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The Economist just published a story about a new alien life form they call "The Ood," who have two brains, one in their heads, the other carried around in their hand.  On elevators, public transport, and even at home, Oods notice little other than the brain they carry in their hand.  These screen-focused humanoids are in many ways isolated from each other.  And yet their devices empower them to play a game with or even hook up with countless others.  They do it impersonally with celebrity selfies and seemingly intimately in near-constant conversation with family and friends they might otherwise have lost.  Two billion Oods populate the world today, and there'll be 4 billion by the end of the decade.

Oods can download apps that empower them to do everything from timing a pee break not to miss the best parts of a movie to turning on their home alarm system.  But do their screen brains really enable them to connect in both of the ways that neuroscientists tell us are unique capabilities of human brains?

  Neuroscientist Iaian McGilchrist calls these two capabilities "the impersonal" and "the personal"  Our brains enable us to categorize, generalize, theorize, philosophize, count, correlate, predict, validate, replicate, and in other ways respond to what's around us (people especially) in instrumental ways (How many do I need?  Will this fit her?  Is he a frat-boy?  When will she show up again?).  These are powerful, useful capabilities.  They empower us to effectively hire, invest in, un-friend, target, evaluate, and adapt to others.  These are all impersonal capabilities.

AND the human brain is also hard-wired for personal connections.  We can sense others' feelings.  We can efficiently guess ("intuit") how they are likely to respond--some of us more effectively than others.  We can be aware of the ways we are aware of others--this is called being "reflective."  We can be present to another, bracketing our own agendas, attending exclusively to him or her here-and-now.  And most importantly, all these ways our brain empowers us to connect personally enable us to know another as unique, as distinctive and as un-reproducible as we each are ourselves.  

Both our impersonal and our personal capabilities are crucial to full human living.  Impersonal operations help us move through a lunch line, buy and use tickets, deposit and withdraw money, drive safely, and give to The United Way.  Personal operations can sometimes beautify all our impersonal tasks.  Most importantly, though, the personal powers of our brain empower us to enjoy a song, gasp in awe at our lover's beauty, feel gratitude for a favor, tear up in a supportive hug, and love.  Love this man, this woman, this parent, this child, this friend, this mentor or co-worker.  Love this unique one.  Grasping uniqueness is perhaps the human brain's greatest gift.

Our screen-brains obviously extend the reach of our impersonal operating in every direction, at every moment they remain in our hand--and charged.

What do these screen-brains do with and to our personal operating?  Since they're digital, ever faster (4g LTE) and always short-cutting (think Snapchat), their dominant default mode is impersonal.  But what about Face Time? Extended Facebook exchanges?  E-mail?  Skype?  

Savvy consumers of digital technology are reflective and mindful about their screen-brains.  At times, they exploit every convenience that apps offer and indulge their device's best pleasures.  AND they pay attention to technology's limitations.  They only hook up after considerable f2f time.  They break up in person.  They show love physically more than digitally.  They offer gifts with their hands and smiles.  They criticize and discipline behind a closed door.  They work out knotty design problems around a table.  They have "the talk" with their son or daughter while riding together in the car, washing dishes, or folding clothes.  They try never to forget that it's the personal capabilities of their brain that empower them to ask the question behind the question, smell fear, sense confusion, fully affirm excellence, offer touch when it's needed most.

There's nothing more important to the quality of your life than your relationships, and nothing more important to your relationships than your communication--how you listen and speak.  

The crushing and pervasive presence of technology has imbalanced most of our lives in impersonal directions.  Our human brains are hard-wired for both kinds of connections, and we spend most of our waking hours categorizing, generalizing, assuming, and defending our own understandings.  Oods do this all the time.

You have another set of capabilities.  They're already "in" you--in fact they already help make up who you are.  All you have to do is access them, make room for them, permit them to be more present in your life.  Especially when you're around people who matter, put down your screen-brain.  Even power it down.  Give the Other the sacred space in your world that she or he deserves.  Listen.  Be present.  Share with all the honesty that the situation permits.  Offer contact that is as personal as possible.



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