I am not exactly a Luddite (Webster’s Dictionary definition is one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying labor-saving machinery as a protest, but commonly used today as one who objects to all modern things). I love my laptop, my e-reader, my I-phone, my I-pad. I can find things on the Internet with just a few touches on the keyboard; I can stream movies, record my favorite programs, download music onto my I-pod on which I now have over 3000 songs (9 days’ worth); I can bake a potato in 5 minutes in my microwave, and fly halfway across the world in less than 24 hours.
What I am worried about is this: I fear society is unraveling on the internet, that there is such a dependence on all the devices that we all have, that many of us are becoming more isolated than connected by it all. I use all these connections as tools, but am not consumed by them as are so many of my fellow human beings, especially the younger ones. Of course, from my vantage point, almost everybody is a younger one.
Walking down the street, I notice that everybody is looking down and texting as they walk; on the Long Island Railroad (the train on which I commute to the office) everybody is reading emails, playing games or doing something on a device; on the subway platform where there is no connectivity, everybody is still staring down at their devices. It seems so many people, too many, are uncomfortable just thinking, or being alone within themselves, afraid that they will be missing something.
Then there is Facebook and Twitter, two among several other prominent social media sites. What has happened to privacy? In an article I saw in New York magazine after Elizabeth Taylor died, her last 150 Tweets were printed: what she ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, who she spoke to by phone, what she saw on TV, ordinary stuff like that that nobody really should have needed or wanted to know, but that I’ll bet tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people read.
Public feuding on Twitter is a new blood sport. In a New York Times article I read that Courtney Love and her daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, were fighting via Twitter about her daughter’s boyfriend. Politicians use it as a platform to bicker, also. This article went on to point out examples where Twitter is often used as a weapon to humiliate opponents, rather than as a platform to express ideas. Carole Lieberman, a California psychiatrist, is quoted here as saying “It’s not really to communicate some bone of contention, it’s to humiliate the person in front of the whole world. Social media in general, and Twitter, in particular, is the coward’s way of expressing yourself.” Has everybody forgotten there are phones where we can fight privately, or in person?
People share everything; couples share every thing, which is trickier unless the pair sets up some rules, a kind of social media pre-nup. Facebook has been storing everything its 800 million users have been sharing about themselves for 7 years. Is this what social media was originally intended to do? Maybe so, but I think we surely need more self censorship.
I am by no means an expert; I do not have a Twitter account or a profile on Facebook, though I suspect I will be made to, to help market my book if I am so fortunate as to find publisher for it. But I am intensely interested in the subject and have noticed there are more and more articles on the subject, some of them alarming. And they address not just Social Media, but technology in general. In April, there was an article in the magazine section of the New York Times whose title says it all: “Just One More Game… How time wasting video games escaped the arcade, jumped into our pockets and took over our lives”. Then, again in April, in the Times Week in Review section, the lead article was titled “The Flight from Conversation”. It contends that “the little devices that we carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but who we are.” I suspect, but do not know for sure, that that is not a good thing. It goes on to say that “We expect more from technology, and less from one another….that ”technologies provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship” …that “ When people are alone even for a few minutes, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure.” One 16-year-old in the same article is quoted as saying “Someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”
It all moves into the office. People are isolated even in an office without walls. Emails are sent to people working at desks next to each other. I think as more and more devices, software programs, and apps are added to workers’ arsenals, efficiency will eventually suffer and technology will overwhelm us. Don’t forget, we are all mere humans, so we will need new rules of the road, best practices for using all this wonderful technology to help, not hinder us.
I would never want to go back. All the tools available today are vital to any business; from a start-up, to the middle market, and to the giants of industry and business; vital to government, education, writers, professionals, and all the rest of us. The Love and Quiches website, for example, helps us broadcast our products and capabilities all over the world.
I admit there is a great deal I don’t understand, but my instincts have always been pretty good (building my business out of nowhere), and my gut tells me that this brave new world, with all of its advantages, is no cake-walk. When the technology becomes the most important thing in our lives, it is time to re-think the human connection, and we need to put in some balance.
Next to my desk, in my home office, I have a table where I have piles of articles to comment upon that I have been clipping since I started my blog two years ago. I realize, now, that this is nothing new. I’ve been doing it for decades, ever since we started building our organization at Love and Quiches. It is a rare meeting where I don’t bring some torn-out article with me that touches on bettering management techniques, employee relations, salesmanship, cooperation, effective communication, and a myriad other subjects to help our people do their jobs just a little bit better, and, hopefully, become better people. I don’t intend to stop anytime soon.
I still believe in the art of conversation. I guess I was born too soon.