At the risk of dating myself a bit, my stepdaughter was on the couch earlier this month doing some school work while her mom and I were whipping up dinner in the kitchen. She didn’t seem to think anything was particularly special about the ability to earn college credit from a chaise, wirelessly connecting to the home and ultimately her school network via a thin and light Macbook Air running on lithium-ion power. This is the brave new world she grew up in, and technological wizardry doesn’t even warrant much mention any longer.
I compared that to my own adventures a generation prior: Multiple trips to the library, possible citations scribbled on dozens of index cards…
It turns out that she was working on a dreaded Research Paper, and she proceeded to remark how difficult that kind of assignment can be. Personally, I hadn’t thought about Research Papers since college myself — I believe my last one was 37 or so pages on Bruce Springsteen for a seminar on the United States since 1945; he single-handedly saved the world from disco, can he show us how to save ourselves? — and, after casting my mind back to my own experiences with the genre, I was inclined to agree that they were perhaps a unique form of scholastic torture.
Then it occurred to me that my generation couldn’t produce such a paper laid out on the couch, using only a notebook computer. I asked her if she’d gone to the library, to which she replied that was no longer necessary, the school has an online resource center you can search from anywhere. I asked her if she needed to do footnotes with page numbers, but, no, they only need to include a link. I asked her how she organized her references, and she appeared to have no idea what I was talking about. You just needed to copy and paste, all in one magic, infinitely editable Word document.
By any measurable standard it was several orders of magnitude more difficult, but isn’t that the way of the modern world?
I compared that to my own adventures a generation prior: Multiple trips to the library, possible citations scribbled on dozens of index cards whether they would be used or not, an outline or else you had no idea what you needed to use, and all this before we even sat down at a typewriter. Compared to our parents, we were the lucky ones because the typewriter was electric and had corrective tape built in! In college, we were thankful to ditch the typewriter for a computer, but the preamble remained the same, or perhaps worse as the NYU library was across Washington Square Park on a cold winter’s night.
In any event, it was absolutely nothing like the process my stepdaughter followed, and by any measurable standard it was several orders of magnitude more difficult, but isn’t that the way of the modern world? For all the incessant media coverage of the potential pitfalls — cyber bullying, fake news, an AI apocalypse, or a President-elect addicted to Twitter, to name a few — the simple truth is that technology has greatly improved the great majority of our lives, and I don’t think we really want to unwind the clock.
In my opinion, technology — including social platforms like LinkedIn — has been incredibly freeing for the human spirit and imagination…
Personally, I have no interest in manually balancing a checkbook, frequently getting lost and consulting paper maps or asking for directions, getting stuck on the side of the road and waiting for someone to help, being limited to a few network channels, interpreting the scribbles that passed for handwriting on a written letter, or even keeping track of everything like phone numbers and addresses, photographs and recipes, on endless pieces of paper with no back up.
In my opinion, technology — including social platforms like LinkedIn — has been incredibly freeing for the human spirit and imagination — if only because we spend less of our precious and limited time on this Earth doing the mundane while simultaneously having access to much more of just about everything than ever before. This includes the ability to connect with people and maintain relationships we would have simply lost in an earlier era.
We should ask ourselves what function does most technology, or at least most widely used consumer technology, actually perform? What need does it fill?
Is there a downside? Of course, that is always the way of human affairs, no sooner was the printing press invented than someone started complaining about the masses having access to too much information. If there’s one constant in human nature, it’s a fear of change, but, much as things have changed since the Reagan-era of my youth, we should ask ourselves what function does most technology, or at least most widely used consumer technology, actually perform? What need does it fill?
I would argue that it enhances and improves the constants of human nature, the things we’ve always valued and will continue to value far into the future:
- Communication and access to information. We’ve been described as storytelling animals, and we now have access to more stories and a greater ability to share our stories than ever before, not to mention the ease of contacting help in an emergency.
- Friends, family, and other relations. Social media has made our networks larger, more diverse, and more stable than ever before. While we might not spend as much time on each individual relationship, we now have access to more varied people and more points of view.
- More time to think, hope and dream. Not only is it far easier and less time consuming to organize your life, chances are your life will be longer thanks to things like improved car safety systems.
In short, as we end the year, let’s take a moment to celebrate LinkedIn and other technologies that were unheard of a generation ago, and acknowledge the incredibly positive impact on most of our lives. I assure you that there will be plenty of time in 2017 to worry about what all this has to do with marketing trends and how to stand out in a fractured media landscape.