August 13, 2011
The More We're Connected, the Less We're ConnectedBy George Scaggs
Though mankind's ever accelerating technological innovations continue to provide an array of wonders and benefits, the tragic consequences that come hand in hand with our advancement are receiving little notice. As society increasingly texts and tweets away, relations with our fellow man are suffering for it. Paradoxically, as we gain more tools to communicate with one another, our words seem to have less meaning.
Time-honored principles such as honesty and common courtesy have been on the wane for decades but these unfortunate behavioral shifts now appear to be growing at an explosive rate. The trend is largely driven by our increasing ability to stay instantaneously connected to the rest of the world.
Human beings are overwhelming themselves with connectivity, unable to keep pace with the increased number of self-ascribed obligations that come with constant accessibility. In essence, presumably with no harm intended, people are finding it physically impossible to follow-up on an excess of incidental commitments.
Suddenly, both in personal and professional settings, society is awash in otherwise decent, upstanding people uttering nothing more than an on-going series of meaningless proclamations.
The transformation begins rather innocently with relatively insignificant instances of one keeping their word falling by the wayside. Falling victim to the same treatment at the hand of others, the mind becomes conditioned, developing a sense that such behavior is acceptable.
Over time, the slippery slope inevitably leads to breaking more important "promises" made to co-workers, business associates and friends. Eventually, not even the closest relationships are spared.
But matters of personal integrity are only the beginning of the damage wrought by all of our modern gadgetry. Today, due to the constant interruption which comes hand in hand with so much connectivity, the workplace is rife with distraction, and thus less productivity.
We've been headed down this path for a while. I recall when cell phones first hit the scene in the '80s; as an outside sales rep that routinely relied upon a pager and pay phones, I was eager for my employer to provide me with one of these marvelous new communications tools.
At the time, nearly half of my customers were using them. It was easy to reckon that such a device would soon become necessary to meet my client's expectations and continue to compete.
"How convenient, this will be great", I thought. But ultimately, this enhanced level of being connected did not increase my productivity so much as it increased the level of expectation in getting back with clients and co-workers.
Suddenly, everything had to take place much more quickly if one were to remain competitive. One day, getting back with someone in a matter of hours, if not the same day, was universally acceptable. The next, getting back with them within minutes was the new norm.
There are times when efficiency requires careful deliberation. In today's world though "multi-tasking" is thought to be all the rage, the concept is largely farcical. Oh sure, people may think they're multi-tasking but if you mean effectively accomplishing multiple things at once, particularly in a variety of mediums, most miss the mark. Chances are, with all this "doing" going on, nothing is done very well.
Advancing technology coupled with the decrease in the population's basic skills and education has created a self-perpetuating downward cycle, with one phenomenon continuously feeding off the growth of the other. Consequently, we have been ushered into an age in which the inability to competently perform even menial tasks is quickly becoming more routine than rare.
We're no longer limited to enduring the kid behind the counter at the fast-food joint who cannot count. Now encounters with bank tellers, managers and a broad slate of "professionals" often garner the same type of experience.
After all, people no longer need to learn to add, spell, form a sentence, or figure out how to get from point A to point B. There is a tiny machine in their pocket to do all that. The cumulative result seems to be a system that manufactures people lacking critical thinking skills.
As we have become slaves to our electronic masters the world has also become a colder and more impersonal place. Everywhere we look there are examples of people who are in each other's physical presence but rather than interacting socially with one another they are communicating with someone else via their handy electronic gadget. They are there but they're not really there.
In fact, human behavior has digressed to the point that breaking up with partners or spouses via texting is now a contemporary trend, seemingly the epitome of beings who not only lack common courtesy but are unable to communicate effectively. Instead of struggling through difficult experiences that ultimately shape our character, uncomfortable tasks are merely re-assigned to a machine.
Others use their electronic tools in ways that feed their anger and frustrations; nameless, faceless souls sitting behind a distant keyboard spewing everything from utter nonsense to hate at perfect strangers, developing a nastier disposition all the while.
The written word has always been easy prey for the law of unintended consequences, particularly among those who struggle to communicate well. It is a dangerous combination which often results in being easily misunderstood, subsequently creating rifts in personal relationships or a failure to perform business tasks effectively.
When we communicate face to face we have the benefit of understanding one another through body language, the look in one's eyes and tone inflection. When communicating by voice alone, it can be more difficult to understand one another but at least we have the tenor of voice to guide us.
When it comes to the written word, we have lost the use of sight and sound altogether. Subsequently, we must be more precise, our words more carefully measured. Unfortunately, with these basic skills already in decline, modern man has doubled-down with tweeting and texting.
Now we are depending upon abbreviations, symbols and an ever growing list of acronyms to communicate.
As with everything, there are pros and cons. While instant access and information at our fingertips are wonderful and powerful tools, we humans must still choose wisely. It would serve us well to acknowledge that our marvelous electronic devices wield the power to destroy right along with the ability to empower.
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