05/29/2008 04:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Question External Expectations

I just had an email exchange with a good friend about obligations and expectations, and how people seem to blindly "do what they should" over doing what they want. Would I be offended if she didn't manage to visit me when she was going to be just four hours away (she lives a flight away), for example? Not at all, and glad she asked.

These days there are a lot of overblown expectations surrounding technology, the Internet and social media -- especially in the business realm. A few of the common pressures:

"What do you mean you aren't on Twitter?" "I noticed your blog hasn't been updated in a week and I was really getting worried." "If you don't have a Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Plaxo account, your clients will never ever find you." "If you link to me, I'll promise to link back to you, and who cares about the reader, our search engine rankings will improve!"

It had all really been getting to me, and knocking at my nay-saying door, when I came across Lee Siegel's book, Against The Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. Ahhhh. You know that feeling when you discover even one other person from your teeny tribe? Siegel points to the difference between information (what's on the Internet) and knowledge (what only your brain can do with said information), which, for me, harkens back to the classic Stephen Covey book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and its comparison of urgent and important:

"If we don't have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent."

Then there's our culture's lovely 24/7 news cycle -- even when there is nothing to report (but any empty moment will surely be filled by what Britney bought in a 7-Eleven that morning). That reminds me -- will some savvy brand please sponsor a few airport CNN-free zones for those of us who like to think or read the hours away?


This line of Siegel's tells it like it is, and can perhaps be a mantra for those of us who need a little reminder to say the occasional "no":

"Critical detachment, not the multiple diversions and distractions of information, is the guarantor of a free society."

Ah... detachment. That's when you are able to step back and evaluate your thoughts and opinions, and make your decisions as responsibly as you can (which is all anyone can strive for). Detach from how lame you'll look if you aren't Twittering your visit to doggie daycare. Detach from that odd feeling in your gut that tells you you simply must make a thousand new friends on Facebook by tomorrow. Detach from the idea that the world will collapse if you don't partake.

A shredded sticker on my 3-speed bike reads "Question Internal Combustion." A simple phrase with quite the current application, wouldn't you say? In the same way, and in order to live in this modern world of arbitrarily heightened time expectations and information overload, we should learn to more frequently "Question External Expectations."