The True Measure of a Man in the Digital Age
Defining a life well lived was simpler before the digital age. Things like happiness, providing for your family, integration into your community – and let’s face it, just survival & reproduction, could easily define success in life.
Many would argue these still define a good life, but the world has changed and is immensely more complicated.
There are seven billion people on the planet. We face digital and sensory overload, being exposed to over 5 million ads per year. We each watch 3000 hours per year of TV. We have weapons that could annihilate the entire world many times over. We send 400 million tweets per day. We “Like” something on Facebook over 30 billion times per week. The environment is disintegrating before our eyes. Consumerism is a like a sugar high for our self esteem. Factory farms ruin the environment and create hell on earth for our animal friends. Technology will soon outpace our ability to manage, understand, and co-exist with our own inventions.
Communities and families are fractured – especially in Western civilizations. Gone are the days and where communities were really communities. We’re a collection of houses with Wi-Fi connections.
We’re closer to our digital families than our real families many times – or we at least seek their approval more. Getting liked on Facebook or being retweeted carries more social equity than real life interactions.
I’m not criticizing digital or social media, but I am asking a question.
Can survival and reproduction really be considered goals in a world with seven billion people in it? Even personal happiness and providing for your family, which should be priorities, seem to be setting the bar pretty low given the resources at our disposal.
So how do we truly measure a person and a life well lived in the digital age? How many of you could define what a successful life would mean to you at this very moment?
Most of us consider this question every now and then, but then we let our minds wander off as the question seems too big and too ambiguous.
Throughout much of human history – particularly in prehistoric times - man had one primary goal: survival. Reproduction wasn’t far behind. I would guess that most humans measured their success by those two simple goals during these times.
Once mankind made it out of prehistory and into communities, things like reputation, quality of life, and other softer, non-survival based goals began to surface. From the great Egyptian and Greek Civilizations, to the Roman Empire, then to the Enlightenment, we evolved and prioritized humanity’s place in the bigger picture. Not just for our immediate needs or personal happiness, but at the macro level.
And now, during an age where we have more food, wealth, technology, and potential than any other time in human history we have to ask and answer one simple question:
What is the true measure of a man or woman in the digital age?
Is success a healthy 401k to pass to the next generation with whom we don’t have as many real interactions? Americans work more than almost every industrialized country. We don’t “experience” each other’s lives as much as we semi-consciously engage with each other digitally.
Substituting our real lives with our digital lives is only part of the problem. The real issue is that with seven billion people, a decaying environment, and technology quickly outpacing human abilities, it’s nearly impossible to define a life well lived.
Everyone is different and there is no single roadmap. However, I would say that the measure of a man is still rather simple at some levels:
“Is the world a better place because you existed?”
That is the litmus test. Did you make the lives of the people in your life better? Did you make an impact? Did you carry yourself with honor and integrity?
The principles we should aspire to are largely timeless, but these questions are more complex than ever in the digital age. Google didn’t exist 15 years ago, and Twitter and Facebook were barely words as recently as 5 years ago. These things have completely changed the way we live our lives. In many cases, they have come to dominate our lives.
The good news is that technology and social media, when used right, can help connect people. They can make the world smaller and give people without massive resources the tools they need to make an impact, even if it’s just on a small handful of important people in their lives and not the entire world. The question is, as these technologies evolve, what will the world look like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? Will we use these advances, where we can, to affect positive change? Or will we allow them to drive us further into a “me first” consumer driven mentality?
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I learned the most about this idea at my grandfather's funeral last month. He wasn't a politician or a big time businessman. However, his funeral was still PACKED. The biggest funeral I've seen for an old man. He spent his life interacting and helping people in every way he could. He invested in his family and to other people around him - while still building a good career. He prioritized people and his visitation/funeral reflected that. No amount of Twitter followers or Facebook likes could've amounted to that support.