Once when eating out for dinner, I started a conversation with our server. She was a history major, working on a thesis about how views of history changed with the invention of the printing press.
It was an interesting topic, and my dinner companions and I enjoyed exploring the idea. We discussed how access to new formats of information might change the way the brain worked, creating new neural pathways, and fostering new ways of analyzing information.
Then we pondered the question of how the advent of the internet might change the way the brain processes information
We recognized that we were living in a time as revolutionary as when the printing press came into wide use.
If printed books might have changed the way people thought, surely access to almost unlimited amounts of information on the internet must impact brain pathways and change how we analyze information as well.
I believe those kinds of revolutions change us for the better.
I am of the opinion that society’s learning curve for how to understand, manage and utilize complex information is on an upswing and has been for a while, evidenced by successful reductions of social problems our ancestors could not solve for centuries.
In the last 200 years we have improved complex global issues such as
- reducing poverty – in 1950 75% of the world lived in extreme poverty; today, the number is less than 10%
- increasing literacy – 8 out of 10 people can read and write
- reducing child mortality – a drop from 40% to 5%
Successfully tackling issues like these requires multiple different kinds of skill sets, such as:
attention to detail
the ability to see the big picture
the ability to see patterns
the ability to see the impacts of patterns
To solve these kinds of systemic social issues, we need people who are able to see the big picture; and people who see the details; people who see the patterns; and people who see the impacts of patterns.
And these skill sets don’t have to reside in one person to resolve problems, even if it were possible – in fact, it is better if there is a team with a variety of skills working together.
This is where flipping the script on autism characteristics becomes really important because it is common for some on the autism spectrum to have superior attention to detail skills; it is also common for some on the spectrum to have superior pattern recognition skills.
In other words, to continue to tackle the most complex issues facing our society, to see those details and patterns, autistic minds need to be at the table, working in partnership across skill sets.
It would require recognition of and respect for the value of autistic processing. Acceptance and accommodation of autistic characteristics would have to be paramount. It would require educational processes that highlight and encourage autistic skills.
The revolution of the printing press, even the revolution of the internet may not hold a candle to the revolution of embracing the partnership of different neurologies.
What might that take to accomplish that social goal?