” What did you learn?” Among them­selves that had learned a lot of the prin­ci­ples of “frac­tions” and “whole”, allo­cate and join, which cre­ated an open­ing for learn­ing the tech­nique, was my friend’s con­clu­sion. The dif­fi­cult group started to men­tion all kind of social-emo­tional things. “It made it very clear to me that there was learn­ing, but not about frac­tions” my friend said, when he dis­cussed it with the teach­ers at the end of the day. But one of them said laugh­ing that in this case it did, because the group had frac­tioned.  I thought this was very accu­rate under­stand­ing of the aware­ness of the whole, but my friend found it far-fetched. He had greatly enjoyed the school visit and it changed his whole approach to edu­ca­tion. “I really had to re-invent myself”, he said. “they some­how pro­vided fun­da­men­tal learning.” 

My friends under­stand­ing was: You need to be able to learn, before you can be taught. And learn­ing is always activ­ity of the learner mak­ing a con­nec­tion to the prin­ci­ples of what can be learned. I know quite a few schools that are start­ing to explore this prin­ci­ple and the Finnish edu­ca­tion sys­tem for instance, has embraced most of it. Obvi­ously, a born teacher does stim­u­late learn­ing at all times, but most of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem is about teach­ing because that is the only thing you can mea­sure with tech­niques like exam­i­na­tion.  It is also the only thing that is going to con­tribute to the econ­omy. Econ­omy the great­est prod­uct of basic need think­ing and believ­ing. Most of us were edu­cated to get a job, to find a place in the econ­omy. I am say­ing that it is a ter­ri­ble start­ing posi­tion because of its uni­lat­er­ally. It had just the teach­ing side in mind. It pro­duces good results, even excels in a sys­tem dom­i­nated by basic needs cri­te­ria. But in the past few decades we slowly begin to see the impact of the dri­vers behind our edu­ca­tion sys­tem on soci­ety and planet. My teacher friend said to me: ”Not only edu­ca­tion itself, it also it the world-view of par­ents”. And my ham­mered in world view, I would add, I am just start­ing to under­stand the ‘new’ skills we need to learn. 

Image of flat panel with a picture of a person in a space

For the con­tent of the blog my insight after hear­ing the story was: Before you are able to use a tech­nique, you will have to have a con­nec­tion to the prin­ci­ples, the spirit behind it, on which the tech­nique is based. It does not mat­ter if this is a cal­cu­lus, a smart­phone or a project man­age­ment tool. Tech­niques can only serve you as tools, if you have your own con­nec­tion to the roots and prin­ci­ples that cre­ated the tool. Not how it is made, but why it is made. 

My being has to be con­nected to deeper mean­ing behind the think­ing, that cre­ated the tech­nique, to be able to use it in lib­er­at­ing way. I know, for our basic need skills this is a very abstract sen­tence, we want to have an exam­ple, we want an expla­na­tion, we want good teach­ing…… But for our dynamic skills, it is a nice exer­cise. Because learn­ing is acti­vat­ing a dif­fer­ent part of our­selves than the ones we are using when we are taught. 

Any­way, under­stand­ing of being is not a fixed, fac­tual know­ing (as tool under­stand­ing is), it is a con­stant dynamic learn­ing.  But if we do not have an indi­vid­ual con­nec­tion to the roots of a tech­nique, it is not uncom­mon to lose our­selves in power and coer­cion of tech­niques. Many experts have this dif­fi­culty. We will become depen­dent and some­times even addicted to it, with all the rec­og­niz­able symp­toms. The tech­nique is using us. We become our tech­nique and in this there is no future. No way out of a flat-screen once you are caught in it.

The impor­tance of the dif­fer­ence between teach­ing and learn­ing can­not be overstated.

We have to develop stronger sense of being then we already have to be able to move away from the coer­cive impact that tech­ni­cal sys­tem like gov­ern­ments, insti­tu­tions, our take on life, the “con­trol” of nature, etc. have over us. Learn­ing is the skill to con­nect to the “being” of all that is. So that we can use those accom­plish­ments for the well-being of all.

Teach­ing is about tech­niques. Learn­ing is about, where things came from, what the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples are and why peo­ple start using them.  Teach­ing can be done by teach­ers, learn­ing I do myself. 

The result of too lit­tle learn­ing is, tech­niques are fre­quently mis­taken for indis­putable facts, for truths, for “this is how it is” instead of “this is our cur­rent tool to deal with the real­ity”. That is quite a dif­fer­ence, because if we see a tech­nique as a tool, it is there to serve us in any given sit­u­a­tion, it can change, it is adapts or we can use some­thing entirely dif­fer­ent is that is more effective. 

If it is not a tool but fact of live, a fact of being, then I have to adapt then I have to learn to work with it, con­nect to it and let its pur­pose flow through me. For instance: dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is a fact of live, hier­ar­chy is a tech­nique; obser­va­tion is a fact of live, knowl­edge is a tool; cre­ative dynamism is a fact of life, reli­gion is a method­ol­ogy; love is fact of live, being in love is a tool; bal­ance is a fact of life, account­ing is a tool; cor­re­la­tion is a fact of life, rela­tion­ship is a tech­nique; equi­lib­rium is a fact of life, laws are a method­ol­ogy; har­mony is a fact of life, cal­cu­lus is a tech­nique; indi­vid­ual being is a fact of life, self-actu­al­iza­tion is a method­ol­ogy etc. 

Con­nect­ing to these “beings and mean­ings” is a flu­ent, con­stantly chang­ing thing. We are actu­ally very good at it, if we allow our­selves to step into this dynamic.

How­ever, it is not with­out con­se­quences. If we fol­low pro­ce­dures, rules, sys­tems, orders when the real­ity in fact is ask­ing for some­thing else, we are dimin­ish­ing our capac­ity to deal with dynamic sit­u­a­tions. And we start to dis­like dynamism, place it in the cor­ner of sur­vival, were changes are dan­ger­ous and dif­fer­ent or unknown might be poten­tially harmful. 

Rules, method­olo­gies, struc­tures or pro­ce­dures are designed to behave, feel and think within a cer­tain pre­de­ter­mined and mostly two-dimen­sional frame­work. In such an approach to life, all dynamic ele­ments are framed and fixed in order to fit in sta­tic under­stand­ing. They are not designed and equipped to deal with a dynamic sit­u­a­tion. Whether we like it or not, get­ting used to a very struc­tured lifestyle, that is lit­tle con­nected to the fine­tuned and inter­con­nected dynamism of live, is harm­ful for our­selves and others. 

But these triple loop facts are dif­fi­cult to observe in a struc­tured world­view, where all infor­ma­tion is reduced to lin­ear cause and effect think­ing. Where I am used to act only, if the change is directly threat­en­ing my sta­tic sta­tus. We hon­estly should ask the ques­tion: what has been the effect of impos­ing a sta­tic men­tal­ity on the dynamic inter­ac­tive nat­ural sys­tem of our planet?

We have been taught so well, we find it dif­fi­cult to learn. Teach­ing is about mak­ing you accept and deal with the ‘facts’, almost always pre­sented in a sta­tis­tic pack­age that strives for cer­tainty, safety and sta­bil­ity. It is the per­fect basic need devel­op­ment. Teach­ing brought us a lot, the increase of knowl­edge through adap­tive under­stand­ing of which tech­nol­ogy is a high­point. But of course, it invents accord­ing to its own nature, try­ing to bring the dynamic real­ity within sta­tic dimen­sions and screens, then mar­vels at the unfore­seen effects on life and people. 

Progress over a long period of time has been sign­posted by tech­ni­cal inno­va­tion to help us to pros­per. We see this devel­op­ment going hand in hand with mas­ter­ing of our basic needs. A period also defined by the shadow-side of tech­nique become more appar­ent as our tech­ni­cal knowl­edge increased.  It is a typ­i­cal basic need dri­ven belief that the next gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple or tech­nol­ogy will solve the prob­lems that the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple and tech­niques cre­ated. In spite of the fact that the last few ages have shown quite the oppo­site. It is how we see the future: a pro­jec­tion of the solved prob­lems of today in an effort­less par­adise of plea­sure and per­sonal well-being. This belief makes it dif­fi­cult to accept that our planet is ask­ing us to change our view on life and world as a basic need provider.

Tech­nol­ogy might free us up from the oblig­a­tions of basic needs ful­fill­ment in future, pro­vided we human­ize it. Tech­nique (in the sense we used the word in the blog) itself can never bring us in the next phase of exis­tence as human beings, what­ever long­ing, desire and fas­ci­na­tion we project in our instru­ments, nor can it dimin­ish its shadow side of coer­cion and addiction.

We can do both, if we learn to mas­ter the dynamic skills, we already have start using, in a much more active and con­scious way. These skills include: aware­ness on the impact of our deeds and non-deeds on the whole (what do we con­tribute?), aware­ness of the beauty of the equi­lib­rium of exis­tence( have we shared equally?), aware­ness of the liv­ing ele­ment forms and struc­tures we make (do they pro­vide  qual­ity live and liv­ing?) and aware­ness of ease (do our actions give free­dom and understanding?). 

We need to learn those skills to be ready for our next task: tak­ing care of the world and all the life on it. 

Instead of going back to become two-dimen­sional beings our­selves, caught in cause and effect, we should take the step to become four dimen­sional: con­nected, chal­lenged, cre­ative and influ­en­tial. The world is no longer flat, it has granted us three-dimen­sional aware­ness for ages. Now it is time to access a fourth dimen­sion: the future. Con­nect­ing to the future how­ever, is up to us.