Virtual Jet Lag
It’s not this virtual reality that we’ll access in the future. It’s mixed reality, where you can be anywhere, and you have different virtual realities going on around you – the different tabs in a browser window, the different text messages that you get, the different Facebook messages, the Twitter messages. All of those are different realities in simultaneous time zones that people are living in all the time, and they’re switching rapidly between these, they’re switching contexts all the time. People are living multiple virtual realities while existing in one reality at a time.
JL: I suppose that would give you some kind of virtual jet lag kind of effect. They talk about how multitasking has such overhead for switching from task to task. Are we reducing or eliminating the lag and the overhead for moving from one zone of experience to another?
AC: Virtual jet lag! I’m going to write that down. (Laughs.) I’m very worried about it, actually. Because as I tried to answer your question, I was multitasking. (Laughter.) I think the main issue is that to be fully aware of an environment and fully take something in that is not fragmented is really important for learning and embodying knowledge. But the problem on the Internet is, say you learn something on Wikipedia, you’re not embodied in that knowledge. You’re reading something about biochemistry. You’re not learning it from being in a lab, you’re learning it from being on Wikipedia. And maybe halfway through the article, you’re checking your email or you’re looking at Facebook, and it disrupts the writing of that memory to your brain. When I was little, my Dad would show me how computers worked, and I would install some software. And he’d say, make sure you close all the other programs before you install software. And I said “Oh, why? That doesn’t matter.” He opened a computer defragmentation program, where you can actually see where all the packets of data are stored in the hard drive. And when you defragment it, say the program Adobe Photoshop is stored, not just in one chunk, but all over the hard drive. And defragmentation starts to put it back together, so that when you run the program, all the memory is cleaned up, and it’s really easy to access. If it’s all over the hard drive, then the computer has to take a lot of computational power to find out where those pieces are stored. If you don’t defragment, then, things get very slow. I think humans are very similar. When you’re trying to write a memory to your brain, and then you multitask, you’re writing your one memory, and then another memory is the Facebook page, and another memory is browsing through the Internet. By the time you’ve finished loading that memory, you’ve only loaded part of it. And if you stay up late that night and you don’t get enough REM sleep, then your brain can’t get through the natural defragmentation process. And you wake up with a sloppy hard drive of a brain. (Laughter.) And it limits your cognitive ability, your ability to think, in the future.
JL: Anybody who’s done Buddhist meditation or Gurdjieff work, those kinds of things, is aware how hard it is anyway – just inherently – for a human to focus. Our brains are wired to be moving around and changing focus. The idea of creating persistent attention – isn’t that new? That’s not how we were originally wired, to be persistently focused?