The Social Affects of Technology

Forget ‘The Matrix.’ We Live in ‘The Loop.' And There May Be No Way Out.



You can’t deny it. The Loop is here. And people want to be “in The Loop” all the time. Being out of The Loop is unthinkable. That’s why we have allowed ourselves to be instantly and electronically connected to friends, family and work 24/7 via smartphones and tablets that give us access to the Internet and social media. We check Facebook first thing in the morning, during the day, at work, at parties, at night when we get home and as we go to bed. We even keep our smartphones by our pillows because we may miss something in the two precious, extra seconds it takes to reach for them on the nightstand. And “something” is just too important to miss these days.

Photo by Matt Burke

Nobody coerced us to do this. We volunteered for it. We are free from the disconnectedness of the past. But at what price? The irony abounds at our newfound technological “freedom.”

“We have this ability to connect under any circumstances. Does that come with a price? Absolutely. Because now we’ve lost all our privacy,” laments Tallahassee ActionCOACH Mark Raciappa, who makes a living helping business clients get the most out of their employees. “By volunteering to carry that (smartphone) around, you basically have given a GPS signal for wherever you are all the time. If your phone is on, you can be tracked by cellphone towers. And yet, if the government had said to every one of us, ‘We’re going to require each one of you to carry one of these around so we’ll know where you are,’ we would have revolted beyond the scale of the Boston Tea Party.’”

And what exactly do we do whenever that phone rings or that app pings for our attention when our focus is supposed to be somewhere else? We stop what we’re doing and answer it. We put whatever we’re doing on hold. This includes interviews, meetings and conversations. This automatic and annoying tendency to bow to the machine bugs the stew out of Raciappa.

“The thing that bugs me is that the manners are gone with regard to those things now,” he said. “In the old days, if two people were engaged in a conversation, you would give your full attention to that person, whether they were a customer or client or a family member — whatever — and nothing would interrupt you because that would be rude. I think it’s horrible right now that two people can be in a meeting, again whether it’s business or social, and somebody’s phone rings and that automatically takes precedence.”

Simon Anderson, a “futurist” and technology consultant and FSU graduate who talks about emerging trends in technology, said the “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO) is to blame for why adults are always in The Loop.

“You can go to any restaurant on a Friday night and see two adults sitting at the table together, presumably on a date, or a married couple on a date night, and they’re both just staring at their phones, hardly saying a word to each other,” Anderson said. “It’s not really so much about efficiency as it is FOMO. I think that’s why people are constantly checking their devices and using them to communicate. People don’t want to feel like they’re missing out on something — at any age — and now they have this constant ‘window’ into each other’s lives via their smartphone.”

Raciappa said that even with the unintended cultural consequences caused by social media technology, certain applications such as video chat are indeed useful for business and personal relationships. For example, he uses Skype all the time to work with clients across Florida. But the important thing is to establish relationships in person, and then use technology to maintain that relationship.

“Once we’ve met, we can maintain the relationship via the long distance,” he said. “And again, with the meeting capabilities that are on the Internet, we can do that nowadays. So I think initially we want to be able to develop a relationship face to face and then, once it’s at least set, we can harness the technology to make it more efficient.”

“Email, if you think about it, is largely expressionless,” Raciappa said. “You would think, ‘Well it’s just pure words on paper, so consequently, there should be less danger there.’ The opposite is actually true. There’s more danger there because of the way we as human beings interpret words. So I do think it is important that we communicate face to face. You can pick up facial expressions, which obviously are important; you can pick up tone of voice, you can pick up inflection, and you can pick up the furrow of the brow. I would say that that certainly makes it easy for two people to communicate without having to travel.”

But harnessing the power of an ever-evolving technology is difficult at best. Anderson said it’s hard to gauge exactly what we’ve gained, or lost, because things are happening so fast that we don’t have the proper perspective to define these advances or their effect on our lives.

He added that the jury is still out regarding the notion that our brains are physiologically changing due to our ever-increasing exposure and interaction with technology. But one thing is certain: The skills needed to live in today’s world are different in many ways from the skills needed even a decade ago.

“I don’t know that we can intentionally ‘retrain our brains,’ but we can choose what to focus on and what tools we use to enhance our abilities,” Anderson said.

“The challenge will be keeping up in an exponentially advancing world — which is why we’re handing off more and more of our decision making to machines and software.

“It’s literally too much for the human mind to retain and maintain,” he continued. “I think we’ll see far more of this in the coming years as our technology becomes more intuitive and contextual.

“For example, I no longer need to remember when I have a flight or how to get there. Based on where I am, where I need to be, the traffic and construction in between, if my flight is delayed and a host of other information I couldn’t keep track of, my phone notifies me — proactively — when I need to leave, with a preset amount of time as a buffer. This is amazing, and it already exists today. And it’s just the beginning.”

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