An Incongruous Plea to The Wired

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In our attempt to remain connected at all times, we spoil opportunities to connect in real life.

I have this romantic notion that the deepest friendships come about only through face-to-face interactions. Regrettably, I feel we are losing our ability to appreciate and understand the complexities of each other unless it’s though a blog post, e-mail, or text message.

Technology enables us to be ‘on’ all the time– which practically means we’re never off. Modern communication is instantaneous, interruptive, and incessant; and, we cope with it by multitasking. And with technology always on, we’re losing the ability to turn multitasking off.

This is especially disconcerting in social situations: we automatically anticipate distractions in moments when there’s nothing to distract us, and that awareness distracts us from each other. Sometimes we’ll artificially create a distraction to fill a void. We can’t help but multitask; and when we do, we lose detail, complexity, and depth. (Yes, even you.)

The funny thing is that technology enables us to maintain close relationships with a greater number of people. But, in doing so, we implicitly devalue face-time and forgo possibly deeper relationships. Something feels off when I feel closer to friends through e-mail and blogs than through time spent together.

I hope this isn’t the case with me. In fact, that’s the point of this post: if you ever feel I’m not giving you my full attention or I am using technology as a blanket, call me out on it. Unmediated communication is too important and I’d like to stop being a victim of my distractibility.

More: NPR: How Multitasking Affects Human Learning, Time: The Multitasking Generation

8 comments
Kaushal
Kaushal

perhaps we should have a global "Disconnect Hour" just like the Earth Hour to filter out the noise - and to give a thought to the quality of our off-line interactions... :)

btw, great job on the posts. Look forward to more of the same.

Kaushal

gruen
gruen

Kaushal--

I agree that Internet-based relationships can be a great starting point for solid friendships and that Dunbar's number is still relevant.

But, I'm not talking about that.

I'm concerned that our connected lifestyles have negative implications in our ability to be as close as we once were without all of the distractions. Even when we try to turn it 'off', we're still used to functioning in that way... and so we do.

Kaushal
Kaushal

Hi Michael - Great post. While I agree with your concern that the relationships you build on fb/twitter seem incomplete, they are a great starting point - almost like a preamble to a book.

In the "Tipping Point", Malcolm Gladwell calls out a concept called Dunbar's number that states that - "150 is about the maximum number of individuals a community member can relate to cognitively while keeping those relationships productive".

Malcolm then goes on to argue that there is a reason to extend beyond just these strong relationships. The the most valuable reason to maintain a network of strong ties is to have access to a network of weak ties. He argues that strong ties are less likely to add value to your network, because people you are closely connected to already have the same friends and same resources, and know the same things, as you do.

I think as an entrepreneur we find our best work in the gaps of common reasoning and approach - and it is almost necessary that we leverage the "strength of weak ties" to constantly expand our horizons. Perhaps hopefully in the near future as you learn more about a weak tie he/she might end up being your strongest compatriot.

@ksjhalla

Roland Hesz
Roland Hesz

"I’m saying that technology use makes us more prone to multitasking, a habit that carries over into the rest of life. If our minds are constantly distracted (or expecting to be distracted), it detracts from real life conversation, connection, and therefor depth in relationships."

This is the part with which I would agree, but my real relationships are not bothered by technology - ok, I can turn off all this online stuff and go and take a walk, or hop in a coffee to talk with friends.

At the blogger meetings I was noone twittered, seesmic-ed, basically, noone had any equipment for that, no laptops, no PDA-s, and phone's turned off, only beer, wine, coffee and talking and generally enjoying off-line entertainment.

Admittedly, these blogger meetings were nowhere near to the ones you attend. We are rather behind you in this area.

On the other hand I see what you mean, but, and now I will be rude, these people would be exactly the same if they were not blogging.

These people are exactly the same kind who in 1987 were running around the party, talking to everyone and noone at the same time, one sentence here, whooosh, next question there. The ones who never could concentrate on only one thing.

Some people are prone to do this, and technology makes it admittedly easier, and this kind of technology draws this kind of people I think.

So I think it's only the multi-tasking prone, 'wanna know it all and now' kind of people are over represented in this area.

I could be wrong I think, but that's how I see and experience this thing.

Jay  (Twitter @qthrul)
Jay (Twitter @qthrul)

I usually have to tell people that have not worked with me about my problem. My problem is that when I stare into a screen I can block out everything around me.

This was a conversation I had to deal with first with books in class. I was a class "N", not satisfactory, on report cards for the section on listening to instructions. Next, it became desktop computers. Then it became laptop computers. Now, it's a conversation I have to have because of smart phones.

I've never been able to multi-task. :)

So, my social technology moment is when I put the device/distraction away and focus on the person or persons across from me and around me.

gruen
gruen

Ronald--

I'm saying that technology use makes us more prone to multitasking, a habit that carries over into the rest of life. If our minds are constantly distracted (or expecting to be distracted), it detracts from real life conversation, connection, and therefor depth in relationships.

It's not that people are stupid or that minds are on- or off-line, it's that technology changes things.

And I have been to blogger meetups. Next time you go, take note of how many of them are Twittering, Seesmicing, Blogging, Qiking, Texting, Utterz'ing, etc. as the event goes on. Of those who aren't, how many do you think are resisting the urge?

Roland Hesz
Roland Hesz

And so they said when the phone arrived.

I agree with you that face to face meetings beat blogs and mails hands down.

I however totally disagree with this part

"But, in doing so, we implicitly devalue face-time and forgo possibly deeper relationships. Something feels off when I feel closer to friends through e-mail and blogs than through time spent together."

Simply put, in my experience it is totally false statement.

Most of the people never feel closer to "friends" through e-mail and blogs.

If you follow any blogger event, and the results, you can clearly see, read, hear that the personal meetings deepens the relationships.

People are not stupid, really.

So, I am partly with you about the distraction thing, although, I learned the multi-tasking, distraction thing at work, and weirdly not through blogs, or IMs, or Twitter or whatever.

And lastly:

"In our attempt to remain connected at all times, we spoil opportunities to connect in real life."

Most of the online people I know are striving to connect in real life - although, I think the online is real too. Minds are real both online and off-line.

If people were not looking for "real life" connections, you would never have any of these blogger breakfasts, geek dinners, blogger meetings.

I think "real life" shows you assumption false. So don't panic :)

Michael Cummings
Michael Cummings

I'm calling you out. You gave me this information in a disconnected blog post. You failed.

All kidding aside, you are absolutely correct in your statements. I have felt this way for a long time, but it is incredibly difficult to get around it. I generally take one day a week where I completely disconnect from everything and it really helps you regain a sense of being somewhere physically instead of virtually.

@michaelcummings

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