Pruning the Internet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ms. Shlain: ...I love what you just said about character in terms of the internet evolving, that we proactively can evolve the internet and infuse it with character strengths. That is really a framework to think about a healthy evolution of the internet, instead of throwing your hands up and saying this thing is out of our control, and it’s doing all these things. We — just as we’re raising a child, we need to shepherd this to its maturity, and infuse it with our own sense of character.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You talk about how a child’s brain and our brains are always pruning as we get older, and that what we pay attention to gets stronger, and what you pay attention to less gets pruned out.

Ms. Shlain: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And I think you’ve also suggested that, like the human brain, those of us who are adults now have lived through this thing, this phenomenon, landing in the middle of our lives, and in the middle of society, and really turning everything inside out in ways that are still playing out. But you’ve said there’s this possibility that once it has just proliferated, that it might begin to prune. But again, as you’re saying, it’s up to us what direction that takes.

Ms. Shlain: Absolutely. I think that’s incredibly empowering, too, if you think of it that way. And it’s exciting, if you think, wow, we’re at this point in human evolution and our civilization where you have this tool that’s creating a nervous system for the whole world, and we can shape it. And we can prune it. And we can strengthen things that are important, and weaken things that are not as important — or not good for society.

There’s so much — going back to the character, there’s so much science, neuroscience and social science, that’s backing up what we believed to be true. And what was so exciting to me about learning about Seligman and Peterson’s work, that they looked at character, virtues, and strengths all throughout cultures in history.

*                     *                     *

This is part of a conversation between broadcaster and author Krista Tippett, and filmmaker and author Tiffany Shlain, on the On Being podcast in March this year.

I loved how their conversation completely reframed the "digital is awesome" versus "digital is ruining our lives" debate that seems to be going on everywhere right about now.  Shlain is definitely pro-digital: she founded the Webbys (the digital version of the Oscars), for goodness' sake! But she and her family also practice a "tech shabbat," turning off all their devices for one entire day every week.

In this conversation, Shlain and Tippett talk about how the Internet is in its infancy, and about how we are in a position to help it grow in the direction that will turn it into its best self. Parenting. Pruning. And about how empowering that idea can be.

It's an incredibly inspiring and thoughtful conversation. If you feel stuck, like I do, between desire for the connections the Internet brings versus the desire to be more unplugged, I highly recommend a listen!