On my last business trip as I was sitting in the airport waiting for my connecting flight I briefly looked up from my iPhone and did a little bit of people watching (extremely entertaining thing to do in a busy airport). This got me thinking. Has technology made us more productive or is it doing irreparable damage to our social capabilities? With no doubt it has made us more productive, overall, but it has certainly made an impact on us socially...in both a negative and positive way.
I don't think anybody can argue that being able to access most if not all of your data pretty much anywhere you go is a capability that most of us can no longer imagine living without. The downside to this connectivity is that people can reach you 24/7 almost everywhere you go, so leaving work doesn't always result in you leaving your work behind. But is there a dark side to the always on connectivity? Are we losing out on a part of our non-digital life by being so constantly connected with our digital one?
Last week I was asked to speak at work as part of a Young Professionals panel in front of a room full of high level management. The panels was asked a variety of questions, but most of them had to with wanting to understand how the "younger" generation obtained their information and communicated with others. The answers they got from us surprised them. I think they were expecting us to say that we only communicated via text message, avoided all human interaction and never got out from behind our computer screens (depending on only very modern means of communication). What we said was quite different. Even though technology has changed the way the younger generation has learned to collect and spread information, the end of the line is still occupied by flesh and blood. So we spoke about how the knowledge of who to go talk to if we wanted to find out something about a particular topic was much more efficient than blasting out a question to everyone we knew. We also spoke about the value of storytelling. Yes, this generation still reveres good old-fashioned storytelling. Ironically, after leaving the panel session I went straight from work to my daughter's middle school so I could attend a puppet show. The student were asked to read a variety of ancient legends and folk tales and take those stories and turn them into a very short screenplay and act out the story with puppets that they made by hand. So after all these generations and with all the technology we now have we do still use and depend on storytelling as a way to pass down information (just not as the sole means of doing so).
So just like the advent of the TV, the invention of the radio and the introduction of the telegraph that brought to an end the Pony Express, today's mobile Internet age has definitely changed how we search for and pass on information. Do we abuse the use of these new technologies? Do we allow our beloved gadgets to distract us from the most important aspects of of lives, the people closest to us? Sometimes yes, but I believe if you look back throughout human history you will find examples of distractions that have been introduced into society. It really boils down to choice. We can each choose to either sit in front of our Twitter stream or FaceBook page for several hours at a time or we can use them as the communication tools they are and not as a way to spend an entire evening or weekend. For me, the use of technology really boils down to this...Are you using technology just for the sake of using it or are you really USING technology to gain an advantage or efficiency you wouldn't have otherwise? Guess what, if you aren't putting technology to work for you then it is simply a distraction or a toy. Hey, don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with playing with technology! Just be aware that technology can waste your time just as easily as it can conserve it. Case in point. I am at a roller skating rink right now with two of my kids. Did I go hide in the corner somewhere an write this post? No. I sat and talked with other parents for a while. I took my youngest daughter out on roller skates and mostly kept her upright while she tried to get the hang of the skates on the thin carpet surrounding the rink. But while the kids were off running them selves silly with their friends I did pull out my iPad an write this post. So the next time you find yourself with your nose buried in your smartphone take a few minutes to look up to say hi to the person next to you. Remember, we all make the choice of whether we tame technology or we let it take us for a ride...either way, enjoy!