Signal-to-noise ratio and human evolution

Engineers use the expression "signal-to-noise ratio" to describe the strength of desired traits (the signal) as measured against undesirable traits (the noise) in any context. More recently, VC (Venture Capitalists) and UI (User Interface) Designers have applied the term to all manner of things from space engineering to presentation design.

The signal-to-noise ratio is such a handy expression that I often use it in parenting to highlight how to let go of bullying/cliques in the classroom in favor of the good stuff the playground or a book may have to offer.

Underlying the signal-to-noise culture is a deep belief in optimization and the manufacture of peak experience. Is there any area of our lives untouched by this idea? No. We can become better by getting rid of what we don't want . . . Several ad campaigns quickly come to mind.

So here's what I am wondering as it relates to living: Where is the point at which augmentation of the signal actually breaks the signal itself? Are we in danger of losing essential human signals (eye contact, connectedness, intimacy, trust, love, touch, compassion, awareness) on our way to engineering the unwanted noise (slow pace, geographic separateness, the unknown, the risk, the humility, the threats) right out of our lives?

Will the signals break? They are already distorted ... or is this just evolution?


  1. This is where i get stuck. Sometimes it takes a while before I see that my kids want me to teach them how to do less not more (if that makes sense to anyone).

    1. You know, somehow I missed this comment back in 2007. It is as relevant a question today, seven years later. AND it makes sense to all of us. Doing more is not an end point. In fact, I have walked through this lesson repeatedly as a soul and all I can say is that the primitive instinct to Do rather than to Experience is the source of much suffering.

      In fact, I would argue that we do and get busy in order to avoid feeling lost. If our lives are predictable and our behavior, reactions, ups and downs are mostly predictable according to the people and core values of our lives, we avoid experiencing a lot of uncomfortable feelings.

      If you are interested in reading about this idea, I highly recommend you read, The Untethered Soul. I just re-read it over the weekend. Author Michael Singer is truly gifted and penetrates many complex cultural veils that we presume to be law in our lives. Reading the book takes courage but you may see yourself (I did/do) in the pages. From there, small shifts in consciousness -- an improved ability to perceive "doing" at face value -- becomes less anxiety-provoking.

      As the famous saying goes, it is possible to wander without being lost. It takes practice and a friend.