It is a crisis that would threaten long-held notions of who we are, what we do and how we behave.
It goes right to the heart – or the head – of us all. This crisis could reshape how we interact with each other, alter what makes us happy, and change our capacity for reaching our full potential as individuals.
And it’s caused by one simple fact: the human brain, that most sensitive of organs, is under threat from the modern world.
Aphorisms usually have many origins and reincarnations, but the nature of do what you love’ confounds precise attribution. The Internet often attributes it to Confucius, locating it in a misty, orientalised past. Oprah Winfrey and other peddlers of positivity have included the notion in their repertoires for decades. Even the world of finance has gotten in on do what you love’: “If you love what you do, it’s not ‘work,’” as the co-CEO of the private equity firm Carlyle Group put it to CNBC.
The most important recent evangelist of do what you love, however, was the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. In his graduation speech to the Stanford University Class of 2005, Jobs recounted the creation of Apple and inserted this reflection:
“You have got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
In these four sentences, the words “you” and “your” appear eight times. This focus on the individual is not surprising coming from Jobs, who cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate all states agreeable with ideal romantic love.
For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the do what you love’ credo, labour that is done out of motives or needs other than love which is, in fact, most labour is erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from our consciousness.
In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, do what you love’ may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?
Already, it’s pretty clear that the screen-based, two-dimensional world that so many teenagers – and a growing number of adults – choose to inhabit is producing changes in behaviour. Our attention spans are shorter, personal communication skills are reduced and there’s a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly.
This technological-driven generation interpret the world through screen-shaped eyes. It’s almost as if something hasn’t really happened until it’s been posted on Facebook, Bebo or YouTube.
Add that to the huge amount of personal information now stored on the internet – births, marriages, telephone numbers, credit ratings, holiday pictures – and it’s sometimes difficult to know where the boundaries of our individuality actually lie. Only one thing is certain: those boundaries are weakening.
And they could weaken further still if, and when, neurochip technology becomes more widely available. These tiny devices will take advantage of the discovery that nerve cells and silicon chips can happily co-exist, allowing an interface between the electronic world and the human body. A professor recently suggested in an article that someone could be fitted with a cochlear implant (devices that convert sound waves into electronic impulses and enable the deaf to hear) and a skull-mounted micro- chip that converts brain waves into words (a prototype is under research).
Then, if both devices were connected to a wireless network, we really would have arrived at the point which science fiction writers have got excited about for years. Mind reading!
Fascinating thoughts, but more down to today’s technology, which is already producing a marked shift in the way we think and behave, particularly among the young, which is far from do what we love’ and more about love as we please.