Sunday, May 30, 2010

Where is it all going, and do we have a clue what we are buying?

Facebook, Twitter, Email, Gmail, Telephones, iPhones, cellular phones, blackberries, SMS messenger, PingChat . . .  there are numerous ways to communicate with each other.  We call this "social media".  It is technologically enabled communication that allows us to communicate with others.

Admittedly, I am a willing participant, although not a misinformed one - I think.  But I wonder where this is taking us as a people. What are we walking towards?  Can we control it?  And who else is listening?

Since the early times, it has been natural and in fact necessary to communicate with each other. When we think of communication, we think of talking to each other.  Connecting with human beings.  Connecting with our environment. Connecting with other worlds.  Connection is good, because if we can understand each other, perhaps we can one get along as a civilization.  Communication is culture building.  We have all grown up with special stories from the past that help create context for our present.  And over the years, communication has been largely verbal and with the written word in more formal contexts.  Newspapers, books, magazines are some examples of our source of information.

I remember when I was in Journalism School in 1996.  The "World Wide Web" was just emerging at that time.  We had trouble remembering addresses. We also wondered what was the point of this Internet superhighway, and how long would it last. We also asked questions about what it's impact would be, and how could it be used. How would one make money using this new vehicle? These questions are still on table. Ask the newspaper industry that must somehow adapt profitably to this new phenom.

This changes relationships too. Looking at my daughters, the eldest just missed the cell phone human leash, but my younger daughter was a cell phone kid.  We justified the decision by believing that we would know where she was and that she could call us anytime.  However, she was completely connect to her friends and social environment all the time. I believe this placed a lot of pressure on them.  As a parent of the cell phone kid, I had to learn to communicate the same way.  So now I have an iPhone because she may not answer the phone, but she will always respond to a text message or a GMail.

The same has played out in our work lives.  Most of us have a blackberry or some form of cellular communication device that connects us at all times to our workplace, to our families and to our friends.  Personally, at times, I find it to be an invasion of my own space. So, I exercise my option to turn it off, but there is always the risk that some "emergency" could happen and I would be unreachable.

FaceBook and Twitter are the new social media kids in town.  At first, Face Book was a great way to "connect" with family and friends.  In fact, our family has been legislated to belong because it is a great way to stay connected.  Now I can see the babies in our family grow up. We get to learn about who is doing what. And we are not strangers anymore.  I think it's great.

But who else is watching and reading your status updates?  Can a potential employer look you up and see your life in pictures?  Should they be able to?  Facebook has privacy options.  Use them.  Make sure that "only friends" can see your words and pictures.  And if you are worried, you can also block people from every finding you via searches.  The other thing is - be strategic about what you say.  Do not post things that you wouldn't want someone to see. Do not offend others.  And protect your own reputation by not posting embarrassing or questionable content.

Also, be aware of how easy it is to share pictures.  On an iPhone, you can take a picture, and immediately SMS it to someone as a text, or you can upload it to your Facebook page. How easy is that? To easy. Be discriminate and be wary.

Privacy is a bigger issue than you think these days.  Every step we take, every purchase we make, every credit card we stake, they are watching you. (I borrowed Sting's rhyme - couldn't resist).  But it is true.  If you post a comment about something on Facebook, you might find ads on your Facebook page about that.  And who can blame them.  Many entrepreneurial business people have discovered this new medium and like it as another channel to find their audience and sell them something.

Beyond that, we are seeing more virtual technology.  We have seen it in the movies - I am Robot was about the use of robotics to replace humans.  The movie Avatar toys with the idea of creating an alter ego outside of ourselves.  The Matrix supposes that we are living in a manufactured setting, driven and created by and for a higher technological power.

So, to answer the question, where is this taking us a people? I think it's our choice, but we have to set boundaries. The boss needs to know that after 5 the "crackberry" is turned off.  We need to set boundaries for communicating with our friends, and we need to know that somebody else might be listening and taking notes.


LAL said...

The boss also wants to know the crackberry is turned off during work hours. I have heard of organizations/businesses that now require that all cell phones etc be left at the front desk when employees arrive at work. Another hint, bosses don't want to see you posting comments and making updates to facebook during the middle of the work day. I agree that people need to use common sense and discretion when using these "tools" of communication. Oh, and another thing, what about people who talk on their cell phones in the middle of a store or restaurant and they are so loud you can hear every word of it. Again, common sense needs to prevail.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. The bottom line is there is a time and place. We are a bit stupid about this I think. Email / text / gmail - choose the weapon of choice - can be very destructive, especially if it is used to communicate bad information or information without all the answers. I call that a drive by emailing. Bad communicators do this. We almost need lessons on how to talk to each other.