technology’s promise

As I write this, I am listening to a group of workmen outside my window, dismantling some scaffolding. They talk constantly, and loudly. I want to hang my head out of the window and tell them to SHUT UP! But as I simultaneously watch the TED talk by Sherry Turkle about ” how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication” I realise that these guys are in their office, without the internet and doing what I believe (as does Sherry) we should do more of: Talk. Face2Face. Have time and space together, showing each other ourselves and not just our ‘personas’.

I urge you to watch this compelling talk on TED.com

Turkle’s concerns, are ones I share myself and have done so for a while. In 2005 I literally moved to the other side of the world, away from my friends and family. At the time I didn’t know I would end up staying ‘away’ for several years, and how much I would come to rely on and engage with social media on a daily basis.

When I say rely on, I realise now that I was completely under the spell of the ‘promise’ that the technology would collapse the physical distance between me and my loved ones, and give us the (same) connection we had shared while living in the same country. Simultaneously, as ‘technologies’ became more ubiquitous in the workplace, and rolled out by management as the new saviour to all our overwork problems (ahem..) it seemed that the machines could do no wrong, and all we had to do was use the multifarious platforms and plug ourselves in.

So I did. And I am. Plugged in, that is. I am one of those people. I am pro-technology and luckily, I don’t find it difficult to learn new platforms, programmes and digital devices. Like Turkle, “I sleep with my mobile phone”.

But in 2007 I also made this work:

I check my e-mails every day (2007)

At the time, I was clearly concerned with technology and its affect. I wanted it to bridge the distance between my land and the one my family were on.

I did my part; I checked my e-mails! But the e-mails weren’t there, and each time I looked, I became a little more sad, a bit more rejected and a bit more lonely. Now, let’s also look carefully at the fact that five years ago I was only checking my e-mails every day (really?) compared to today, where I can’t even finish this post without quickly flicking tabs (yes, I’m addicted to tabs also…) and checking that someone isn’t trying to get in touch with me RIGHT NOW. Now let’s think about, turning our mobile phones on again after the movies (for those of us who don’t just keep it on silent and check throughout the film) and our clear disappointment that in the last hour and 45 minutes no one was trying to text or call us. WHY NOT? DON”T THEY LOVE ME? AM I NOT IMPORTANT TO THEM?

Okay, so I’m aware of the problems and their potential to snowball into cultural habits that we actually don’t want, (seriously, i just checked my e-mails again…nada!) but what can we do about it, before we go to far? (Terminator2, Battlestar Galactica…need I go on?) How do we balance using the technology where it enables our human connection and using it instead of human connection? I can’t imagine not having online video conversations with my friend’s children who are too far away to cuddle, yet I am aware that I often choose to text rather than call, IM rather than video…and possibly for all the same reasons that Turkle relates: I can control what I say, I can edit it, even once it it’s out, but before it’s sent, I look better in that flattering photo, than I do right now in real time…

It’s a frightening prospect for the future, for our children and that very human need we all have: to be connected. Instead of just accepting any kind of connection, let’s make sure we choose the right kind, wherever possible.

Step 1: -Watch the video

Step2: -Disconnect from the internet, and re-connect with the people around you

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