Jeff Lipschultz’s Blog

I Think, Therefore I Blog

Technology: Friend or Foe?

A street sign in my town says, “Handheld Devices Prohibited While Driving.”  Earlier this month, two local friends of mine drove into an intersection and got hit by a car driven by a man who was on his cell phone (and ran a red light).  They were unhurt, and very lucky.  The brand new car was not.

Yesterday, I was able to conduct my banking, make purchases, and mail letters using machines, not humans. And, I had more exchanges with people through a keyboard than in-person or on the phone.

How many times have you seen a family in a restaurant dining together, but yet one child is using a cell phone, and the other is playing with a hand-held game of some sort?

Technology and Social Media can bring us together…and divide us.robot

I have sung the praises of Social Media many times to many people in the last year.  It is the “Social Glue” of this century.  We “meet” or reconnect with hundreds of acquaintances through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter that we would have not connected with otherwise.   And, we can do this on our laptops at Starbucks, our phones during kid’s soccer games, and our computers while hidden away from our family.  All the while, we can keep tabs on everyone.  Our mobile devices are constantly with us, connecting us to the world.

And yet, we can avoid each other or minimize the interaction.  In a busy office environment, we can email/IM our co-workers and never get out of our chair all day to talk to anyone. In some homes, emails have replaced writing letters.  Texting has replaced phone calls.  And chat rooms and instant messaging have captivated many, as neighbors and local friends and family are seen less.

Of course, we are not ALL doing this or doing it 100% of the time.  But there is a spectrum, and it appears we as a society are moving along the spectrum towards a new place.  A place where less “live interaction” is the norm.  If you haven’t seen the movie, Wall-e, you should–it includes great satire of this concept.

It’s all about convenience, right?  Technology allows us to easily act fast.  We will gladly sacrifice speaking with humans to get through a line faster.  We’ll make the cellular call while driving, even when we should wait to be in a parking lot.  Technology also allows us to reach out to more people with less effort.  Our fast-paced world often dictates this behavior.  We’re leveraging tools to be more productive.

There is no absolute right answer to this challenge.  There are simply micro-situations that have to be managed on a day-to-day basis.  Decisions that need to be made balancing the pro’s and con’s of using technology.

Does a seven-year old need a cell phone?  Should I call this person or just send a text message? Should I ride bikes with the kids or play an Internet-based game with strangers for another 30 minutes?  Drive-through or walk-in?

Managing technology takes an effort.  We have to be aware of how much face-to-face time we spend.  Innovations will continue–each one will challenge our ability to keep our human interaction prioritized.

All I’m trying to “say” (as I reach out to many through blogging, ironically) is keep your balance.  Keep track of how many times you talk to someone with your voice versus zeros-and-ones.  Learn more about the people you meet than just their name.  Have a two-way conversation, instead of one-dimensional.  Pick someone to visit once in a while and see how they are doing.  Eat dinner as a family.

Even if it takes a little more time, make an effort to keep technology as your friend.

Author’s note: This post is just the tip of the iceberg, and I know everyone has an opinion on this one.  A simple poll would not capture the thoughts you have–feel free to provide comments.

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April 28, 2009 - Posted by | General Musings, Social Media

22 Comments »

  1. Once again Jeff you cut to the heart of the matter. “Managing and convenience” are critical to your position, which I strongly agree with. I like to think of my use of technology as “managed convenience tools”. When I need it I use it. When I can interact in person or over the telephone (which is still technology:))I use that. These are tools, just tools. As is language.

    That’s my take.

    Comment by Dave Graziano | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  2. Good food for thought Jeff. I see technology as a tool that can be used for good or misused. By itself, technology is not bad, an enemy or a friend. It’s the application of technology that can benefit us or get us into trouble.

    With new technology such as home computers, always-on Internet access and do-everything mobile phones, the world looks different. Sometimes glorious, sometimes aggravating, sometimes scary, but definitely different.

    Along with new technology come new attitudes about time, managing one’s life, exploring opportunities, finding information, and the nature of work. Now comes also a dividing line: those who accept this new world and embrace its ways can prosper, whereas those who resist technology and disparage new ways will struggle.

    It’s all about choices and the consequences of those choices. Many of us are still learning to balance the use of these new technology toys and discovering ways to use them as we engage in our daily lives.

    Ultimately, I believe we all crave community and connections, and technology, especially social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning and Twitter, has given us new ways to connect with others, no matter where they are. It’s those connections that we crave. I also see using technology for social media akin to picking up the phone, having a meeting, or joining a community organization, it’s a touchpoint and a mechanism for conversation. People forge relationships with other people, not with a brand, a business or technology. Contrary to popular belief, social networking sites tend to augment, rather than replace, offline interactions. One of the reasons why social media sites are so successful is their focus on supporting offline networks over online-only relationships.

    How is this possible? Before, the notion of “keeping in touch” was hard work. It required one if not both parties to actively pursue contact on an at least somewhat regular basis. Communication required time and planning. Social networking sites, on the other hand, are designed for easy, lightweight, ad hoc communication.

    So, for me, it’s about finding how to use technology toys to help maintain relationships, nurture community and grow personally and professionally.

    Comment by Jeff Hurt | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. Balance? What a concept! What a GREAT idea!!!

    I have a friend who has run several very successful content Websites for many years – offering information, advice, reviews (books, restaurants, appliances, etc.). Combined those sites have several million visitors each month, supported by advertisers and sales of the ebooks she writes and offers on her sites. She’s one of Amazon’s top reviewers. I’m not sure when she sleeps… maybe she doesn’t.

    While she interacts with hundreds of people a day in running her Websites and generating content for them, she is one of the shyest people I know. She vastly prefers e-mail to the telephone or face-to-face interactions.

    She’s a very sweet person, but I’m afraid that she’s the future for many of us, including me – if I’m not careful.

    I Tweet. I blog (although not as often as I did before Twitter took over my “spare time”). And, under-achiever that I am, I run a single content site with just half a million visitors a month. Right now, I very strongly feel the need to learn more about Facebook and MySpace, just because of what I do, but I’m not sure when/how I’ll fit them in.

    I have a BlackBerry/CrackBerry. I take it to bed with me although it’s turned off all night. I take it into the bathroom with me, although not into the shower. It’s in my car, although I use an ear bud and do NOT text while driving (I may peek at e-mail at a stoplight, however). It’s in my office. It’s beside me right now as I type on my laptop.

    Consequently, e-mail is the quickest way to reach me without annoying me although all the filters can sometimes make it difficult to get through. I may be having more direct interaction with individuals, more quickly and consistently, via Twitter thses days. Scary thought.

    Yes, the future IS a little scary if I/we stay on this track. I think I’ll take your advice, and at least try to separate from my BBerry a bit more – maybe not take it into the bathroom.

    But, will I be as successful and productive stepping back from the edge? Or will I be more productive? I’m hoping for the latter. We’ll see…

    Comment by Susan Joyce | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  4. Great Post. I think for some there is definitely some social media fatigue taking place. Personally, I prefer face to face and often will connect with folks locally after meeting on Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s all about building relationships with people and or collaborating. I do find it’s hard to find balance though. I strive to exercise, get my work done all while staying connected.

    The question is what’s the future? We know there will be technology soon that will allow you to surf the web with your handheld and a mini projector including location based offers and presence awareness.(See TED video from MIT labs). Could we all have a chip in our neck that runs the internet to our glasses?

    Some times I meet people who don’t even have a computer at home. I wonder where they get their information? I recognize the need to read a book or magazine and I still do those things, but the internet offers such a unique way to learn and interact.

    In that vein, follow me on twitter @mikedmerrill

    Comment by Mike D. Merrill | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  5. The fact that we’re communicating at all is wonderful. The fact that technology frequently overrides common courtesy, not so wonderful.

    Technology is for our convenience. It becomes a problem when we allow it to drive and control our interactions.

    A good friend taught me a long time ago, “The phone is for my convenience, not the callers.” That concept extends to any social or technological platform. If it enhances or eases communication and builds relationships — virtual or otherwise — I’m all for it. When it takes over and your actions are dictated by the ringing of a phone or the ding of your email program, it’s time to take a step back.

    I, like Susan, am never far from my smart phone and technology. But I do know how to use the ignore button and return calls when I’m in the middle of something and when it’s appropriate to check emails and tweet. Even something as “mundane” as completing a transaction at the drive-through window or the grocery store deserves your full attention — clerks deserve respect too!!

    Technology + Common Courtesy = A Good Thing

    Comment by dawnbugni | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  6. I have a sign hanging in my home that reads “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” It’s become a motto of mine lately. It seems to apply to just about everything I juggle: kids, relationships, work, family, volunteering… the list goes on. Technology is and always has been my friend in all of this. And, like you wrote, the key is balance. I think balanced people can and will balance their use of technology. People who have difficulty balancing other aspects in their life will have difficulty with drawing boundaries when using technology.

    At the same time, however, it’s about perspective. I probably seem like a freak on techno-crack to people who aren’t as gadget-happy as I am. But that’s me. Silicon Valley baby, making my living thanks to microchips. I’m always on my iPhone, which I let my kids play with. Or my laptop. I can go days without checking my real mailbox, but only minutes without checking email. As I’ve written about before, technology is my connection to almost every facet of my world – from my (and my husband’s) paying work to socializing to scheduling. If I didn’t use my Outlook calendar, so help me, my head would explode and no one would want to be near me in person. (Trust me on that one.) I tried writing things in a Daytimer for years and failed miserably every time because the stupid thing relied on ME to remind MYSELF to use it. Thank goodness technology can make up for my shortcomings. And same goes for the beauty of email vs. face-to-face or phone calls. Like one other commenter mentioned, sometimes we (meaning me) can be dreadfully shy in certain situations and would be lost in this world without the buffer of networks, or the confidence booster that comes when people know our words before our faces. (I am a self-professed phone-phobe, and my Facebook page states it proudly. I would rather walk to your house in a different state than call on the phone.)

    Anyway, I could blather on, but I’ll save it for my own column! Good questions, Jeff. My personal take is that people shouldn’t poo-poo technology for things they can’t control in themselves. If you don’t want to be overrun by it, and if face-to-face interaction is vital to you on your list of values, YOU are the only one responsible for maintaining the balance. Don’t let others’ judgments make you feel bad if you make good use of your tech tools. Just be smart and be safe. As for me, I’ll be fine.

    Comment by Sarah Close | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  7. Jeff — Thanks for a great post — and the comments that were elicited help to carry the conversation forward. The comments have been very interesting as well. There is a balancing act required but not so different from what we’ve experienced all along — only the media has changed. People who truly want to personally engage with people will do so. However, I do think that technology has been a boon for the shyer among us, creating more opportunities for engagement. I am not shy by any stretch, but I do find that I have become more courageous and confident in reaching out to others using social media and this is empowering my more personal interactions with people as well. Of course, for those of us for whom writing comes easily, it also allows us to maximize a strength that often is more submerged. Again, thanks. Off to go “tweet” your post. Take care, Donna

    Comment by Donna White | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  8. A beloved professor in graduate school once told our class, “Balance in life is achieved as you swing from one extreme to another.” Good reminder Jeff.

    Comment by Mike | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  9. I have been a technology CEO for well over a decade, but the best life has to offer is only enhanced by technology, and not consumed by it.

    My greatest joys in life come from pushing my 4 year old daughter on the swing, having lunch at my 6 year old’s school, or holding my 11 day old baby boy … and of course, sharing each of these moments with my dear wife. Many of these events have been tweeted, facebooked, and blogged. Technology allows me to share these wonderful experiences with friends and family, but the joy would be the same without it.

    Comment by Mark Aaron Murnahan | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  10. Great feedback from everyone. I love that technology has reconnected me to many – but there are a few I wish would have stayed away, but I guess they could use “411” the same way they use google :-). My friend Stacey said to me the other day, “I haven’t gotten any tweets from you in the last 2 days.” I said, “Yes, I know it is called the weekend.” Stay balanced everyone!

    Comment by Gretchen | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  11. It’s the spring board, the starting point to what can truly be amazing relationships. It’s not the end all to be all… Keeping that in mind can hopefully maintain some semblance of perspective.

    Look, I’m the first volunteer to say hey, implant a chip in my arm so I can be hooked up 24/7. But there comes a point in time you have to talk the old fashioned way…

    Comment by Karla Porter | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  12. Jeff, as part of the millennial generation growing up with this technology, I feel like your post really hits home. Every day I make small decisions about the balance of technology in my life, and your point that there can be too much of a good thing is right on. While I use Twitter to network and meet interesting new people, I prefer getting up from my desk and walking down the hall when I have a question for a colleague. To me, social media is a way to decrease the distance between people, not a substitution for face-to-face interaction.

    Comment by Elana | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  13. Thanks for reminding me, Jeff, to schedule that business lunch.

    Face to face interaction is as important as virtual. Who doesn’t feel energized after a live concert? Same principle. Super topic and content.

    Comment by Suzanne Levison | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  14. This is such an interesting dichotomy. I think about it all the time. Closer together yet farther apart. Bill Vick told me the other day that Messaging on Twitter is taking the place of a good portion of his emails, which had previously taken the place of many of his phone calls. It’s why he likes video, a more personal media.

    I think once the newness has worn off of the non early-adopters in a year or two, that we will spend less and less time online typing, and that “online” will be a more face-to-face or voice-to-voice type of interaction. We are moving slowly there now with Skype and IM apps. Keep your fingers crossed. Well done Jeff!

    Comment by Craig Fisher | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  15. Great stuff, Jeff… as usual!

    Comment by Ken | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  16. I sometimes wonder why people with nice CVs and who are said to be great communicators do not manage to communicate things at all whereas common sense people do express so many things in just a face-to-face everyday contact.

    Comment by Lola Alemany | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  17. I think so the technology help in this new society such a changeable, the relation humans to base in sociability, the technology learn to know all information in the world, it´s with this that you can use this information without you have to library in you home, but you don´t take advantage much because but you can become a person insolated.

    Comment by Diana Granell | October 7, 2009 | Reply

    • Diana I understand you mean technology helps us in this changeable society. That technology helps us to get the information we need. Without technology you need to have a library at home.
      I cannot undersand when you say “you don’t take advantage much because you can become an isolated person…”

      Comment by Lola Alemany | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  18. Here is a very interesting article on technology. I completely agree with the balance idea. Technology helps us, and a lot. But of course, there is nothing like human “live” interaction. I also vote for keeping human contact. After all, thet´s what we are, part an individual, but also a social animal.
    Thank You Mr. Lipshultz for inviting us to think on this issue.

    Comment by Lu Diciembre | October 7, 2009 | Reply

  19. Is any technological progress a progress?. It depends. Any progress can have its advantages and disadvantages. The appearance of the new technologies can be positive in our lives, but also it has negative consequences. For exemple, the loss of nearby comunication, the face-to-face among people. In addition, the new technologies have turned us into human passive beings, not active ones. That is, is better to work or to do tasks withotu getting up of our seats.
    Moreover, the computers and telephones emit waves harmful for our health. But, we don´t have to be pessimistic, the new techonologies have many advantages, the information gets to more people and this is a symptom of a democratic sociaty. In my opinion, any progress is positive, only depends on the use we do of it.

    Comment by Davinia Galera Soler | October 8, 2009 | Reply

  20. In my opinion, technology is a tool. You can have a good use or bad use. Maybe, the problem is the first finality of Internet: Why does we use Internet only for entertainment? I think that Internet is a good tool for business and a good tool for the professionals.

    Comment by Manuel Valero | October 8, 2009 | Reply

  21. Excellent post Jeff and great feedback provided from all of you. It is really interesting you brought up a reflection like this since technology is a hot issue nowadays for better or worse so everyone has something to comment on here.

    “Technology: Friend or Foe” title is a really accurate one! probably just when reading it, we that are surfing the Web right now are thinking about how we feel about technologies and pro´s and obviously con´s of using them. I vote for keeping technology as a friend but, as you point out, balance is a key concept not just when using technology, but also for other issues in our lives. My point is that technology is not a bad thing inherently, the question here is who has the control? we control technology or technology controls us?

    Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to share our thoughts on such an interesting issue today.

    Comment by María José | October 14, 2009 | Reply


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