I often wonder how history will judge this era in which we find ourselves. In a time when there has never been so many ways to communicate with each other, will we look back and say that we really took advantage of all the tools we had to be more innovative? Or, will we see this time as adolescence — lots of change and new-found capability combined with gangly awkwardness? Something tells me it will be the latter.
When I think of all of the relatively recent technological advances in communication that can impact our ability to be innovative — everything from the prevalence of smartphones and tablets to social networking — I often feel that most of the world is behaving more like hormonal teenagers than mature adults. We completely give ourselves over to the newest thing, fawning over the latest shiny pebble like teens of yesteryear fainted at the site of the Beatles and teens of today follow every tweet from Lady GaGa. We lose ourselves in the latest crush and treat each one as the most important love of our lives. Somewhere in it all we lose touch with how to balance things, how to have perspective, how to be ourselves and view technology as a tool vs. a savior. Yes, dad just gave us the keys to the car, but it doesn’t mean that driving everywhere is the only way to go.
The best example of where we might be insidiously infatuated with communication technology is how easy it is to reach people, but how nearly impossible it is to actually connect and have a conversation. When was the last time you phoned a co-worker, client or supplier and had them answer in person? When was the last time you actually picked up your phone when it rang? How many of your voicemails, e-mails and invitations to connect go unanswered, sitting in a digital pile of ignored opportunities to communicate and exchange ideas? How much time do you spend Tweeting or updating your status vs. how much time you spend having real, live conversations where ideas are shared, tweaked and discussed in real time? How much of your communication have you customized via feeds, circles, friends and contacts vs. how much time do you allow for a random, chance encounter where new thinking from someone outside your carefully curated circle may stimulate you to look at things a new way?
Innovation lies in new perspectives, a connection made between disparate entities, the passion for an idea transferred through human contact — none of which can happen when we use technology to wall ourselves off. Like adolescents, we seem to use communication tools to hang out only with our group and won’t even consider talking to the seemingly uncool kids.
I believe in time that we will begin to mature and see communication technologies for what they really are: Simply tools. We will see them as additive, a way to bring efficiency and reach to communication, not a panacea or excuse to be myopic. Just as a young adult grows to view their high school love as just a crush, we will begin to realize that the latest thing is not “the” thing.
Modern communication tools can help us get in touch and stay in touch. However, if we are to have the good fortune to be using them in an era marked by innovation, we have to realize that we must, on occasion, look up from our tiny screens and connect in real time with someone or something new and different.