I smiled when I received the Twitter link How technology is increasingly isolating us from each other and stifling creativity to @TimothyAskew’s article on tech zombification because it brought a number of people together who subsequently sparked off his idea, in part contradicting it.
Let me explain.
Well, many moons ago when I was speaking at CeBIT I tweeted for an iPhone charger and a guy called Justin reached out.
MC for the event that year Justin Davies is also CEO of start up company @Prezentt and the next time I was in Perth (on the other side of Australia from where I live) we had lunch. I sent people his way and vice versa and we continued the digital discussion over many years.
Earlier this year when Justin was in Melbourne to collect an award for that same start up we had a red wine over all things digital when he said Chris was a guy I should meet – in a click, we were connected. With a strong, shared interest in the impact of digital on future trends and social innovation, we have since started collaborating.
Why the detail?
Because it reinforces how virtual and real existence converge. How social media networks generate mutually beneficial relationships that operate off and online. That’s how things work now.
This is not to suggest that technology is a panacea or that the value of face-to-face connection has diminished.
There’s dark and light to any technology (fire, hammers), but notwithstanding this, the capacity to encourage innovation and collaboration is huge. One world is an extension of the other rather than a separate realm.
Like Tim I am fascinated by the impact of technology on human behavior and believe we have yet to fully understand its impact.
And I confess too that I have seen and been one of those buried knee deep in smartphone and stumbling from place to place, staccato style, because biologically my brain can’t handle the whole shebang in real time.
Yes, I confess, I am distracted.
That aside I believe online is potentially one of the most powerfully connecting, creative experiences that challenges notions of where that self begins and ends.
Here are some of my experiences.
- Being online makes me think.
When I am online, I start to think.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think offline or appreciate the value of reflection.
I also know when I need to hunker down to read research and pull together a thoughtful piece of writing I’ve got to concentrate, question myself, think hard. It takes energy.
But when I discover something on the web I react instantly – look it up, consider its opposite, click on some or other hyperlink that provides more insight and information or even a new direction and of course, share it. And there are always plenty of people who hop in and influence my views.
Online I learn as I search. I learn as I engage. People teach me.
I may be deep down some rabbit hole when a stranger I’ve never heard of or met suggests something I’ve never thought about and bang, I’m off exploring a new path.
I may know them for that minute or find myself on the tube line to meet them in London a year down the track. It doesn’t matter. Even if the interaction doesn’t change my view, it makes me reconsider what I think more consciously.
It’s not without costs. It is possible that I am outsourcing my short-term memory to Google, but given the limited capacity of my brain I wonder if it frees up space to think better? I don’t know.
It is possible that my attention span is diminishing. It is. As to how this impacts the quality of my thinking, how do I work that out?
- Being online connects me offline & online.
Online facilitates connection online but leads to deeper and richer offline connection.
I recently spent time in San Francisco and London to promote my book The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for businessand caught up with people I had formed virtual relationships with over the past few years as well as newer ones.
This history meant that when we met for the first time in the flesh, we were not at zero. The pre-established sense of mutuality made face-to-face contact more meaningful.
Although virtual and real life connection are equally important in their own way and on a continuum they are not the same.
Eating a Gorgonzola burger with A World Gone Social authors Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt and Social Business Manager for IBM Jim Clausen or catching the ferry to Tiburon to hang out with author Kare Anderson and mental toughness coach LaRae Quy gave incredible dimension – but Twitter facilitated that opportunity in the first place.
- Being online makes me part of a global brain
I often say that no matter how smart any one of us is we are never as smart as the lot of us. While that goes for behaving stupidly too, the information available to us at a click is astounding.
Right now I can go online and learn Greek, Math, how to program a computer from prestigious universities anywhere in the world and for free. When in history have we been able to do this?
I think of Twitter, for example, as a global brain because it’s a vast network of links and people that take you form A to Z in an instant.
Such global connectivity is a form of abundance.
Tim’s generous invitation to respond to his article falls into this space. It’s less about what’s ‘right’ than inviting views that contribute to our collective knowledge on how we handle what’s coming up.
I believe Tim highlights important issues around distraction, which is necessarybut can also be counterproductive to human life. Some distraction can elevate mood and counter-intuitively, assist decision-making.
But issues of distraction and addiction aren’t new.
“The world is too much with us late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our hours, little we see in nature that is ours,” Wordsworth wrote in the 18th Century.
It does not make our current predicament less important but we need to remember that before there was a web to surf people killed time in other ways. Gossip, for example, has been with us from the start.
There are significant emerging issues resulting from technology –
- Sometimes we assume if we can’t find information online it doesn’t exist. Unless we’re dedicated scholars, the hunt stops here.
- Search is not yet sophisticated enough to discern quality from poor information and algorithms can be gamed. Sites like Google Scholar and Scopus can help and for those with an academic bent try these suggestions on Quora.
- Screens command attention in ways earlier addictions appeared not to do. Whether or not this turns out to be true, we shall see. Will it be good, bad or indifferent? Who knows?
- Are our brains being rewired Carr asked? Is this bad or just adaptive?
We simply don’t have the answers. We probably don’t even have the right questions.
There’s a wonderful collection of essays on Is the Internet changing the way you think on Edge.org that is well worth a read for anyone who is interesting in this issue.
The influence of technology, good and bad, is part of who we are right now. The self isn’t fixed, it’s constantly made and remade. Information we can’t access influences our behavior and technology is a big part of that.
Even when I’m walking with my smartphone off or taking offline downtime, which I regularly factor into my life, I am still connecting with people I’ve met through and outside of social networks, discussing ideas I’ve encountered online and thinking about the sorts of issues that Tim raises and we are discussing here. Or sometimes, I’m just distracted.
Enjoy my work? There’s more in The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business. This article first appeared as a guest blog for Inc.Co writer Tim Askew on Corporate Rain.