Among other hot images making the rounds lately, an image of suit-clad businessmen and women absorbed in newspapers on a subway is garnering support for the idea that minimizes, diminishes and pooh-poohs the impact of technology on our behavior and thoughts. Gary Vaynerchuk, author of The Thank You Economy and Crush It!, recently wrote a rant on Medium.com entitled "Technology hasn't changed Us".
His basic premise is that people are doing what they have always wanted to do: ignore other people and settle into our natural state of distraction. While I agree with this premise, there's still something wrong here. Let's look at this more closely. What is the difference between the subway image of 1947 and today's image of devices in our faces instead?
With newspapers, there was nothing but news. You didn't have a choice of what to view. When we see people on devices today, on the plane, at restaurants, tripping over their shoelaces while walking, it's important to realize that every person isn't necessarily doing anything useful on their device. Every single person in the picture on the right is looking at something different. They may not be learning anything new.
And like anything else, what makes the distinction is self-motivation. What have we learned from marketing and advertising in the last century? People are lazy. People like taking the easy road. So what does the Internet contain? What do devices contain? What products and services do people create that is now marketed on our technology platforms? Games, advertising, self-generated psychobabble and meaningless distraction. Along with useful information that could transform the world and that is transforming the world already.
What would have been a more meaningful comparison is when TVs entered the media arena, not newspapers. But the thing with TVs is that you couldn't take them with you... until now.
Gary's right: We are doing what comes naturally, what comes easiest to us. But the reality is that what comes easiest, comes easier than ever before. The steepness of the downhill slide just exponentially increased.
The positive side to technology is huge. I'm not crying, "Doom for the world, technology is here!" What I'm saying is that technology unquestionably has an impact and to deny that is ignorance. If you're like me (and probably like Gary!), you make the effort to filter all the content that is in your face. You build up motivation to figure out where you want to spend your time. Gary got that right -- if a kid today wants to go and play outside, they will get up and go play outside. What he got wrong is that, now, there is a much bigger mental barrier to overcome because of the choice to stay and eat what technology is feeding you.
The guys with the newspapers? They didn't have to make that choice. Guess what? You do. And that choice is either made by you or for you. You decide. Welcome to Escaping Digital Comas 101.