Unitasking is becoming a lost art, and the art of conversation may also be dying with it. We have become so accustomed to multitasking enabled by omnipresent technology that we may have lost the ability to reflect silently on what is happening to us and around us as we lead our daily lives. Please don’t interpret this as a call to join a monastery or withdraw from our inter-connected world. I think that the loss of some of these inter-personal skills might reflect some unintended consequences of ubiquitous technology.
The “app generation” may be less patient than its predecessors, expecting that the world will act like algorithms: certain actions will lead to predictable results. And these results should be imminent and not require some possible discussion of differences with people, online and off. Extended face-to-face conversations with friends, family may also be disappearing from our everyday existence. But perhaps the greatest loss of not engaging in these conversations on an ongoing basis (telephones can still help with this) is our own diminished ability to empathize with others.
Some research has shown that we can still recover from our technology dependencies. We can always make time for corrections and remember who we are – “creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations, artless, risky and face to face.”
Well, I would have guessed pixels, and I would have been wrong. The printed page seems to be rising from the paper ashes (no pun intended) and reclaiming some part of the reading market lost to the digital media in recent years. The American Booksellers Association counted 1,712 member stores in 2,227 locations in 2015, up from 1,410 in 1,660 locations five years ago. Publishers are once again investing in their infrastructure for print books.
Paperback sales rose by 8.4 peecent during the first five months of this year. Maybe we all need to be more sensorially engaged in the reading of a book than we would like to admit. Flipping through the pages, or perhaps even the different aromas of well-worn pages or freshly printed texts, are part of sensations of reading that we now miss. The printed words themselves may take us different places as we read, and maybe the relative permanence of the printed pages gives us some assurance that we can always visit there again whenever we wish.
Arguably the digital page can always be retrieved and personal comments and notations retained in the digital device of our choosing. And we can still share these observations and asides digitally across the Internet or even join the local Book Club, but still something seems to be missing. Maybe it’s that old human touch when someone hands you a book that they have enjoyed (with notations included) and shares that experience with you.
Or maybe “user engagement” is a better way to describe how companies use photos you may have posted on Instagram or Twitter in online advertisements for their products. For many companies using these photos on their websites or Instagram accounts is simply seen as a simpler and faster way to create a marketing campaign. But this practice is now being scrutinized under the lens of the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) in the U.S.
For use of photos of children under 13 years of age, verifiable parental consent must be obtained. Advertisers, however, may not be aware of these requirements or simply choose to ignore them? Parents may be contacted by some companies and paid for the use of the photos, but this practice does nor appear to be the general rule. Some experts argue that this ambiguity is being driven by a growing thirst to document our daily lives on social media.
I am not so sure that I would like my daily life documented on social media. If I did, would anyone really want to follow it, photos included. I don’t really know, but as President Bush once said, maybe I am “misunderestimating” it?
Would you like to get a nanodegree? It may just be the one degree that will land you the job that all your other academic diplomas have not prepared you for. The nanodegree could provide you with the additional skills needed in meeting the work demands in an increasingly digitized economy. In almost every growing business venture today, employers are looking for certain prized technical skills that will complement their core business activities. In addition to learning to use hypertext coding for the web, other skills might include data analysis, web development and mobile programming.
Perhaps what is now described as a nanodegree in technical skill areas will someday become part of everyone’s formal education in the same sense that we need to acquire proficient written and spoken language skills in order to learn over a lifetime. In reality, we are probably seeing the completion of a university education as a “terminal degree.” In order to keep pace with the rapid changes around is, our educational endeavors will have to continue throughout life.
What choice do we really have? Our access to information is ubiquitous in our digitally connected world. What will happen to higher education as we know it, or what will be our standards for measuring the acquisition of knowledge over our lifetimes?
I guess we can thank technology once again for changing the way we live and choose to socialize or not. Now that we are into the second decade of the twenty-first century, our connections to the digital world may be even greater than we think. Take partying for example. For some of my friends in college and years beyond (today’s twenty-first century parents), this was a daily preoccupation or, in some cases, a full time vocation. What a great opportunity to hone your socialization and networking skills! Of course, the down side was that you were not improving those other critical skills such as studying and going to classes (doesn’t seem to be as much a necessity any more with online access, etc.)
With more social media and and online events at your fingertips, today’s social scene for most young adults doesn’t involve going to someone’s home, apartment or back yard. It just seems much easier and less expensive to be part of it all remotely? Thankfully, depending on your personal point of view, the local pub or other public meeting places still endure as social scenes for many millenials. Maybe Starbucks realized this social phenomenon was occurring much sooner than most.
Even the social lives of high school seniors seems to have been dramatically altered. In 2014, the number of seniors who had never attended a party at someone’s home increased to 41.3%, down from 11.6% in 1987. So maybe the “medium is the message” after all. But I am not so sure that this is what Marshall McLuhan really meant in terms of how social media is being used in the twenty-first century. What is the message?
Cargo shipping containers are being converted for use as “spaces” to connect individuals internationally. You have probably seen these containers stacked at any large port across the U.S., and perhaps most prominently at major harbors on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. When equipped with internet connectivity, the container “space” also seems to provide an atmosphere which is uniquely suited for very personal one-to-one conversations about topics that are of common interest. The only prescribed script is a simple prompt of “What would make a good day for you?” Each session lasts twenty minutes.
While university campuses may be home to many of these portals around the world, the very nature of the containers’ mobility make it very versatile in reaching out to different communities. Some have permanent locations, while others are exclusively mobile. Full body images are projected on a giant screen which seems to create a more personal experience. At the College Park location, individuals there were connected with others in Afghanistan, Mexico and Honduras. Some of the other permanent locations include Cuba, Iran, and San Francisco.
The container portals are the brain child of Amar Bakshi, a former foreign correspondent. Ironically, Bakshi found that the most informative exchanges over the course of his reporting years were the times when he turned off his camera, his cell phone was dead, and he would talk to the person sitting next to him on a bus. He felt that these conversations were very honest and expansive because “we weren’t concerned that what we said would get back to our mothers or bosses.” Maybe that’s also what happens when you’re talking to someone inside a shipping container in another part of the world?
Some people like to call it “bathing in the natural world.” For the uninitiated, this is all about getting away from all your tech devices, handheld or otherwise, and learning to unplug and recharge with nature. What an interesting and very human thing to do (at least we used to think so!). Find your favorite forest and dive right in. Preferably on some nice sunny day any time of the year, and I guess even winter, if you don’t get snow bound in some northern forest.
I am thinking that this almost sounds like a desire for a spiritual experience that will help us survive in the digital world. Some complain that technology has become incessant, invasive, and impossible to turn off, but the fact remains that we can do just that. What was life really like before we had all this digital power? I am old enough to remember, and I don’t think it was that much different, but don’t let me be the judge. I was never an “up to the minute” person.
Many are concerned that the omnipresent technology is taking control of their lives. The forest bathing experience seems to humble many people in the realization of what little control they actually have in the face of “real” world.
Instant articles for a faster web now seem to be the new mantra for web publishing. So speed is really becoming more the determinant of what you may be reading from any given website or “referral” source on the Internet. You already probably know which sources I am talking about but just for the record let me mention some of the bigger names: Google, Twitter, Pinterest and WordPress (thank you). But you guessed it, the biggest of them all is Facebook in terms of referral traffic to publishers (about 40 percent versus 38 percent for Google). No one really wants to be second, least of all Google.
Remember the days when we used to talk about an open and free Internet. Fortunately, that still seems to be the case, if you can afford the associated hardware, software and connectivity costs. Now when we talk about content on the web and having access to it, the key players may actually be the “middle men” whom we have come to rely on for the quickest and most dependable referral services.
Facebook’s dominace in this arena of web traffic referral is only another example of the growing powers of social media. Traditional content publishers needing to stay connected to their followers now realize that social media is the new “home page” they must utilize.
No more gathering around the old console TV (or flat screen today). It was getting crowded anyway on that family room sofa on Sunday afternoons. Now you can take that online sports action with you and watch it anywhere, anytime on your mobile device in the palm of your hand. This may not be everybody’s preferred method of viewing TV sports, but if you like to watch surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding (and even upload your own videos), this may be a new way to get off that family room sofa and join the fun.
Just don’t get rid of that TV set quite yet. According to a leading digital-market research firm, Americans still spend about four hours a day watching television. Looking at their mobile devices now consumes approximately three hours a day. Let’s see, seven hours plus eight hours at work takes up fifteen waking hours, leaving nine hours to do anything else you like. Maybe get some sleep, or something to eat at some point?
Perhaps I should be doing more multi-tasking, but I think my brain (and body) are still in the last century mode (remember the 20th?). You’re never too old, maybe?
Probably more than parents had to buy in the past. And it seems to be the same case in both the public and private school sectors. Parents can now also search on the web for online services that help them get all the supplies their children may need for that first day of school. Of course, traditional school supply retailers and mega-stores also realize that parents are doing more in providing needed school supplies and are now marketing school supplies’ packages that are competitive in pricing.
Some private schools may include school supplies in their tuition pricing, including individual iPad access for all of their students. Public schools in more affluent communities may also be able to provide educational technology tools for their students, but there clearly seems to remain an economic and digital divide across our schools.
Thirty-one percent of school districts in New York have less state aid than they did in the 2009-10 school year. I think that this shrinking support also reflects a disastrous disregard for the economic needs and challenges facing the middle class in this country. These students need more support in preparing for their futures, not less!
Just a few more thoughts about Google’s effect on your brain, and maybe something to think about over the Labor Day holiday. I can remember the old expression, “he doesn’t have a brain in his head.” Perhaps you never heard it? Maybe I did because people were talking about me? In any case, you really shouldn’t worry about it too much because in the future some experts are predicting that our memories will be going from our heads to the web! And technology will improve to the point of doing many routine and complicated human tasks.
Two examples are “driverless cars” and “surgical robots.” Does this make you feel safer on America’s highways and hospitals’ operating rooms? I just think it will be very unnerving to see empty cars driving past me on the road, especially the high speed lanes, if I am the only “person-driven” vehicle. And I would hate to be on the operating table and wake up to see a robot telling me the operation was a success, but there at no guarantees!
Maybe all these concerns are really an overreaction on my part. Or just something on my mind, or in my brain that will soon be going to the web?
Happy Labor Day Weekend. I will be taking off too, blogging again on Wednesday next week.
It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Just as you may have seen how people fill their plates multiple times and still leave room for dessert, the Internet makes it possible for anyone to fill their brain with anything they want. For buffet goers, what they choose to eat and what they need nutritionally, however, may not be the same thing. Similarly, advertisers on the web have also figured out how to give us a steady diet of only what we want to see, and hopefully buy!
It also seems that we may be “over-socializing” on the web to the detriment of developing our own “real” inter-personal skills. But there is still hope. Remove access to the digital communication tools for several weeks, and researchers have found that social, emotional, and intelligence skills will improve. Sounds a little like going through withdrawal from an addictive habit.
The good news is that our brains can be retrained. Nothing is forever. What a wonderful gift this is, but it is still very much a choice for us.