Alphabet, parent company of Google, is developing a device that will help humans get along. It’s called the Arrester. It was created with the premise that if we just stopped saying certain things and started saying other things we would have more satisfying, nonviolent interactions. Research in the field of Positive Psychology indicates that satisfying interactions lead to deeper connections, greater happiness and increased longevity, yet many people lack basic communication skills.
Scientists and behaviorists at Alphabet came up with a solution that will solve more important problems than driverless cars. The tiny device is implanted in your torso. It detects changes in your neurology associated with different emotions, anticipates corresponding behavior and verbal expression, and controls your response.
For example, if your wife says, “You never do what I ask you to do,” you may be inclined to react in a defensive or hostile manner. Well-established neurological pathways could cause you to blurt out responses like, “Oh, like you do what I ask of you?!” or “Look, you have no idea how much I do around here; I get no credit for what I do!” Or you walk away, muttering something inaudible. Left to our own devices (pun intended) we know where this conversation is headed.
A Personal Trainer for Your Brain
The Arrester is worth years of couples counseling and self-help books. If you use an Arrester, you don’t have to think about how to respond to comments that trigger your emotions. The device senses your anger, hurt and shame and prevents you from saying anything. It also uses algorithms that predict your likely responses to words and phrases like “Look,” “You never,” “You always,” and “That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard.” It short-circuits your expression in the moment.
When your husband says, “Did you forget to buy my favorite crackers again?” You say nothing. The pause gives you a chance to collect your thoughts, be self-curious, and connect with the source of your emotional reaction. By tracking your pulse rate and body temperature, the device knows when you’re ready to explode and when you’re ready to speak compassionately. The more intense the emotional reaction, the longer the pause. When it detects compassion it allows you to speak.
After slowing you down, future Arrester models will act as a mental trainer, prompting you to respond to challenging people in an empathetic and connecting way. These models cause you to say one or more default responses such as, “I notice something is bothering you, do you want to talk about it?” How could anyone go wrong with that? More sophisticated models using Bluetooth technology will be able to detect the feelings of the person you are with and will prompt you to say things like, “I sense you’re [angry] or [scared], will you share with me what need in you is not being met right now?”
Better Marriages and Better Leaders
Think about how the typical couple, which has no communications or relationship training except what they have learned from watching Dr. Phil or have seen modeled in their family, could benefit from such a device. No need for self-reflection, training or therapy, just buy an Arrester and you stop saying stupid things in response to stupid things said by others.
Think of the applications in business. This device could be very helpful to well-meaning leaders who are convinced they can abandon vulnerability and compassionate communication whenever they deem business circumstances warrant. The Arrester can serve as sort of a regulatory agency for the CEO’s psyche. The return on investment on an Arrester at work will have such a short payback period that companies will issue them as productivity tools no different than laptops.
If you think this won’t work on people like Donald Trump, Hilary, Rush or John Stewart, not to worry. The devices will have settings that, via the convenience of your iPhone Bluetooth settings, you can adjust from “Sensitive” up to “Taser Me,” whatever it takes to break through your brain’s unique myelinations.
Our Need for Connection
Humans have been struggling to get along since we became conscious. We are mirrors for each other. There is no better way to grow, learn and feel connected then being emotionally engaged with other people. In the post-9/11 years we have gone backwards in our ability to build and maintain rapport, be empathetic and collaborate. Let’s hope it’s just a phase of our evolution and that we re-learn how to relate to each other again.
Honestly, I made up the whole story about the Arrester. Yet the fact that you might have fallen for my story tells me that we have come to a point where we trust technology more than we trust our consciousness to solve interpersonal dilemmas and conflict. We desperately need very basic communication skills to leverage the huge opportunities that technology offers to improve our world’s quality of life. We need interpersonal skills to tackle the breakdowns in our antiquated political, financial, educational and health care systems. If we can’t hold a conversation with people who think differently than we do how can a critical mass of people get behind necessary change?
The Only Step You Need to Take
We don’t need a high-tech device or pill to change our dualistic thinking. We just need to pause, breathe and remember that our real problems are not “out there,” they are not caused by others. Recall a time when you have resolved a conflict. Have you ever done so without cleaning up some confusion or pain inside you?
We view the world based on our own particular belief systems and yet, at the same time, we’re interconnected. High social intelligence means we acknowledge differences in others while recognizing that everyone and everything is part of an interdependent system and separation is only an illusion.
You don’t have to wait for Google developers, FDA approval, months of therapy, or a new spouse or boss to start changing the way you feel and communicate. Start by stopping. When you feel the emotional charge, stop talking. When you feel compassion—for the other person and for yourself—start talking again. Repeat.