Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Beam Me Up Scotty"

 Some of my kids say I’m a freak! When I walk down a street and someone walks towards me, I generally make eye contact with the person and say hello. Nine times out of ten the person is startled and surprised and, matching a smile to mine, responds with a similar greeting. People like to be acknowledged. Saying “hi” also says, “I see you.” And the response...any response, says “I am here!” Acknowledging others is at the heart of human connections. Human connection, neuro-scientists are discovering, is more basic than our need for food and shelter. Lack of human connection is more dangerous than smoking, drinking and overeating.

We live in an age of enhanced communication. high tech watches, Face book, Skype, Twitter, cellular smart phones, email, Face time - all contribute to our immediate access to information and possibilities for interconnectedness. Making contact from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world, any time of the day or night regardless of geographic location or time zone is more than possible. Nonetheless, our human connectedness is suffering.

I remember hearing about technology before I ever used a computer. Then, it was expected to reduce our ‘busy-ness’ in the world. Computers would make it more possible for us to have leisure time, since so much of what we were used to doing would be completed by technology.  Communication was supposed to be enhanced!
Most important to me is being face to face with people. Body language, facial expressions and proximity with option of touch are usually ideal. Next is telephone. At least then I get to hear a real voice, and clarifications in what we say is immediate. Voicemail, for me, is a great benefit. It allows me to be completely present with the person with whom I am speaking. If I get ‘beeps’ while I’m talking, I know the second caller can leave a message and I’ll call them right back.

 “Your call is very important to me”. If I’m not home or simply not available the idea is to leave a message so I know you’ve phoned. I will call back! In fact, listening to the message from people I know is, in itself, inspiration to make that return phone call.  Today’s practice, however, is that people don’t leave messages very often! Our son has said quite blatantly, “I don’t leave messages. It’s not my style.” What’s that about?

There’s a great deal of irony in the deterioration of communication. 30 years ago there was promise of great connections. “The world is shrinking” sociologists would say. Technology is advancing, we were reminded. Sending messages is immediate! I have a vivid memory of Leonard Nemoy lifting his wrist to talk into his watch “Beam me up, Scotty!” which precipitated his immediate disappearance. How come I don’t get to ‘beam up’ when I ask?

Anywhere we travel in the world, we find people walking the streets with their heads down and their thumbs thumping on devices. Whole groups of people sit around tables in restaurants communicating with other individuals somewhere else than where they are, neglecting those sitting with them. Our attention, too often, is on our devices, not on each other. We need to talk to each other, make eye contact, smile, even shout out “Good morning to you!”
Did you know that the word “multitasking’ originated in the field of technology? It refers to the computer’s ability to process several tasks or computer jobs concurrently. As a civilization, we respond to computer practice by modelling. Multi-tasking is an emotional high, not cognitively efficient. Alfie Kohn’s statement “Too much, too fast, don’t last,” reinforces this idea. In our busy, fast paced lives, where we fill our days ‘doing’ stuff, often we forget to stop and take the time to reflect on what we’re doing. “What did I just do?” “How do I feel about it? How does it affect me?” Instead we just jump from one ‘thing’ to another and fail to integrate the experience in our whole being.

Ironically, computers don’t really multi-task. They ‘time-slice’. Each programme runs for a millisecond or more and the operating system switches to the next programme. The computer’s use of time slicing is unnoticeable to the human experience. Our brains works like that too. Remembering can only happen when we take the time to process new information in our cerebral cortex. We prevent that result when we jump from one activity to the next and avoid processing the information.

I recently attended a conference that is sponsored by The Dalai Lama Centre For Peace and Education at U.B.C. The conference highlighted Human Connection in a Digital World. parenting, teaching and learning and enhanced socialization were all discussed within the context of our growing use (and abuse) of technology. Peter Senge, a leading scientist in Systems Thinking, gave the keynote address. He reminded me of the difference between machines (receiving information from the outside-in) and human beings (receiving information from the inside-out)

Humans have feelings and emotions, create originality, understand situations, think constructively, and behave with conscience. Computers don’t!!!

When did the word friend become a verb and not a noun?