Acclaimed author and marketing guru Seth Godin tells a yarn about a chap riding in a train back in the day in Spain.
He notices that the famous artist Pablo Picasso is sitting across from him. After a while, he builds up the courage to speak to him. He asks, “Señor Picasso, you’re a great artist, but why is modern art so screwed up? Why don’t you paint reality instead of these distortions?”
Picasso pauses for a while before answering, “So what do you think reality looks like?” The chap grabs his wallet and takes out a picture of his wife, “Here, like this, this is my wife”.
Picasso takes the photo, looks at it and grins. “Wow, she’s very small. And flat, too”.
More and more, we’re tending to view the world in which we live through a screen.
The default work mode of the modern ‘knowledge worker’ is to type, to click and to scroll and view the results on the bright screen in front of them. That’s where many of us try to get our work done.
We have developed a tendency to check the screen first, expecting the ‘truth’ to lie in what we find. How many of us have checked a weather app on our phone rather than going outside to see what the sky looks like?
Of course, we have the same problem as Picasso’s fellow train passenger. Our version of reality can be quite small, and flat.
When we step back and think about it, it’s obvious that our ‘digital first’ lifestyle is giving us a filtered view of reality. What we see and experience is conditioned by the characteristics of the devices we use and the design of the applications that run on them. Also, how we communicate via these digital channels is adapted to suit the platform. But when we are in the working moment, it just feels like reality.
Aside from the downsides of only having a filtered view, which removes so much useful nuance, there is also a psychological price to pay as the tendency is to narrow our horizons, shrink our world and adopt more of a closed mindset.
I’m not suggesting we dump all of our digital appliances (although it is useful to be screen free on a regular basis), nor that we spend all of our time outdoors (although that too is important for our physical renewal), but your present and future wellbeing does depend on how well you manage your relationship with that small and flat ‘reality’.
Two approaches are helpful for you in this regard.
Firstly, make it a priority to build your awareness of the limitations of the digital workplace and lifestyle.
Awareness is a resource that you can invest in by continually asking, “Is this really as it seems?” The version of reality that we often dwell in tends be less generous and compassionate than what’s going on in the minds and conversations of other people.
Then, work proactively to change your filters as often as you can. Break the cycle of always doing things in the exact same way. Change the format, where that’s possible. Disrupt patterns by experimenting with different approaches. Add new colours into an established view (both metaphorically and literally).
How you view the world largely determines the quality of your experience within it. Look after yourself by opening up that view.