The One Area of Your Life Technology Will Never Improve

Jeff Havens

I’m certain that while I write this paragraph, I’m going to make a mistake. There will be a word I don’t like, or a phrase, or maybe I’ll realize halfway through that I’m just not saying things the way I want to. So I’ll mash my pinky finger on the ‘Backspace’ key and start over like nothing happened. Fifty years ago I would have needed to rip an entire page out of my typewriter and begin from the top. Five hundred years ago I would have just ruined a piece of parchment too expensive for most of the world to afford. And five thousand years ago I would have defaced an entire cave wall – which I could probably erase by chiseling out the entire offending section, but man does that sound tedious.

There is absolutely no question that technology has improved our lives in almost every imaginable way. We can eat foods our ancestors didn’t know existed, and grow that food with a confident certainty they never experienced. We can travel distances that not too long ago were literally inconceivable. We can encode information on freaking light beams, which I am doing right now and which is still so bewildering to me that I’m sometimes think it’s all just magic. If the sticker on my computer read, “Lenovo – Powered By Elves,” I wouldn’t blink.  

Our technology is so ubiquitous, and has been demonstrated to improve so many areas of our daily lives, that it’s tempting to believe it can do everything. Need to cure a disease?  Engineer a drug. Want to meet the love of your life? Build a computer algorithm to match people according to their preferences. Interested in living a few hundred years? There are people working on that. Whether they’re successful or not remains to be seen, but the very fact that some people think it’s even possible suggests that there’s no limit to what technology can accomplish.

But there is. Because despite its myriad miracles, technology simply can not improve the rate at which we acquire knowledge or develop skills. There is no feat of engineering that can help you immediately become a first-rate engineer; there is no software program that can shortcut your path from piano owner to concert performer. Nothing we have developed, and nothing we are going to develop in the foreseeable future, can accelerate the process by which you learn an instrument or master a language or excel at a sport or become a world-class parent. Start, practice, fail, learn, practice, fail, learn, repeat – that is the only solution we’ve ever come up with. Some people learn quicker than others, some people practice more than others, and some people have a greater natural aptitude for a certain skill than others. But technology simply can’t do anything to help.

We have a tendency to forget this. Technology has sped up so many other things that we sometimes rage at how long it takes to earn a promotion or become an expert. A lot of us expect those things to simply happen, as though you can scroll through a few screens on your smartphone and suddenly have the knowledge it’s taken your more-experienced colleagues a decade or two to acquire. Young people are probably more prone to this impatience because they were literally born in a world where everything has always been moving at the speed of light; but every one of us has given up on something 15 minutes after starting because we weren’t already good at it.

If we want to have any hope of enjoying your life, the immutable and glacial pace of advancement is a fact we absolutely must come to terms with. Nothing you are good at today came easy or quick, and nothing you want to become good at will happen overnight. If you expect online dating to pair you up with the perfect match without suffering through any bad dates, you will almost certainly be disappointed. If you expect promotions at work every few months, you will have an extremely difficult time being happy at any job you ever hold. If you expect to lose 30 pounds in a month without having to exercise or change your diet or otherwise do anything disruptive, you will very likely never see the results you want. I’m currently 18 months into learning Spanish, and I still can’t understand half of what native Spanish speakers say when they talk at their normal machine-gun rate.  

Getting good at something is always a marathon, and it always will be. If you aren’t prepared to run that race, then you shouldn’t expect to get any better at anything than you already are. We have done some truly awe-inspiring things, and our great-great-great-grandchildren will come up with technologies that we can’t even imagine. But none of that can put skills and knowledge into your head any faster than our caveman ancestors were able to do it themselves. The Matrix lied to us.  

And that’s why I hate Keanu Reeves.

Jeff Havens, a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who addresses leadership, generational issues, and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment, will be featured at SOCMA’s 96th Annual Meeting & Member Dinner, December 4, in New York. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and featured in CNBC, BusinessWeek, and Bloomberg News. To see more from Jeff Havens, visit

During the coming weeks, SOCMA will post blogs from not only our featured entertainer but speakers at our ChemTrends sessions who will share insight about key issues impacting the specialty chemical sector. With a focus on our new direction and a host of key topics that affect your business, this is an Annual Meeting & Member Dinner you don’t want to miss. Register today!

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