“Feeling must have rendered her numb.”

Mary Lawson


‘.. striking a balance between humans and machines … on one side biased and arbitrary human organizations and on the other, soulless technocracy based on unfeeling machines. There is a path.”

Mike Walsh


Far too often we say “the world has become more complicated.” No. it has not. It has simply become more complex.

Far too often we say “the world has become faster.” No. it has not. A minute is still a minute, an hour an hour and a day a day.

Far too often we do not talk about overstimulation, how we numb ourselves to certain things (as a personal defense mechanism and not under some nefarious reason) and the fact that the sheer amount of information we are bombarded with forces us to ‘self-ratio’ what we take in and what we assess and how we do both.

Far too often we start parsing out segments & aspects of what could be construed as part of the ‘overstimulation totality.” But. Here is the deal. Overstimulation, while we want to blame technology, is the combination of the medium, words, pictures, movement, symbols, associations, tone of voice, etc. received in totality. Individual elements, while interesting to debate, have no real meaning on their own. It is the totality in which we begin to re-ratio our attention, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and thoughts. This is compounded by the fact technology is so pervasive it is impossible to turn off – either directly (our own use/input stimuli) or indirectly (we are interacting with people who have extended their senses to link with technology).

This is important because many worthy ideas have been sacrificed at the altar of overstimulation.

In 1964 Marshal McLuhan (Understanding media: Extensions of Man) suggested the idea of numbness associated with the advent of a pervasive technology/media. The idea that as media propagated and became an extension of people it would impact our ‘ratio of things.’ In other words, we would have to choose to reorder what we thought about, how we thought about things and what we would do. Ultimately, should technology infringe too far as part of ‘extension’ we would purposefully numb ourselves simply as part of survival (cognitively, attention, default, etc.).

In 1970 Alvin Toffler suggested the advent of technology and the rapid changes it would inject into our lives would inevitably create a sense of overstimulation. In other words, so much would be occurring in a finite amount of time we would cognitively go into overload.

Regardless. Just google the woes of a technology world and there are millions of pieces on distraction, short attention, and any number of specific ‘things we should fix.’ It’s like the world has decided to ignore the problem and focus on the symptoms. The casualty of this discussion is actually ideas (environment, climate, thinking, education, business, etc.).

What hath technology wrought? Increased complexity. Here is what I believe (and have some research proof):

The world is not any less, or more, linear (causal relationships exist).

The world is not moving faster (a minute is still a minute)

Attention spans have not decreased.

People have not become stupider.

Curiosity has not diminished.

Purposeful ignorance has not increased.

What has increased is complexity in choice making, what to pay attention to and discerning which fractal (or fragment) is meaningful. 

** note: This piece today is likely a Life companion piece to my incredibly dense business piece on Insights & their relationship with Complexity.

It has become a world less of consistency and more about coherence. A world in which while detail still matters if you don’t get the definitions right the details cannot attain coherence. A world in which if you are not self aware of default versus purposefulness you will not have the ability to better your choicemaking.

None if this is to suggest it is easy nor to suggest choice making isn’t actually a little more difficult than in the past. A choice is a choice no harder or less hard than at any time in history. SEEING the choice and navigating the interconnectedness of causal, and less than causal, effects is more difficult. While McLuhan speaks of ‘changing our ratio (of consumption & focus”). Its really simply a conscious decision of what Urban Dictionary calls being a “cognitive misers “, i.e., do not to examine things intellectually if they don’t feel they have to. While psychological research tells us that some people are cognitively complex while others prefer cognitive simplicity, i.e., some people are open to experience while other are closed minded ** & some people are cognitively flexible while others are cognitively rigid ** I would suggest the overstimulation of senses tamps down ALL cognitive ability.


While I believe all those things about people, I also believe this about business and professional communication:

I believe as a reaction to increased complexity business increased its emphasis on simplicity and soundbites.

If I were generous, I would suggest it was a natural reaction as business, and leaders, tried to insure employees & people could navigate an increasingly complex world (to the benefit of the business).

If were less generous I would suggest leaders used simplicity as a weapon to increase their power. In that pursuit of power, command & control, they basically hollowed out the more meaningful things in business.

** note: brevity is good, but the concept has been bastardized by the pursuit of simplicity and oversimplification. Brevity is saying the most with the least words.

I believe as a reaction to increased complexity professional communicators, and businesses, began prioritizing attention-getting over value of what they wanted to communicate.

If I were generous, I would suggest this is a natural reaction as businesses, and professional communicators, tried to insure their ‘important ideas’ were actually heard in an overstimulated world.

If I were less generous, I would suggest business, and professional communicators, became intellectually lazy and prioritized attention over value (because engagement through value is more difficult than simply saying ‘pay attention to me’).

“… if falsehood, like truth, had only one face we would be in better shape. For we would be as certain the opposite what the liar said. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field.


There is an additional dimension of this overstimulation – lies versus truth.

Lies, or facts without context, can take on a hundred thousand shapes <maybe an endless number> versus truth. Whereas truth has one and only one face and shape.

If one has become numb to the barrage of fragments of information, memes and images, it becomes easy to sit around discussing topics with others sharing similar points of view which only leads to some intellectually lazy assumptions about the people making arguments that of a different perspective.

Simply put, it is much easier to sit around with friends discussing how stupid & naïve the other people are than actually discussing and thinking about the issue. Shit. People even sit around dismissing research & scientists as ‘kooks’ or ‘do not know what they are doing’ or saying things like ‘it is flawed.’ They state these things unequivocally despite the fact that if someone were to actually read an entire research study <instead of the soundbite or some headline> you would find that they are smart well thought out studies with facts and conclusions. While this could be construed as ignorance it is more often a symptom of overstimulation. You are so bludgeoned with information you select what to focus on (your ratio of competing attention changes). The consequences of this is that some fairly important ideas, struggling to clearly define themselves, get lost in overstimulation details.

Now. I am brutal on anyone I perceive as embracing purposeful ignorance   and, yet, I realize the majority of people – a significant majority – are not purposefully ignorant, they are simply making choices and managing their ratio of intake.

That said. We have people sitting around in their thinking cocoons all being barraged with far too much information to cognitively absorb and, well, you become numb to anything that threatens your sense of “what I can handle.”

Well. Then we are officially off to the ignorant race.


The reality is we CANNOT know everything nor view everything on the internet nor even see a large percentage of some really important shit. That is a fact. And, yet, we get bludgeoned on a daily basis with memes, emails, tweets, newsletters, listicles, advice, opinions, tasks, expectations, and the list goes on and on and on. And while the list goes on and on, the internet, technology as a whole, amplifies everything with some selectivity (algorithms).

There is a balance. There is a balance between being human and being technology invested (that is a topic for another day). But I wish we would stop saying technology is bad and the world has become more complicated and focus more on how people, humans, improve their cognitive skills in a highly stimulated world that will not change.

Written by Bruce