How do you see today’s technology? As a barrier to your progress, a brilliant tool to be manipulated at will, or simply another fashion to be treated with scorn?
Take email with its multiple platforms and utter ubiquity. Can’t escape it, can you? And now it’s embedded into the world of mobile phones, it’s probable your boss can and will make contact with you literally wherever you go. There’s no escape. No let up. What was designed as a rapid way of written communication may have become a form of slow and relentless torture for many. Of course, used judicially, it’s still a great way of keeping in contact.
For the technologically challenged, sometimes the simplest way of sending a message online can seem daunting. They struggle with the concept of attachments, fall into the trap of sending emails to multiple addresses at the same time, unaware they’re feeding all those email contacts to spam and malware merchants who will devour them and then spread their vile poison to every one of them.
Then there are the promoters. They’ve recognised the facility of this messaging system to spread their word with ease. Is this spam, or enterprise? That, of course, depends upon your viewpoint. Its counterpart from the snailmail world continues to fall in cataracts through our letterboxes, of course: we all get junk mail, which we mostly recycle or toss in the bin to further waste scarce resources.
But it’s the employer who sees the email as a way of controlling his staff who does most damage. He uses email to have you constantly at his beck and call. You feel obliged to respond, regardless of the hour, place, or event that’s supposed to be for your leisure. Those emails lurk there, demanding a response, eating great lumps out of your personal time. And, if you’re smart or brave enough to devise a system that prevents you being contacted out of office hours, you know you’ll be unjustly labelled a slouch, a worker with no care for his job, and your prospects of promotion will be seriously damaged. Email now means your employer owns you, just like the plantation master of old owned his slaves.
A brilliant piece of technological advance has been subverted as a control device by unscrupulous employers. Shame on you if you’re one such!
Your mobile phone, a portable device intended to help you communicate in otherwise isolated places, could be seen as the ideal tool for help in an emergency. That’s certainly why I bought one. And it’s been of use when the car broke down in the middle of nowhere, bringing the roadside mechanic to send me on my way. Wonderful!
But it’s now a tool for endless chatter, often accompanied by pictures, a lot of which shouldn’t be made public. I wonder how many of the billions of text messages that fly around the globe actually mean anything to anyone other than the sender. There’s a brilliant old saying, ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’, for which a modern equivalent might be, ‘Fashion-conscious mobile users send the most crap’.
The current crop of smart phones carry cameras capable of sophisticated photography and video. The result? Millions attending events spend their time recording the live action rather than enjoying what’s happening in front of them. They then, presumably, go home and watch the ‘live’ show on a tiny screen, when they could have been concentrating on their heroes in the flesh instead. Baffles me, but then I’m ancient.
The current fashion for ‘selfies’ is now an epidemic, filling the void with self-portraits that are shared, spoofed, and made fun of for the whole world. People apparently actually carry around their phones attached to long sticks that allow them to take pictures of themselves with ancient monuments in the background. I assume they show these to real, live friends, and social network ‘friends’ on their return from their holidays and trips. I wonder how many of them discover anything at all about the backgrounds they use for this self-glorification.
As a child, in the days when even a landline telephone was unusual in most households, if I wanted to see a friend, or girlfriend, out of school, I had to make plans, arrange a time and place to meet. It meant we were all equipped with a mechanism to plan our social lives, or we went without. This ability to make arrangements ahead of an event later spilt over into our working lives and we adapted our behaviour so that a fall of snow didn’t result in a call to work to explain we’d be late: we knew the snow was likely, so we rose earlier and arrived at work on time. Planning. It seems no longer to happen for most people: easier to send a text and make a spontaneous suggestion our friends will feel socially obliged to accept, regardless of other intentions.
There are, apparently, people who never turn off their mobile phone, who keep them on in the bedroom. The intrusion: if they’re making love, do they interrupt in order to answer that ubiquitous demand for their attention?
And that’s another aspect of constant contact: I see people everywhere using their phones, or their tablets, in public. Sitting on sofas ostensibly watching the TV, having a meal with friends, walking down the street with colleagues, but in reality sending and receiving instant messages and therefore not giving their full attention to the matter at hand or to the people with whom they’re supposedly chatting. I call that rude, frankly.
I could, of course, rant for hours on this topic. It concerns me that the tools we’ve developed to make life easier have, in fact, been subverted into a means of distraction, trivialisation and, most importantly, waste and control of our precious time and attention.
As a writer, I sometimes partake in discussions with connections. People I rarely meet in the flesh. I have large numbers of such social connections and make an effort to engage with as many as possible. It’s impossible to do so in any deeply meaningful way, of course. Oh, we converse on topics both wide-ranging and of mutual interest, and that’s fine, as far as it goes. But how much writing does this writer do when constantly called upon to respond to the remarks and comments of others? Far less than he should or could. All those conversations on LinkedIn, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter et al, demand time and concentration.
I’m taking a break from the online experience. I’m daring to be absent, with or without leave, for a fortnight. I’m going to cease to partake in this world of endless chatter for two complete weeks. Yes; two whole weeks! I want to see what effect that has on my mind, my spirit, my general feeling of wellbeing and serenity.
From the morning of 27th June until the morning of 13th July I’ll be absent from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Email, contact via landline or mobile (I’ll have the mobile available but turned on only when I decide), and my blog. There’ll be a little activity generated by automated and scheduled posts, etc. But I won’t be ‘there’ to respond, I’m afraid. I’m going to have a holiday where contact is only possible in person; face to face. I’ll let you all know how I get on and provide some feedback after 13th, when I’ll no doubt have to spend a full day catching up on accumulated messages of various sorts!
Comments on this post will be replied to either tomorrow or when I return from holiday and come back online.
Dare you do something similar, or are you incurably addicted to the online experience? I’d love to know.