Sunday, June 13, 2010

Technology: amazing, empowering, and driving us into the shallows

Fail Whale
Just a couple of minutes ago, I tried to open Twitter to check out a tweet someone had linked to in Google Buzz. Instead of the Twitter UI, I saw the Fail Whale. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the whale is the centerpiece of a graphic which Twitter displays when it is suffering any kind of outage or over-capacity situation.

(Here is an interview with Yiying Lu, the person who designed the graphic as an "I'm sorry I can't come to your event" card, the image named "Lifting a Dreamer")

The whale has become iconic enough that some are offering artistic riffs. Check out Swiss designer David Pache's homage.

There's even a fan club.

Lots and lots of people have discovered that Twitter allows for all manner of fast, short bursts of communication, and does so while also supporting serendipitous connections among the people who are connected to the messenger.

Facebook is similarly supportive of the new connections people make as a result of both knowing a third person, or having a passion for the same music or cause.

Not surprisingly, given the half a billion people who have Facebook accounts, an entire niche industry has sprung up which offers expertise in marketing to those people.

We all see that technology, in this case the technology of social media, is amazing. Just yesterday, I became acquainted with someone 1800 miles away and had a short exchange of ideas which helped her cope with a technical issue, so her problem was solved by someone she did not know existed one minute prior, that person being more than halfway across the country, and it cost her nothing. There is great power in this kind of communications capability.

Conversely, it can be disempowering for those of the old paradigm where knowledge was delivered by the elite. Now, direct connections between those with the expertise and those needing it can happen almost instantaneously. Disintermediation, thy name is social media.

There is, as there always is, another side to the story. In this case, it is the impact on our ability to think deeply, to ponder at a level which requires a quiet space and an uninterrupted span of time. Nothing about Twitter is supportive of uninterrupted time! It is all about speed, instant judgment, and audacity.

Similarly, Facebook can suck one in and not allow an exit until lots of friends have been touched. My daughter, a college student, was wise to simply stay out of Facebook altogether the last two weeks of her semester. She even announced she was doing it, thus increasing her liklihood of compliance.

In our day-to-day lives, are we missing out on life's richness which is right in front of our noses in order to invest hours in a virtual world? Are we no longer able to be in touch with the softest voice, the one inside ourselves, because we are too busy, a sense only aggravated by the pervasive invasion of social media?

It is ironic that the very idea of being driven to shallow thinking is discussed at great length in recent days by some very thoughtful and smart people whose thoughts are published--or links to them are--via the very social media tools which may be wreaking havoc with our ability to think deep thoughts.

Don't consider this my attempt to bemoan change. Not at all--I embrace it. I enjoy Facebook for the information and sense of community, for the chance to be more part of friends' lives than I was before Facebook. I heart Twitter for its requirement for terse speech. It's great fun cooking up a witty response and keeping it under 140 characters.

Change is simply another word for life. Without it, there is no life. Still, as conscious beings, it is a responsibility we share to seek change which leads us to greater and richer places, even as we must acknowledge that we don't know what the heck we are doing in that regard.


Insightful Nana said...

I've always maintained that it's up to us individually to control our "virtual" world.

Studies are now beginning to show some of the "side effects" of "virtual" communication.

Apparently we suffer from impatience, shortened attention spans and the ability to connect face to face with good communication skills.

You mentioned not being able to connect with ourselves... I'll add that one to the list.

"Wisdom in all things."

Jeanne said...

Oh my, my are SO right on with this topic. In fact, I wrote on this same subject earlier this week. In case you missed it (you probably did!) here it is:
It's a short read that you'll enjoy. Keep up the great blog. I'll be back. Your #blog30 friend,

Rick Hamrick said...

Insightful Nana, I had intended to include mention of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, the new book which is causing quite a stir on this topic, but I simply ran out of steam before I included it.

While I cannot claim it was a result of any cognitive recognition on my part, I go out of my way to set up fact-to-face meetings with friends I know only from internet contact. Some spark the friendship and some don't.

In other words, intriguingly, some friends were made and meant to stay virtual! You can mess up those friendships by coming together in Meat World (my tacky way of saying IRL).

Thanks for stopping by, Kathy!

Rick Hamrick said...

Jeanne--you are right that I have not seen your thoughts in this area, and I will make a point of correcting that error this morning!

Thanks for visiting and for your encouraging words. Happy #blog30-ing.