Universal Access to Information and Self-Actualization

I was having a conversation last week with a few friends at a party.

You know how arguments get more and more abstract the more booze gets ingested? Well this debate was about whether technology improves the lives of human beings or not. Someone eventually brought up World War II (killing the conversation and proving Godwin’s Law once more) but before that, we had a pretty good thing going on.

The focus of my argument was that more information is always better than less, and that more practical information (how to plug a leak/fix a car) is always better than more the abstract kind. My logic was, what good is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to someone who can’t find their next meal? They need to learn how to fish, instead.

I’m on a quest to learn to cook right now (generously helped along by Jamie Oliver) and I have to say, it’s one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. It’s amazing when you learn how to do things yourself– it instills in you this sense of confidence that was previously absent, makes your more independent and capable, which carries forth into other aspects of your life.

I think both you and I are mostly at a self-actualization stage– that’s what I talk about on a daily basis and what interests me. But I think people on the web might forget sometimes that the stuff that’s the most fulfilling can be on the physical side as well as the mental. I know I do.

But this aspect of self-reliance isn’t only present with the physical. If you know how to code HTML, for example, it makes you much more capable on the web than you currently are. You don’t need to be a master, just to know the basics, but it does wonders for the social circles you can travel through as well as the ability to make things happen by yourself instead of being dependent on others.

Every time you ask someone else for something, you foster your own sense of incompetence and feed your own ignorance. It’s likely that you feel very competent in some places but not in others– and rounding it out with new skills will really help you with a sense of who you are, too.

All of this is enabled in such an amazing way by the web. Your access to skill sets beyond those of your own and your friends is unparalleled in all of history, allowing you to become freer than you ever needed to before– and the same with all people, everywhere.

Edit: Here’s a great quote from Maslow I just found:

“If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I must warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your lives.”





7 responses to “Universal Access to Information and Self-Actualization”

  1. John Mardlin Avatar

    It’s definitely a double edged sword in my life. Having recipes, instructions on bike repair, how to build a greenhouse and immediate answers on hand during a dinner conversation is a huge boone… until you’ve realized that there’s a laptop in the middle of the dinner table.

    I struggle with it everyday, and my recent discovery of the blogging world has undoubtedly sharpened both edges. This has me really looking forward to my farming apprenticeship, where my day hours will be consumed with meaningful and challenging tasks and learning, where my information gathering can be more compartmentalized in a couple evening hours between dinner, bike polo and playing the banjo. At least I hope I can keep it nicely packaged like that.

    Sad to learn that I missed your recent talk in Vancouver. Any chance you’ll be back out west this year?

  2. Lisa Yallamas Avatar
    Lisa Yallamas

    That’s a bit cruel. A curse even!

    “If you deliberately plan to be less than you can be you will be unhappy for the rest of your life”!! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

    My goodness. I would disagree.
    I think that those who spend their lives trying to be all they can ever be are the unhappiest of all.
    They are never satisfied. They are most likely to cause misery to others also.

    Alas, progress does rely on dissatisfaction.

    1. Jacob Girman Avatar
      Jacob Girman

      Satisfaction and happiness are not the same thing Lisa. I can be happy with what I have, but still want to improve myself.

  3. Alan Rae Avatar

    Interesting discussion.

    My 2 ps worth would be that the abstract and the practical need to go hand in hand. In the UK education we’re separated the two to our major detriment. Sometime I’ll tell you about the implosion of horticultural training here.

    Spookily enough the best text on this is actually that old warhorse Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s mainly about abstraction and the split between substance (classical values) and style (what romantic values) but he keeps relating it to fixing motorcycles and describing how learning to do things for yourself in a practical way builds a quality he calls gumption – which is to my mind identical with what Gurdjieff was always droning on about – the way of the cunning man aka engineer.

    Having spent 2 and half years doing physical work rebuilding ruins and running a smallholding after 8 years at University I think he’s bang on the money. (given that I’ve since spent another 30+ years in business since those days)

  4. Jeff Mowatt Avatar

    Julian, you may be interested in a paper which relates self-actualization and access to information to the plight of the hungry. It is one of the beginnings of what it nowadays referred to as social business. Influenced by both Maslow and Carl R Rogers it set out to make the case that by some doing business for the benefit of other people we might change the flow of wealth which has traditionally accumulated in the hands of a small minority and that universal access to information would be the vehicle to propagate it.



    1. Julien Avatar

      Thanks for the link Jeff– I’ll take a look. 🙂

  5. Ric Dragon Avatar

    Definitely a good idea to have a certain level of competence… horse sense, if you will. But you can also get hung up on doing it all yourself, and not delegating, or knowing when to share a task.

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