Sometimes seemingly innocuous events stick in your head and become markers for a larger train of thought to develop from. For me, that happened in 1995 when I was leading the build of an online bank for one of Canada’s largest banks.
We were in a meeting with some people from the bank and the guy who was the business owner of this project at the bank in the middle of the meeting pulled out his new laptop to show off the newly released Windows 95 operating system. In so doing, he completely derailed the meeting and given that he was my client, I could only prod him gently rather than tell him in no uncertain terms to stop wasting all of our time.
As he was demonstrating Windows 95, the meeting room phone rang for him and he started to have another conversation at the same time as demonstrating Windows 95 to us. Then his cell phone rang which he answered while still holding the other phone to his other ear and showing off Windows 95. To say that this was absurdly funny would be an understatement, but it also got me thinking about how we use technology, or rather perhaps how it uses us.
This guy was a slave to technology rather than a user in command of it. Over the years since then this is something I have thought a lot about. The implications of technology invading and pre-empting human behaviour have, I think become more profound. It seems to me that in many ways we are becoming event driven cogs in a system of technology driven interruptions.
We behave at the behest of these amazing technologies, always feeling we have to respond whenever they call us, but who is calling the shots?
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The first example of this was when the telephone proliferated. Who can say that when they hear the phone ring that they don’t stop whatever they are doing to answer it most of the time? Then we had email and the same thing happened. The sound of a new email arriving caused us to interrupt whatever we were doing to check it. Then we all got mobile phones and guess what? We started interrupting whatever we were doing when we heard a new text message come in. And more recently we have social networking. God forbid that we miss seeing someone’s latest post!
So it seems to be that in many ways we behave at the behest of these amazing technologies, always feeling we have to respond whenever they call us, but who is calling the shots?
I will deal with this in a later column but there is another aspect to technology driven human behaviour that I find concerning that I want to address now. I will call it technology driven narcissism and isolation.
It seems to me that in many ways these fantastic technologies that are designed to promote communication have in many ways the effect of isolating us and making us more focused on ourselves and less so on the world around us and in interacting with it.
I remember seeing a couple in a café in a movie theatre recently sitting facing each other each playing with their cell phones with not a word said between them for half an hour as I observed from the next table. They were in their own worlds oblivious to each other while waiting for showtime.
We have all seen similar instances many times, I’m sure, of people in group situations or activities busy with their phones, ignoring the group around them. The focus seems to be “me” and not “we”. We see this same focus demonstrated sometimes in an obsession with Facebook posting as an amplifier for “me”. How about selfie sticks? I must take a photo of “me” and god forbid that I should have to interact with another human being to ask them to take a picture for me?
All of these behaviours stem from the same thing what I saw over 20 years ago in a meeting at the bank. I see people not in command of technology but often being commanded by it. I see amazing tools for communication that often isolate rather than bring people together. I will develop these thoughts further in future columns.
Aaron Kumove (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing director of Horizon Consulting. He is a former CIO at New Zealand Post and at the Ministry of Education.
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