I was studying some professional materials today in order to keep up with my field in learning and development. It’s constantly changing due to technology and the ever-changing ways we do business. Unfortunately, while businesses are often on the cutting edge, my field tends to lag behind technologically. One reason for that is that my generation – the generation who has had to adapt to technology as adults – are still in the workforce. Our brains are wired to learn one way, and technology is begging us to learn in another. It’s a slow change, and I’m still not sure if it’s for the best. But I’m part of that demographic, so, of course, I would question it.
There was a section about how learning and development will look when we have “trans-humans” in the workforce. It was scientifically way over my head, and I wasn’t the least bit interested in working with trans-humans (not to be confused with trans-gender individuals). Apparently there are scientific breakthroughs that will allow us to be genetically modified with capabilities beyond what we have now. Honestly, I hope I’m dead before that comes around, although I do have to say that I wish some people could be genetically modified to be MORE human these days. I skipped over that section but was very interested in the next on the effects of technology on workplace learning.
I received my Psychology Today magazine this week, and there was an article in this one about how technology is affecting our relationships. I read it last night with much interest. I’ve been feeling a bit lonely this weekend, and I was talking to my sister last night (via text, of course) about how people don’t know how to make friends anymore unless it’s via Facebook. I have a handful of friends who will join me for coffee or hiking, but that whole face-to-face conversation thing and pulling away from house and family just doesn’t seem to be a high priority any more. I fell in love with coffee shops in the 90s because it was a great way to meet people. Now it’s more of a technology lab that smells like coffee. Forget meeting anybody unless you spill your coffee on their keyboard.
And even in my professional material there was a section about how technology is changing the way we interact – both positively and negatively. As with most good educational material these days, the author pointed me to some outside multi-media to expand on the concept. (For this reason, I LOVE technology. I get to use all of my senses and a variety of sources to learn as opposed to just reading which I find horribly painful.) It’s worth watching, and she has a very balanced opinion about technology use.
Both the article and Turkle make the point – with pictures to prove it – that we are no longer “with” people when we are with them. We are often sitting side-by-side like they do in the coffee house technology labs interacting with people that are miles away. I’ve even had friends tell me they were out on dates when the guy was texting another woman – in one instance, at least, they were interrupted during a very intimate moment by another person. And I’m not going to say that I’ve never been texting one man while I was out with another because I have. It’s sort of the way we operate. I text a friend about how stupid the meeting I’m in at work has become. I get on Facebook at a campfire because I’m bored with the conversation. It’s a way of not committing fully to my life. I keep one foot in the present while the other one is exploring other opportunities. Both suffer.
I remember when Facebook first came out. I loved it. I was newly divorced. Texting was just becoming commonplace, and I remember tapping out my texts on a flip phone on the number pad. I lived in Memphis, and I connected with friends in Memphis and some in Michigan. My little 60-person friends list felt huge at the time. One day I got a friend request from an old college friend. The name seemed really familiar but all I could remember was that I knew her from college. It had been a really long time. I had a drinking problem in college. Did I really want to go there? I was a different person, and I had put that all behind me long ago. What on earth did they think of me? Eventually I accepted it, and the rest is history. Finally my life was no longer divided into the geographical chapters where I’d lived. For awhile, my life felt whole.
As time went on, I realized that I had let most of those folks go for a reason. We no longer had anything in common. Facebook was merely a connecting point between acquaintances that were no longer in my immediate circle. I unfriended some, I unfollowed a lot of them, and I finally have grown bored with it all. It’s almost like an old habit now. It gives me a digital scrapbook, and it’s a place to share my blog if anyone is interested. The people I want to be connected to are my friends off Facebook. There’s too many ads, too much negativity and not enough real connection. But maybe there never was. Quite possibly Facebook is a place where we can state our opinion and be cheered on by those who have the exact same opinion. Or I can use it to post a selfie and get strokes for having beautiful curls. It serves a purpose, but it’s not a relationship-builder.
I have an acquaintance who appears to be an angry, hateful conservative who posts nothing but one-sided political rants. Rarely does he ever post anything about his life. There are no pictures of adventures, children or love interests. And in some posts he actually details movies he’s watched or articles he’s read that further fuel his anger and hatred of anyone that has an opinion different than his. I am a person who has an opinion that is different from his, and I have to say that if we ever had anything in common – and we did – it just doesn’t matter anymore. I went to his page this morning to see what he was up to, and it was just more of the same. I wondered if he ever spends his free time doing fun things. Or is his life crafted around feeding his insatiable appetite for feeling superior? Before Facebook came along, did he spend his time throwing gasoline on his anger and then vomiting all over his friends when he saw them?
I struggle in my relationship with technology. I love it because it allows me to stay in contact with people more consistently, and I have a broader community of friends. And if someone interests me on Facebook, I can invest more in the friendship person-to-person. But that’s the rub. There are many people who can’t or won’t take it offline. They either don’t have the time, the courage or the interest to take the next step to a relationship. It happens in online dating, and it happens with friendships. And I would argue that some people don’t have the time because they are online all the time. Facebook FEELS like you are hanging out with your friends, but you aren’t. You are sitting on your sofa by yourself or ignoring the people you are with.
Lately I’ve been trying to make offline time. It started when I got off Facebook altogether a couple years ago. I only made it about six weeks, but I was able to see how much Facebook had become my life. Since then, I’ve tried to limit my time on Facebook with some intentionality. But I find when I’m bored or sad or feeling anything I don’t want to feel, I pick it up and scroll. It’s a way of killing time and avoiding my feelings. This weekend I’m trying to read or go out with friends or even just nap when I have downtime. It feels a little weird and lonely, but it’s the way life used to be before technology interjected itself into my world. It’s kind of nice not to have anybody insulting me.
Our generation is lucky. We know what life was like without technology, and we get to know what life is like with it. Turkle makes the point that we feel like technology has been around for a long time, but we are really in the early stages of learning to live with it. We can set boundaries around its use just like we set boundaries around the use of everything else that lets us escape. A friend of mine blames the person who gave him his first drink for his chronic lifelong use of alcohol. We can use the same logic with technology and feel helpless or we can take responsibility and figure out what works for us. I don’t yet know where the line is for me.
Right now I have no problem putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” from 9 PM to 6 AM. I have no issue putting my phone in my purse on silent when I’m visiting with friends or having coffee. I mostly leave it on airplane mode when I’m hiking. I even leave my phone at home when I go to the gym or run an errand. I do have issues putting it down when I’m driving which I know is dangerous. When I’m lonely, I default to mindlessly scrolling on Facebook instead of reaching out to a real friend. And I no longer have people over for dinner or parties because I see them all the time on Facebook. I just don’t miss them anymore, but my heart feels lonely.
I want a truly more connected life rather than a virtually connected life. I continue to work on it. A friend of mine the other day apologized because she doesn’t do social media. I actually felt very jealous. I’m sort of like my friend with his alcohol habit. I just wish I’d never started. It’s be so much easier than having to moderate it.
What do you do to live with technology? Does your use bother you at all?