Noise is a sound that is loud or one that causes a disturbance or confusion. Noise may contain random fluctuations that obscure or do not contain meaningful data.

The World is Loud

Each time we turn on our smart phone, computer or television we turn up the volume. Usually voluntarily- we inundate ourselves with sound and sights that ten minutes later we can barely recollect or fully comprehend. I believe noise can be both auditory and visual and when not processed intentionally, creates dissonance and confusion.

Many people complain they are too busy to do the things they “want” to do; yet they seem to spend hours posting, sharing and skimming. Meanwhile their priorities from family to health to lifelong learning and spirituality are put on pause…because there “just isn’t enough time”.

Our recent Presidential election was a combination of noise louder and shriller than a rocket taking off and often looked a lot like a pixelated screen. Competing interests, fake news, waves of images and advertising, attack ads made such a racket that many folks felt they couldn’t hear themselves think much less talk about the important choice they were being called on to make.

Turn Off Noise, Turn On LifeMany people describe themselves as disconnected or sick of politics. I am not sure if I’ve spoken to anyone who liked the choices they had to vote for President. The election process itself seemed flawed to a lot of people and in speeches and talks I’ve given- the thing that seems to unite people from across the political spectrum is a common desire to change the “process”. I am sure, there are many perspectives on what that may mean in detail, but in the largest sense people seem to be saying “I want to be heard and trust what I see and hear”.

If we want to reclaim our political system the first thing we need to figure out is how to turn down the noise and transform it into more coherence and harmony. We need to reclaim our ownership of the system; for that to happen, each of us – need to change the way we “turn on” to the things that we interact with.

Mobile Collaborative Governance

In our book, Preparing For A World That Doesn’t Exist-Yet Rick Smyre and I introduce the concept of Mobile Collaborative Governance. Mobile Collaborative Governance recognizes that most people living in developed societies have access to vast amounts of information and engaged citizens could be organized to research future trends for better policy development. This is a first step in what people on the left and the right are calling for…a devolution of government from top down command and control leadership to bottom up collaborating. It’s not one or the other it’s and/both. We believe there is a role for facilitative leaders who are not afraid to engage the public and be strong leaders. Working with policy experts, citizens tutored in futures generative research and weak signal identification could become core parts of our elected representative’s policy teams. Complexity could be better examined and trust restored to a system that many people no longer feel is transparent or accountable; just as importantly, we can create communities of learning and practice that could be further connected into diverse ecosystems.

In a world that is increasingly complex, interdependent, interconnected and fast paced we need to radically change how we use our time and how we process information. On one hand, many things in societies across the globe are getting better – people are more prosperous, healthy and better educated than ever before and on the other hand many people feel less safe, secure and in control of our lives. I believe this a symptom of too much noise. We are listening and looking but not hearing and comprehending.

Do you know how to Turn off and Turn on?

From what I’ve learned looking at my own habits and with speaking and working with people there are five things we can do to lower the volume of the noise and turn up the quality of our lives:

  • Admit we don’t always know what we are doing- The recent election has demonstrated how we can all be fooled by “fake news” and manipulated by social and conventional media. We need to learn how to become more “informationally literate”. We need to double check our sources and use tools like Snopes and other fact checking engines, mindlessly sharing provocative stories is just that. I don’t think the media is the problem, we’re just now finding out that there are multiple ways to understand a perspective. We need to understand the context of the news source and add to it and not demonize who and what we don’t agree with.
  • Understand our bandwidth- We all have limits to our capacity to take in news and information. You have roughly sixteen waking hours that is filled with work and other responsibilities. Each moment is precious, be intentional about the media you want to see and hear. We cannot be an expert in everything; do be curious, but don’t lose the trees for the forest.
  • Practice better habits and seek out sounds that are different- Television news, Facebook and other social media have become really good at understanding both their own audience and using analytics they understand your own preferences in complex ways you likely do not. Take the time to both confound the big data gurus and learn about an issue from a completely different perspective. Look at a wide spectrum of news sources.
  • Talk to people about what we heard and saw- Nothing can replace sharing an insight with another person and having a thoughtful and open conversation about all sides of an issue. When we spend more time with a computer or other electronic device in search of knowledge we are limiting our possibilities and perspectives. Computers do not create wisdom; people have the power of judgement and insight (at least for the present moment).
  • Turn off and turn on- Many of us leave precious little time to actually process the information we take in. We absorb information all day long and into the night. The blue light of our devices can affect our sleep and thinking patterns. Leave some time for the twin pleasures of meditation or silence and free form contemplation. Turn on…intentionally and deeply. Skim the news that is of interest and focus on your core concerns. Does scrolling through 300 tweets make sense…really?

Future Shock

The great futurist Alvin Toffler wrote about “Future Shock” in which people literally shut down because there is too much change in too short of a time. In this moment, I believe massive parts of the developed and developing world is experiencing this kind of shut down. The great paradox of our age is the amazing possibilities that technology has ushered in and the resistance to many of the changes necessary to process the new technology and information that are transforming our lives. The present disorder and disruption is like surfing off the edge of a cliff for many people. Thrilling for a few and terrifying for most.

Second Enlightenment

As I see it, we have little choice but to engage this age that is characterized by the loud noise of tearing apart of the last bits of the industrial age and the construction of a new order that is taking form. The emerging future is unpredictable and chaotic but it is moving toward coalescence-that is the way of all complex adaptive systems. I call this emerging era…the Second Enlightenment or Integral Age. We need to figure out how to see through all the things dedicated to breaking our attention and focus on the things that provide meaning. We need to both decrease our negative impact on the planet and increase our ability to expand opportunity and wealth. So let us turn down the noise and turn on to more truths, more life and prepare to embrace a future that doesn’t exist…yet.