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Tech Savvy: Always on

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! It's been an ongoing issue for quite some time actually, and doesn't seem like it will grind to a halt anytime soon, so I thought it would make for a good conversation this week. It's actually a two-part discussion; pa...

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Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! It's been an ongoing issue for quite some time actually, and doesn't seem like it will grind to a halt anytime soon, so I thought it would make for a good conversation this week. It's actually a two-part discussion; part one is how technology and social media are changing the way we perceive ourselves and others, and how that ties into the "always online" mentality that tends to invade our lives.

I read a really interesting article earlier this week - you can check this link to read it yourself at bit.ly/1HPbeMU - that many people that were born in the late '70s and early '80s can relate to, how we're basically an intergenerational generation. Confusing, right? Actually, I think it does a good job identifying things that really show how societal attitudes have changed since the advent of the internet and mass digital communication. We went from a society that thought in terms of generations to a much more individualized society. It used to be The Greatest Generation, The Boomers, Gen X, and on, and suddenly the Millennials are railing against the caste and it's all about them. Us. Whatever.

There are many contributing factors to this, but let's stick with some of the tech implications that drive some of this behavior.

I also read another interesting article - I can't find the link to anymore - that divided social media users into five basic categories. Of course, I only remember two of them - those with low self esteem and those with narcissistic tendencies. It's natural for people to either exclaim about what makes them happy, or to worry and contemplate about what is going wrong. This is more commonly seen as "ME ME ME!" or "Woe is Me." Social media platforms like Facebook have made sharing our thoughts so easy it's become second nature to many, including myself at times. I find myself making a conscious effort to try and post only things that are positive, or informative, things that I find interesting or thought provoking (man, this sounds a lot better writing it here than on my Facebook Timeline) and shy away from frustrations and other things. There are so many others that do that already, I just don't feel the need to contribute to that. Don't misunderstand, I'm not trying to come across as a holier-than-thou type and I certainly have frustrations, but technology has started to erode at where we draw the line between public knowledge and information that should be kept private.

This erosion has led to being lumped into these categories. I find it ironic that after all the fluff and bluster about individualism our habits still lump us into general categories, and it's changing how we perceive ourselves and has some rather nasty side effects sometimes. One that is predominant is the "Glass House Syndrome" (thanks, I just came up with that myself), and it's usually characterized by those vehemently disagreeing with someone else's point of view by hypocritically calling them out using the same process they are opposed to. It's compounded by the fact, yes I said fact, that it's virtually impossible to have a real discussion via posts and comments. Character limits, lack of emotion and inflection, and other naturally occurring physical traits that can be lost in winky faces, mean it's difficult to determine the tone of someone's comments. Don't believe me? Just visit a garage sale page on Facebook and read through it sometime and you'll see what I mean.

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Overall this type of interaction has influenced the way we perceive interacting with others, and often, how we form our opinions of them. It's so easy now to find a single side of a story, find multiple sources that support that side, and take it as fact. In the article about the In-Betweeners (that intergenerational thing) we are the first group of people that were able to use both the Internet and traditional encyclopedias and where the Internet was a secondary option for references. By the time I had reached high school and college it was the full blown digital era, but I remember putting together research papers and having to reference encyclopedias, actual books, and archived materials not just online. I like to think it gives me a different perspective in how much weight I put on credibility and still drives a need to verify things for myself.

The end result is that for all the benefits of social media and helping us stay in touch with others and sharing wonderful things, overload has begun to make us cynical and jaded towards interaction. It's important to share, it's also important to take a break and not air dirty laundry.

The second part of this week's discussion is actually somewhat of a byproduct of the first topic - how technology has afforded us both greater flexibility and greater freedoms while at the same time shackling us to our devices and our jobs sometimes.

When I was in high school and college I wrote a lot of checks. For gas, bills, groceries, you name it. When I ordered something I had to either use a credit card or mail a check and wait. When I first started working the majority of the business I was involved in was done either via phone or snail mail. Blackberry had cornered a business market for smartphones, but it was still for C-level employees, or Wall Street Traders, not for entry level workers like me. The iPhone changed that. All of a sudden there was a device that could function both for business and fun, and it was affordable.

Suddenly not only mid-level and entry-level employees had smart devices, but business owners and executives were migrating over as well. This shift in dynamic meant that now businesses, and a rapidly expanding number of them, had a common type of communication capability between all levels of their staff.

Email access and VPN technology meant it was easier to access working files from remote locations, which meant that you didn't have to be at a desk to do work. For better or worse this created a society and workforce that began to completely blur the lines between work and pleasure. I'm guilty of it, too. I still check and respond to emails after hours, on weekends, on holidays. It's just habit now.

The danger in this is that it has changed the expectancy on reply and correspondence. Ten years ago if someone sent me a request for information and I was busy in meetings, or (gasp) out of the office, it was perfectly acceptable to not receive a reply for a day. Or two. Now, as people have had time to let these devices invade every aspect of their lives, if I can't get a reply, or at least an acknowledgement, out within a couple hours, something must be wrong. As a business person, it's difficult for me to remember that immediacy is a convenience, and the world will keep spinning if I don't hear back, or I can't reply, within 10 minutes. It's something everyone struggles with.

These two things highlight a concern I've shared in the past regarding setting boundaries and limitations on technology and its use. I love what technology has done for us; its benefits are numerous and growing but, as with everything, often needs to be moderated and tempered with some common sense.

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Ten years from now, this standard will have changed again and we will be discussing how that change has impacted our health and society, and with each new change it will be important to remember that technology is a benefit, but can be abused if we let it.

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