It’s a Social, Social World. Now What?
How many smart phones, tablets and such devices do you carry? For you, is being connected pretty much the same thing as being awake?
In a session at the Aspen Ideas Festival called “It’s a Social, Social World,” panelists debated whether hyperconnectivity is the best thing that’s happened to human society in 500 years, or a scary new form of addiction, or – perhaps most likely – a phenomenon that advances human capabilities and attacks human vulnerabilities at the same time.
Certainly, the benefits are extraordinary. Vivian Schiller, chief digital officer for NBC News, asserted that “social media is the greatest boon to journalism since the printing press” — a powerful means for reporting the news, verifying the news and interacting with the reader. And “it’s easier to shoot down false information than ever before.”
In a Burmese refugee camp, Emily Jacobi, executive director of Digital Democracy, observed a correlation between Internet access and self-identification as activists. Social media expands our connection to the world outside and arms us with new tools to change that world.
Anything that powerful needs to be used thoughtfully. William Powers, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry, reminded the audience that we have all been here before. Every so often in human history, a revolutionary new tool comes along with previously unimaginable benefits – and then it slowly dawns on people that they’re becoming enslaved by the tool.
The greatest concern is for the current crop of hyperconnected kids who believe “I share, therefore I am.” The source of feeling is getting wrapped up in the digital sharing of feeling, according to MIT’s Sherry Turkle. When a social setting gets emotionally hard, we take out our phones. You see people texting at funerals. “In businesses as well as personal life, “ Turkle says, “people aren’t being present with each other when they need to be.”
The trick, all agreed, is getting the balance right: connectivity balanced with solitude and reflection, presence in the moment balanced with the omnipresence of Facebook.
Bob Schukai, global head of mobile technology for Thomson Reuters, pointed out that “in spite of our being hyperconnected, air travel hasn’t dropped. You can’t necessarily extract emotional connection from a 140-character tweet.” Bob carries a minimum of three smart phones at all times and even he concludes “sometimes you need to put down the damn phone!”
Michael Moore is the Global Head of Internal and Online Communications at Thomson Reuters.