Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Growing Self Awareness of Technology Overload

Wordle: Too Much Information
A Word Cloud  Explaining How I feel
     This holiday season I am really overloaded by technology, so much so it's making my head hurt and I feel both annoyed, confused and conflicted by the media messaging coming at me from all directions.  I see and feel all the beautiful images and implied lifestyle of ultmate media experience.  I see families sitting in contemporary styled living rooms watching large flatscreens, heads bent down looking at tablets, laptops.  All together they appear it seems, but in actuality so far apart from one another.  I don't buy what I'm seeing in the advertising because I'm living in a media overload nightmare.  I think it's a tip of a proverbial socio-cultural iceberg. 
     I'm surrounded by screens of various sizes and shapes.  I'm uncomfortable seeing so many friends and family uncontrollably it seems bent over tablets, itouches, laptops vaguely interacting with one another, not making clear eye, mumbling answers to questions down to the screen but not across the room to the person asking the question.  If this is togetherness and family time why does my skin crawl ever so little sometimes when I look across to see a loved one head down on a screen, body in place, mind and focus elsewhere.
     I can't be the only one feeling a little weird about this can I?  I know all of this great cool tech at least in the commercials, web and multi-media advertising has us all living in a super happy fantasy world of better lives etc.  But is it really making us better people?  Do we know how to do things like basic communication, like....talking to one another?  I know that after a long day working on my architectural work surrounded by screens at my desk, where I frequently post strategic updates to my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, flitting around doing work related research I feel a bit scattered. 
     In the last year or so, have you tried reading a newspaper article or picked up a magazine and tried reading an indepth piece, quickly realizing you can't because you're still scanning the pages like they were on a screen and you can't settle down to actually read like you used to.  I have.  Often.  I feel all of this tech and my unwitting behavior with it has led me to a self-created attention deficit disorder.   
     Backing up a little, let's set some context. In our home bookshelves we have an old children's book from the 1950's or so espousing the glamourous miracles of the technology then called television.  Looking at its simple colored illustrations showing how the technology worked, explaining the complex and mysterious ideas of programs of various kinds being beamed over airwaves into people's living rooms seems quaint today.  Often books like this or Norman Rockwell paintings depict entire family's sitting around a living room, a barber shop, restuarant or bar looking at a single TV or listening to a radio.  
In the early days of television TV's were extremely expensive and families usually had only one and it was a shared experience, not unlike sitting around a radio a generation or so before. Today that shared experience and our basic communication skills are I feel steadily eroding.  There was a singularity about it with the tradition or family ritual of gathering around a TV like it was a fireplace to watch weekly Sunday night programs like the Disney hour, the Lawrence Welk show (which I kind of hated but still....) or the Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. 
      I'm not wishing those days to return but I think we need to become more aware of the unintended consequences of the oh so easy adoption of these screens and media presence in our lives and workplace.  I think we should remember to ask yourself are you really talking to one another when both of you are sitting over a separate screen talking about the days' highlights while scanning your facebook pages or LinkedIN home page, Twitter Stream or what not?  Is this quality interaction?  Can we make different choices of how to use these screens, set limits to when and where they can be used?  Do you really need to text someone when you're in a conversation with someone else?
     It's the age old dilemna of which comes first, the genuine need for the innovation or invention or creating new technology no one as yet needs but through the crafty genius of marketing and advertising convincing us we need thus now want this stuff.  In the midst of this continous drive towards a tablet and screened filled world I believe it's imperative to firmly and clearly understand how it's changing us, why and what kinds of choices really have in combatting unwitting adoption of new behaviours which I feel are quickly and dangerously reshaping our humanity, our very human nature.
     Equally important and I bet a rising field of oppourtunity businesswise and educationally is providing training whether in schools, the workplace or commercial spaces, on verbal and non-verbal conversation skills in formal and informal settings where students of all ages, professions, backgrounds gain insight on how to effectively communicate to one another while evolving, living and working with this screen technology and devices in everyday life.  The one thing I know won't change is the need to effectively communicate between people, one on one, looking each other in the eye.  Those who learn how to do this comfortably will become the leaders of tomorrow as they will no doubt have stronger communication skills. 
     What will change is how the flat screens, tablets, media devices of today will appear, be designed and operate while remaining embedded in our daily lives.  Over the next five, ten, twenty years their technological interface will no doubt shift and evolve in ways I know I cannot forsee.  Not knowing how all of this will evolve makes me uncomfortable.  However, I feel the more educated, trained and ultimately be prepared to be successful in communicating with one another verbally and non-verbally in the days ahead, the better of we all will be. 
     Recongnizing the problem before us and becoming hungry to learn successuful strategies of attention to counter the technology overload can't be anything but a good thing.  By learning skills to improve time management, productivity, workflow management, public speaking, debating, crazy simple things like shaking hands or adjusting behaviors to different cultural mores and traditions I think will all continue to be valuable in life and work.  What do you think?  Are you suffering from technology overload and wondering how to get help? Let me know.  I'm curious what's your experience and what you're doing to counter it.

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