Cover Story

The Alienating Potential of Technology

Does your mind swirl from technology at times?

Are you capable of putting down your smart device? Can you resist the urge to check your mail, send a tweet, read some news, update Facebook, text a friend, or run an app when you have spare moments? Do you have strategies to cope with communication in the technology age? I love my iPhone and I love my family. Can these two loves coexist?

In the past 19 years as an IT professional, I experienced the evolution from e-mail, to the Internet, to today's proliferation of touch-devices that merge impressive computing power with full access to the communicability of voice and video. It took weeks for my dad to learn to use a mouse in the early 1990's and took my then-two-year-old daughter seconds to learn iOS navigation in 2011. Despite these advances, I continually struggle with the methods by which we communicate today, either at work or at home. I often find myself using many channels to get a point across to someone only to still suffer from miscommunication.

Late last year, Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and the founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, wrote a book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turkle examines how technology promises to bring us closer together yet sometime leaves us feeling less connected than ever. I highly recommend this book as well as the fascinating companion podcasts.

In examining how we feel about the alienating potential of technology, I posed this question to many of you by asking "How does technology enhance (or deter) our ability to relate to one another, professionally, personally, or otherwise?" I found that our employees are aware of the pros and cons of technology. The term "double-edged sword" came up frequently and nearly every person who responded praised the latest forms of communication while warning against losing real touch.

Some of your responses:

"I am more in touch with my outer sphere of relationships with the help of Facebook. The trouble is that my closest sphere tends to get pushed down to Facebook status. Really, the definition of "friend" is shifting inside of me. And with that the definition of self is changing a bit too." - Julia Leon (Integration)

"Technology has allowed me to remain in better contact with all of my family members around the globe." - Amir Ali (Enterprise Services)

"I love to text and try to send inspirational and humorous texts to my friends and family to uplift them." - Nicola Walker (Enterprise Services)

"Technology was often perceived as a hindrance to sentimental communications just a few years ago. Now, technology is seen as a facilitator of personal communications. If used intelligently and creatively, this can enhance and complement how we relate to one another. If we ignore the personal aspects, real communication will disappear into oblivion, beneath a mountain of arbitrary information." - Jason Stanaland (Infrastructure)

"Ultimately we can communicate with more people and more often without regard to proximity." - Peter Day (Integration)

"Technology makes us a bit lazy and helps us hide behind a screen instead of someone getting the inflection in your voice and the expression of the face that could make clear to you the mood and importance of certain words and phrases." - LaKysha Mack (IT F&A)

"It certainly helps to turn the planet into the global village that is often spoken and written about. On the other hand, it also eliminates even the most basic forms of courtesy and respect as people can hide behind anonymous identities. I suppose it’s not that much different from the invention of the hammer. It's certainly a good tool to drive nails but some folks insist on using it to smash heads." - Marv Peck (Enterprise Services)

"It's up to us to actively seek ways to relate!" - Dawn Francis-Chewning (Academic Technology Services)

"Email is great, but fraught with issues; it can cause damage to a relationship and limit necessary interaction, yet enhance communication as well."- Betsy Shackelford (R-WIT)

"Staying connected is improved, but artificially in ways where socialization suffers and communication becomes more impersonal. We lose true connections to peers and customers." - Dana Haggas (Enterprise Applications)

"I notice lots of people take on a different personality when introduced to the anonymous nature of the Internet, especially if you do not know them in real life. 'Real life'...a term coined from spending way too much time online." - Chad Street (Infrastructure)

"Extra effort should be given to make sure the sender properly communicates the message so the receiver understands." - Gary Lammons (PMO)

"Don’t always rely on technology to solve the issue. Sometimes talking it through together either in person or on the phone helps to get to a solution much quicker." - Jay Flanagan (Infrastructure)

Awareness alone fails to address solutions for maintaining the human element of communication. To avoid becoming alienated from your colleagues, customers, and family, consider methods for maintaining the person touch of communication. A few strategies:

Ultimately, it is up to you to examine how you communicate. By constantly attending to the quality of you interactions and by ensuring you are effective in your speaking and listening techniques, you will be better prepared to adapt to this ever-changing pace of information exchange. My wife says I should be more of a reader. I guess just using my CNN app isn't enough.

- Wade Moricle, Marketing & Communication Specialist, Integration