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Man Disconnected: How Technology Has Sabotaged ...

In a world where social media is gaining more appeal as a source of communication, we find ourselves in unprecedented paradox thinking about how social media is actually changing our lives. Is it helping us to keep the important fundamentals of communication, or is it impending our communication skills and causing a barrier to effective communication? A recent study showed that real connection only occurs through authentic communication. In supporting this finding, the study demonstrated that only 7% of our communication happens through the verbal or written word, whereas 93% of our communication is through non-verbal body language (Tardanico 2). Whether or not technology-enabled social sites are sabotaging real communication depends on the user.

Man Disconnected: How technology has sabotaged ...

The careful avoidance of the machine question by many intellectuals is a symptom of an ideology that mistakes progress in general for technological progress and thereby hitches itself to a whole host of carefully concealed interests. It is not possible to disavow technology as such, but it is possible to begin thinking about the relationship between technology and power in a way that does not make facile assumptions concerning the neutrality of the subject at hand. Machinery, like the built environment, inscribes and enforces social decisions and interests and the eagerness with which critics come to the defense of the subject of their own critiques plays a role in this enforcement.

For the past few years, one area of my artistic research has been centered on the concept of sabotage within the emotionally and materially blurry context of digital technology. As an artist, I examine how data-driven systems are transforming practices like labor, policing, shopping, or even dating. My work often takes the form of software experiments that hijack technologies or methods from industry, re-deploying them for ends that were never intended by their creators. In doing so, I attempt to reveal the politics and power structures inherent in the systems that mediate our lives.

The community of computing and technology needs to work towards creating a diverse community. In this field, diverse entails diversity in gender, background, race, experience, origin, whether you went to public school or private school, how many siblings you had, if you were in band or played a sport and so on. What I am targeting here is the notion of diversity of experience and self knowledge. Diversity proves incredibly important for tech due to its ability to generate the most creative and innovative ideas. Bringing together those who are different and even sometimes better disagree can greatly promote innovation. A perfect example of this is Pixar. In the Integrated Business and Engineering Fundamentals course, Professor Kitz showed us a clip of the producers at Pixar. Instead of gathering like minded individuals, Pixar purposely chose personalities they knew would collide and conflict, as they understood it would only make their projects and films better.

That said, much of my work today as a coach and teacher involves helping people reflect on their happiness and fulfillment, and it's clear that technology can have a pernicious impact on those qualities unless we're mindful about the role we allow it to play in our lives. What's happening here?

As I wrote recently, hedonic adaptation (aka the hedonic treadmill) is "the psychological process by which we readily adapt to improved conditions--and promptly take those improvements for granted." UC professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has noted, "The more we attain, the happier we become. But, at the same time, the more we attain, the more we want, which negates the increased happiness." This is true with regard to any aspect of our material conditions, and it's amplified in the case of technology because of the factors that relentlessly increase the pace of change in the industry. The tools and services that delight us today will seem woefully out of date and inadequate in a remarkably short period of time--perhaps even weeks. I'm not suggesting this is always a bad thing--but we often ignore this downside of "progress."

Many of my coaching clients and MBA students don't lead balanced lives--they're "happy workaholics," and they don't want "life-work balance," even if it were possible to achieve it. But as I've written before, happy workaholics need boundaries: "While balance requires an unsteady equilibrium among the various demands on our time and energy, boundaries offer a sustainable means of keeping things in their proper place... " But one of technology's primary functions today is to erode and even eliminate boundaries. We're always wired, always available, always on. In many circumstances this is a great benefit--and in some situations it's a disaster. Deep reflection, full engagement with a challenging problem or a creative endeavor, and basic human intimacy are impossible when we allow ourselves to be constantly interrupted by our devices and distracted by our insatiable need for novelty and stimulation.

I've been designing learning experiences for nearly two decades, from planning conferences during my years in the nonprofit technology world, to conducting workshops for coaching clients and their exec teams, to teaching The Art of Self-Coaching and Interpersonal Dynamics at Stanford.

I am a public-interest technologist, working at the intersection of security, technology, and people. I've been writing about security issues on my blog since 2004, and in my monthly newsletter since 1998. I'm a fellow and lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School, a board member of EFF, and the Chief of Security Architecture at Inrupt, Inc. This personal website expresses the opinions of none of those organizations. 041b061a72


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