The interconnectedness of modern life breeds at a relentless rate. If you are like me, you find yourself more entrenched in social technology every day. Many speak of unplugging, but in nearly every case that aspiration is nothing more than a short term reprieve. The issue is not that our desire to unplug in insincere, but that disconnecting is no longer an option.
Many of us depend on instant connection for our livelihoods. Our professions, current and future, find us engaging peers on an increasing number of digital platforms. Content generation and digital engagement are the new face time – that resilient malady of corporate life now living comfortably in the cloud. This new face time, like its predecessor, is both pervasive and deeply unfulfilling.
These technologies and emotions are at the center of some of our most pressing cultural conversations. In his beautifully composed New York Times opinion piece, Jonathan Safran Foer carefully deconstructs the fallacy of progress, asserting that we diminish ourselves by accepting limiting technological substitutes. Dave Eggers’ recently released novel, The Circle, depicts a future where social technology is intimately woven into our self-perception and eroded sense of privacy. While we are more like Foer’s diminished substitutes and closer to Eggers’ fictional depiction than we may wish to admit, it is not too late for us to soften the blow of hyperconnection.
This is a critical moment in our relationship with social technology. We understand the reach of today’s social platforms, but we remain unconvinced that the value they offer is net positive. While social technology as a concept is here to stay, the focus of today’s platforms is not too entrenched to be reversed, in the way that Google search is for example. We understand the importance and psychology of being connected, but we are still not sure exactly how it should look and feel – and we are not too far-gone to demand more.
This brings up an interesting question. If we had a direct line to Sheryl Sandberg and her technocrat peers, what would we demand? Would we demand fewer advertisements from services that we use for free? Would we demand more policing and accountability for cyberbullying? Would we demand more privacy? Are we even directing our demands towards the right people? If unplugging is no longer an option, where do we look to make the experience better and more fulfilling? How do we add meaning to hyperconnection?
Meaning is created from the friction that shakes us from routine. Nothing special or memorable happens on autopilot. Meaningful moments are most often the result of vulnerability and courage, however derived. Those moments are less a product of grand gestures and more the result of honesty and simply doing something different. Even so, many of us interact with social technology on autopilot. We follow prompts and consume the same kind of content each go round. As a result, social technologies become a convenient retreat that adds more routine to the frictionless part of our lives.
Contrary to the current wave of dogmatic thinking, it is not the social platforms themselves that leave us unfulfilled; it is the way that we use them. You know the old proverb about a poor workman blaming his tools? We are poor workmen. We blame social technology for making us feel lonely instead of blaming ourselves for failing to use these tools to their fullest potential. We are the ones who diminish the technology.
 Jonathan Safran Foer. “How Not to be Alone.” New York Times, 6 June 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/how-not-to-be-alone.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed 15 September 2013).
 Dave Eggers. “We Like You so Much and Want to Get to Know You Better.” New York Times Magazine, 22 September 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/magazine/dave-eggers-fiction.html?smid=tw-nytmag&_r=2& (excerpt from The Circle accessed 25 September 2013).