2019 — The Year of Thinking
As the year comes to an end, I am starting to see a lot of messages coming through the inbox and social media lines making predictions about what 2019 will deliver us. Some of these catch my attention more than others — an e-mail from LinkedIn about ‘50 Big Ideas for 2019: How Australia will change next year’ contained the following two notions that relate to my field of work:
11. Inclusive design will go mainstream.
48. Employers will make room for neurodiversity.
Under both notes it makes the points we would expect — inclusive design is, across every passing month, becoming more and more understood and visible in the public space. The success of Apple’s ecosystem is a strong demonstration of this — commercial products that have inclusive design built in from the start rather than bolted on later. And so too for the increased emergence of neurodiversity in the workplace — as systems are realising the benefits that come from adopting a strengths based approach to education and employment, workplaces across many industries have been sharing their stories of success through the support of employees who bring with them a much wider range of minds and approaches to problem solving than have previously been embraced. In the conversation I had with neurodiversity pioneer Judy Singer, video below, she reinforces how this idea engages the social principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”.
These predictions then are certainly in line with the general trajectory of what has been building and enacted on now for many years. When I think to my own ideas regarding what 2019 will bring, I first of all look back to some of the articles I have written this year:
At the Heart of it All: Smart Cities and our Human Potentials
5 Strategies to Positively Support Children
In terms of the common themes these articles share, I think I’d focus on the following:
- When we do think about the future, and the innovations of the future, we should indulge ourselves in completely unrestrained thinking that uses our entire imaginative capacity — rather than iterative thinking, where we try to make small adjustments to existing ways of doing things, instead we should allow ourselves the opportunity to ponder the dangerous ideas that threaten to break away from how we currently do things, to propose alternate realities, new worlds to play in that, when it comes time for practical thinking, might just have more bridges back to where we currently stand than we might initially expect
- Let us always think about how we can improve the human experience rather than the commercial one. How, in 2019, do we get more humans hooked on humans, revelling in the social space, connecting with each other, person to person? I wonder sometimes if the utopian hopes of the internet and social media from an accessibility standpoint — nobody knows who are you at the internet, it doesn’t matter what your physical or sensory or social capacities are, it is a democratic space that allows everybody to connect and to engage how they wish to engage — have in some areas lessened our resolve to fix physical real-world design challenges that stop everybody from being able to socially engage over a coffee and cake in their local community of choice. As schools and workplaces become increasingly virtual, and ways of raising children and the associated therapies of child development rely on virtualisation, let us take the time certainly to praise and relish the incredible opportunities these evolving technologies provide us, while at the same time never relinquishing our efforts to always teach our children how to be hooked on humans, to soak up the music and the social data that flows back and forth between those relationships that can only flourish in the air between people inhabiting the same room
- Building on the former point, let us not talk about Smart Cities without talking about how they will also be Kind Cities. And, expand this approach to all other smart endeavours — it only takes a cursory browse through news headlines of the past year to see how Data has become such a problematic word, so how do we embrace all the ways that Data can improve our human experience without allowing the human experience to only be of commercial interest? I think Machine Learning, for example, can be of genuine gain to the human experience, if it can support us in helping us to better understand our own patterns, our own habits, to be a coach for our emotional intelligence and provide us with insights that we’d have trouble otherwise accessing, than yes please, use all the Data. I see this as being a Kind outcome of Data, not just a Smart one. This is the necessary metric for me, the test for Smart to pass through
And from all of this, do you know what I want to do most in 2019, what I want to characterise the year as at this moment? I want 2019 to be the year of Thinking. Maybe more accurately the year of Slow Thinking, of measured, patient modes of thinking. Don’t act; think. This is not a prescription that others need to follow of course, it is a personal recommendation to myself — it is my antidote to whatever the phenomenological experience of visiting the front page of YouTube provides: complete content overload. ‘Here is a new song; no wait, here is a parody of that song; hold on, here is a video of the top thirty things you missed in that new song’ — now, expand this to your feed on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on all the other places in which content is unleashed and fed. And, expand this to the expectations on yourself to produce work — I feel that the brain can in these circumstances be expected to always inhabit a gear where it produces either a response to ideas or works hard on manifesting content to represent those ideas.
What I want, is to shift the gear into a reflective space where it is given the time and room it needs to be philosophical without being productive. Thinking for the sake of thinking sounds so indulgent, and so out of step with current politics — we don’t have time, we’re told, to just think, we need to act. The world is changing so fast, there are situations that require us to help direct its course right now, there are lives that can be positively impacted if we immediately do something. And of course, on a day to day level we are always going to help, to create, to problem solve in practical ways. But on a broader scale, I think we should appreciate the value of indulgent, slow, laborious, abstract, impractical, quiet, isolated thinking.
I’ll give you an example — with 2019 just around the corner, it can be a time of unbridled excitement and inspiration to create something fresh for the new year. A new resource, a new book, a new piece of content. Personally, I’m filled with these sort of ideas right now — I have new opportunities for collaboration, new creative acts I want to dive into and share with the world. But I’m tempering this excitement with this notion of think, think, think. It is time to sit down and reflect on things like, what is the value of special education in 2019; what does it mean to authentically personalise the educational experience for a child, and how does this connect to life outcomes post-school; what do healthy social communities look like; what sort of philosophy do we need now? Of course create, share, crowd source ideas and play with the billion colourful fragments of the future as they emerge and seek an audience, but give time too to the quiet, offline, solitary moments where it is just you in a room or by a tree on a hill, and where a period of sustained thinking is not contained to a five or ten minute period, but perhaps to a six month block of private language that fills you up with the sort of reflections that can get lost when you’re always scrolling and responding.
The challenge within this is of course a very active one — the challenge to reflect, to consider and be philosophical. It is not an avoiding of current needs or a retreat into easier spaces — rather it is the challenge to make things more difficult for oneself in a positive way, to take up the advice of Beethoven and embrace that which is difficult, because “what is difficult is beautiful, great — for what is difficult makes you sweat”. We do not elect to think, think, think because we want the easy way out — we do so because we need to face off against all the current trajectories that are in motion, carrying the world forward. Rather than build a boat to help carry us on the raging current, rather than escape to the shore and dry off and ignore the tide, we might instead choose to stand in the water and reimagine what the motion represents, to look for the patterns, to feel what is happening and think deeply about it.
Deep, quiet, slow, unrestrained, kind, human thinking. That is not my prediction for 2019, but rather my personal prescription. Connect, embrace, enjoy the social air, create, of course — but make time too for private language in the Year of Thinking.
I wish everyone a safe and restful period over the end of year period.