How to Recover from a Two-Decade Binge
Instead of choosing one of the thousands of questions from more intelligent viewers, CNN’s John King chose the most simple-minded, doltish question I’ve ever heard asked of an American presidential candidate: “Define yourself using one word, and one word only. – Andra H.”
Just as it’s absurdly ridiculous to summarize a presidential candidate’s platform, personality, and expertise in a single word, it’s absurd to think that our technology can capture who we are as people. And most of us already know it does not.
I do work for a company that uses interaction and collaboration expertise to make corporate meetings and events more relevant in our tech-obsessed world, and I hear this all the time:
“Everyone says they want to come to a conference for the connections, but once they arrive they do not do the things necessary to start to build relationships.”
There are companies that offer handheld “networking” devices that wirelessly trade business cards, companies that use high-res screens to display conference data, and digital agendas and bios that can be sent to your smartphone.
These aren’t enough because they’re just tools. The hammer is not the house, and we are just now leaving (learning from?) two decades of a technology obsession-turned-stupor.
When reader Greg B. said that ”Facebook and social networks alike are ruining society,” he was kind-of right.
A Shiny New Toy
Nineteen years ago, in 1993, AOL has been operating for less than a decade and was smashing CompuServe, Prodigy, and GEnie with its walled garden model, which curated key features for news, shopping, entertainment, and socializing (chat, instant messaging) in a simple graphical interface.
AOL had 500,000 members in 1993. I was compuman10. In 1995, they hit 1 million and, combined with the Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses desire for an email address and AOL’s $20/month unlimited access plan in 1996, AOL hit 10 million a full year before the turn of the century.
By 2000, 54 million Americans had been on a multi-year binge, chatting with people we never had and never would meet, forwarding stupid-ass jokes over email, and looking at all sorts of human nakedness, when we weren’t reading the news, creating the demise of brick-and-mortar stores with Amazon.com purchases, revolutionizing the music industry with (slow) song downloads, and bragging about our Motorola StarTAC flip-phones.
This was the period of dreaming, of believing, of trusting (in the case of the stock market) that “technology” would pave the way.
Data Does Not Love You Back
Ever notice how one can spend an entire day hung-over from just a single night of drinking too much? It’s a 2:1 ratio for recovery, and the same goes for our minds as much as our bodies.
The tech bubble collapsed in 2000 because there wasn’t any more money to gamble recklessly with. The industry slowly learned that it’d have to show something really valuable to make an impact, and that value was perceived in data.
Data-lust, and the increased efficiency & relevance of content that comes with good data, led to Google’s mathematical search approach killing Yahoo’s human-selected ranking, Facebook’s sharing and collecting of regimented personal data crushing MySpace’s individual customization & expression, and YouTube’s viral video Look-at-my-viewers-Ma! platform making closed, television-clone platforms like RealPlayer obsolete.
While the data-focus has brought amazing and innovative value for everyone from corporations to governments (see my post on data), at the end of the day we are still dissatisfied, and have people like Greg saying that Facebook destroyed society, my meetings-industry colleagues longing for “an active cultivation of a culture that promotes better conversations,” and one of the most obvious generation gaps ever.
A Better Kumbaya
It’s not surprising to me that people are now talking about the lack of “real” friends versus Facebook friends. My gut says “Klout scores” and attempts to rank people based on their general “online influence” (whatever that is) is just as juvenile as ranking people based on how many connections they have on LinkedIn.
It’s not surprising that people are looking for something more than an email and increasingly using technology to create face-to-face interactions rather than replace them, as recently discussed at a Wix Lounge community-building social media panel.
The exciting opportunities are in using technology to subtly orchestrate more meaningful human interaction. We’re taking the spotlight away from a device and putting it on That One Colleague Who Changed My Career. We can start to use apps creatively and collaboratively to make sure that the Idea That Saved The Company doesn’t get lost at the water cooler. I believe that our love of technology has revealed a truer appreciation for humanity, changing the focus from Hammer 2.0 to the people who actually build the house.
I feel very good about the coming decade of human interaction. We explored our tech-imagination in the 90s, learned the value of data in the 00’s, and are now starting to use our experience with technology to improve — not replace — our face-to-face humanity.