I read an interview with Walter Isaacson (author of Steve Jobs’ biography, among other books) the other day. In it, he says: “I’ll just tell you something small. The tongue of a woodpecker is three times longer than the beak. And when the woodpecker hits the bark at ten times the force that would kill a human, the tongue wraps around the brain and cushions it.”
This information was so startling that I had to go and look it up. Sure enough, the description is accurate. Here are two illustrations, courtesy of Pinterest and Twitter, of the woodpecker’s incredibly long tongue and the way it cushions the brain.
Science has revealed so much of Nature’s secrets. Yet we can be sure that there as many hidden away, waiting to be discovered. Finding this bit of information about the woodpecker’s tongue so close to the beginning of the new year made me wonder what kind of lesson I could learn from it for 2018. Here is an analogy that seems to fit the bill.
We spend increasing amounts of time on social media. Information leaps at us with the rapid fire of a woodpecker’s beak rat-a-tat-ing into a tree. This selective information explosion damages our judgement and impairs our ability to separate fiction from fact. We humans need something to cushion ourselves from the damaging impact of a continuous stream of media inputs. In our case, the woodpecker’s tongue equivalent might be enhanced interactions with the real world; talking to people around us, to family, friends, acquaintances, and people in the society we live in.
I’ve spent a great deal of time on Facebook & Co. in recent years, assuming that these interactions were somehow deepening my ties to the real world. I have undoubtedly benefitted, by being able to keep in touch with friends and relatives living in far-flung corners of the world. Despite these real benefits, the truth has gradually dawned on me that I was becoming more of a consumer and less connected to the world. The perfidious effect of social media was perfectly illustrated a few years ago when a friend came to stay for a while with his wife and new-born baby. The friend was a keen amateur photographer, as eager to record every minute of his son’s life as any first-time parent. The Eureka moment came to me when I saw he was so busy taking and uploading photographs to Facebook that he was totally oblivious to the infant screaming for a long overdue nappy change. The screaming stopped only when the harried mother emerged from the kitchen to soothe and change the baby. This is the point when we need self-awareness to wrap around the endorphin-craving pre-frontal cortexes of our brain as tightly as the woodpecker’s tongue to guide us out of harm’s way.