E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

So Close, Yet So Far – About the Impact of Technology in Our Daily Interactions

Fancy doing some really interesting and thought provoking reading on the always fascinating subject of technology’s impact in everyone’s day to day life? Yes, I know, I bet you would. Check out then Thomas Friedman‘s So close, yet so far, over at International Herald Tribune, where he actually gets to share a great story on the impact of technology on him and those around him, specially in a recent trip to Paris where he actually got to interact, if you could say that, with a local taxi driver. I can certainly recommend highly for you to go and read the article because in it you would be able to find little gems like this one:

"[…] The driver and I had been together for an hour, and between the two of us we had been doing six different things. He was driving, talking on his phone and watching a video. I was riding, working on my laptop and listening to my iPod

There was only one thing we never did: talk to each other."

Or this other one:

"I relate all this because it illustrates something I’ve been feeling more and more lately – that technology is dividing us as much as uniting us. Yes, technology can make the far feel near. But it can also make the near feel very far […]"

And there are plenty more! I am sure that by the time you finish off its reading you would agree to some extent with what Thomas mentions and perhaps you could even relate to it, too. I know I have. Not here where I live, though. It is a rather small place still to be noticed by technology with such impact, but certainly in most of my travelling done over the last few years more and more I am noticing that, too.

However, the key message I got from Thomas’ article is that, contrary to what he seems to state, I do not necessarily feel that is a bad thing, actually. Yes, I can imagine when situations like that could be rather annoying as they facilitate providing a strong sense of ignoring those around you, but at the same time there are times when you are actually much better on your own and technology may be providing you with the perfect excuse for it. The key message to me though is to find a balance, because like I have quoted a few months back: "We create our own distractions and just need to learn to manage them".

So that is the whole point to me about Thomas’ article, that sometimes it is good to be left alone thinking about your own thoughts and some other times it is good to talk (with others). The key thing is to be able to distinguish when to do what and for what purpose and whom is it going to have an impact on. Because whether we like it or not, Thomas’s article is not bringing forward anything new in this scenario. For quite some time now, there have always been plenty of distractions around us and it has been up to us to decide when we would need to focus and when not. And if it has happened in the past for a number of years I just cannot see how technology is going to have such an impact. If it is used properly, that is.

As a wrap up to this weblog post let me now point you to a letter to the editor where a couple of folks have been commenting as well on this particular article. Check out Letters: Being good, Technology and Society. And specially read the commentary from Rhonda Kelner, whose last paragraph reads as follows:

"IPods, cellphones and laptops should certainly be shut-off at times, and used with great caution, or not at all in some situations, but these gadgets don’t necessarily stymie human interaction and attention. Indeed they often stimulate conversations about technology."

Just brilliant!

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4 comments

  1. very recognisable indeed. And I like your point in finding your own balance. That’s why I don’t take my laptop in the train, otherwise I don’t have time to think and read. Last week though I talked to 3 students in the train and thought that was a long time ago that that happened (talking to strangers in the train).. And they were from India and Buthan, so may less ‘multi-taskers’.

  2. Hi Joitske ! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for sharing your thoughts ! I must say that I can certainly relate to that, specially having living in a number of large European cities for a number of months and years and having experienced the same thing. However, things have changed a bit now. Ever since I relocated to the small village where I am in now, things are different. People talk to you. They get to share with you what they know and what they want you to know and that is certainly something that I was missing from the big cities. Perhaps it is that non-stop, too busy, too isolated attitude to things, that plenty of us have been making use of to just keep going, that prevented us from establishing those social links. Who knows. The thing is that I have been at both ends of the spectrum and I find it much more rewarding and enlightening to be on the latter example you have mentioned 🙂

    Oh, guess what has been the tool that I have been using over here the least thus far? Yes, indeed, my mobile ! Whereas when I was in The Netherlands I just couldn’t get rid of it ! Oh, yes, I can relate to those stories. And I am glad I am no longer using it just as often. Yes, indeed, sometimes it is good to just switch off, focus again on what is important and move on ! And Thomas’ article reminded me of that when I first read it.

  3. I was more hit by another couple of sentences.
    The first is “We are everywhere – except where we actually are physically” and “Linda Stone, the technologist who once labeled the disease of the Internet age ‘continuous partial attention'” and, finally, “I’m finding this age of interruption overwhelming. I was much smarter when I could do only one thing at a time”.

    It is true that technology did not invent the need for staying alone that is important in some moment of our lives. Also, technology did not invent the lack of concentration…

    But it is true that current technology is making of the lack of concentration the norm of our approach. In all aspects of life.

  4. Ciao Stefano ! Thanks a bunch for the feedback comments and for dropping by ! Yes, those two quotes are very good, too ! Specially the second one ! And I can surely relate to both of them and your last set of comments. I guess that in some ways that is the price we are all paying for multi-tasking, in a sense. However, wouldn’t you have the impression you would be missing something big if you would not learn how to multi-task? I mean, in such a world as today where information travels really fast how can we keep up with just one thing at a time ? Doesn’t that make us lag behind very badly and therefore have some difficult times catching up ?

    I guess in the end it would all be pretty much down to some focus and balance on splitting up tasks as we may see fit and multi-tasking whenever we feel there would be a need for it. Somehow, it sounds like that may be the panacea for the 21st century and I would think that it would not be easy. But we have got to try, right?

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