Subtracting from the Noise
17 Aug, 2012 - James Pothen
There seems to be a generational disconnect around technology. Millenials eagerly gobble up iPads and Facebook while their parents tut and whine about internet culture. Social scientists bemoan the consequences of smartphones while students tune out their lectures with a game of Angry Birds. Young companies brashly accept the lure of the shiny and new with names like “Palantir” and logos featuring a bitten apple. The youth of today do not know what they are getting into, but can’t look away or resist a bite.
The reality is this: social media, tablets, and smartphones aren’t going anywhere. And the whines of authorities will only fuel the rebellion of their progeny. These authorities were the ones who shocked and outraged their parents with sex, drugs, and rock n’roll, but no matter. Such are generational dynamics.
The question is not whether these new inventions will be adopted but rather this: what ought this next generation to do? Phone calls and email are out, texts and tumblr are in. We must live in both the digital and analog world. How can we do so wisely?
There must be a third way between luddism and teenage texting arthritis. My friend Chet – an articulate and polished software developer – has been largely responsible for my own enslavement of (instead of to) technology. Technology can be turned to serve man, and Chet has showed me how to get started.
Principle 1: Select Your Voices
Part of the beauty of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest is the customizability of these platforms. On Twitter, picking voices is part of the “follow/unfollow” setup. Want to read what Zooey Deschanel is up to? Click “follow” and find out. Tired of someone’s oatmeal pictures? Just click “unfollow” and their tweets disappear.
On Facebook, you can be connected to a large number of people yet have a very small group of people who contribute to your news feed. By carefully “subscribing” and “unsubscribing” to people’s status updates you can mute certain people and listen to people who might not accept a friend request. Another option is to create “lists” of friends so you can be tuned into particular friend groups.
Pinterest also makes it easy to customize your “feed.” You can follow people or just some of their boards that you like. You can sort by interest to explore a particular genre of pins. It took me a lot of work, but I haven’t seen a single “dream wedding” pin in weeks.
Principle 2: Dynamically Select Your Audiences
Neither Twitter nor Pinterest offer useful options for choosing who gets see your content, so posting on those platforms requires discretion. Did you want your 5th grade Sunday School teacher seeing that?
Facebook offers much more flexibility in this. You can use friends lists to pick who gets to see what. It could be as simple as sharing (or excluding) certain lists from your updates in general, or as specialized as sharing certain content only to certain groups. For a 20-something I suggest the “Don’t trust anyone over 30” rule – with the exception of a pastor or mentor. Everyone needs a little digital accountability.
Principle 3: Manage Your Habits
According to a recent statistic, 28% of 18 to 34 year-olds check Facebook on their smartphones before getting out of bed. It’s an easy habit to adopt since many of them rely on their phone alarm instead of a traditional alarm clock. Simple things like using an alarm clock and keeping a smartphone away from the bed can guard against this.
Principle 4: Reflect
Take time at the end of the day to review the events that occurred, and if helpful, consider writing some reflections in a physical journal. “Re-membering” the day allows for sorting of all the disparate data that the electronic and analog world has brought.
Principle 5: Unplug
Consider setting wake-up/shut-down hours manually on your computer. Try having a day where internet is off, but computers can still be used for music/writing. Or just a day outside without LCD screens. Follow your analog bliss.
When books first became available, there were those who bemoaned the loss of oral tradition and mankind’s ability to recall great amounts of information. When Wikipedia and Google came to the forefront, critics wistfully recalled the days when students had to go to the library and pull out books in order to do research.
Technology changes humanity – from behaviors to expectations, and customs. But all these technologies are still so new that it is difficult to foresee what role they will play for good or ill. Already, the Internet has aided revolutions, revolutionized pornography, and reduced the role of print media. The web evades “good” and “bad” labels alike.
But what is required of us? Humility. Humility on the part of the young to not attribute messianic power to the shiny and the new or think that their new toys have made them superior to their predecessors. And humility will be required for those who are older, to not let future shock or nostalgia keep them from affirming the good in what they do not yet understand.