Mic drop: Esther Perel on technology & our ability to cope with uncertainty


I came across this dazzling keynote presentation by Esther Perel at the recent South By Southwest (SXSW) technology conference in Austin. Her theme was “The Other AI: Artificial Intimacy”. 

Her insights on the ways that cell phones and fragmented attention are eroding personal relationships felt remarkably on point. But it’s her commentary on how predictive technologies like Waze, Spotify and Netflix serve us up incredible convenience but remove our ability to discern and make choices that really struck a chord. Every week, I work with organizations on change readiness and resilience – capabilities that seem to be increasingly difficult to cultivate in our culture of overwhelm, gluttonous content consumption and pandemic-induced disruption. 

In her signature fashion, Esther Perel offers a brilliant and fresh perspective:

“Being uncomfortable, doing things that you end up not enjoying, being afraid and taking risks are some of the ways that we learn who we are and who we are not. The experimentations and the failures are essential to the development of our identity.  

You would think that having all these recommendations in the palm of our hand would make us more confident, less anxious, more prepared for what we call in French l’inconnu or the unknowable. But what if they are eroding us – when we take the risks away we take away the learning opportunities we create rigidity in a world  that demands flexibility. We develop a constant need for certainty when facing uncertainty. While predictive technologies have solved many of life’s biggest inconveniences, they are also making us unprepared and unable to tolerate the inevitable unpredictabilities of human nature, love and life. 

They promise to eliminate friction to smooth the rough edges. We’ve all been stroking these phones (we know what I’m talking about) but I do fear that we may be smoothing lives rough edges to the point of flatness … it’s our ability to act freely upon the uncertainty and then see the ripples of our own actions that lets us know that we’re alive.”

Paradoxically, through the magic of the Internet’s convenience, Esther Perel’s full talk is available free, at your fingertips – it’s time well spent. 

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