Clay Shirky says in his excellent not-so-new book Here Comes Everybody, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society.” While I think this is true in organizing flash mobs, spreading ideas, self-publishing, and breaking news, how does the telephone, radio, TV, and the internet actually change what it means to be human?
I still value the old-fashioned striking up a conversation with the stranger next to me on a barstool and exchanging ideas. I still get more from going out on a date with a lovely new person in my life than having 100 people “friend” me on Facebook. I still get more from listening to a friend spill their soul to me about the hardships they’re facing in life than reading on some blog about Steve Jobs fighting with some writer about the value of open vs. closed platforms. I still value going to my favorite neighborhood restaurant every Monday night becoming friends with the waitress and getting the bill for half of what they’d charge a stranger. I still value chatting it up with my neighbors about the newly sprouted tomato plants in the backyard.
I still value love and authentic connections. Ninety-nine percent of what I value in life are the simple things that technology will never touch.
I still value what humans have valued for thousands of years. The internet and modern culture won’t ever change my innate desire to be an old-fashioned human being. Our needs just aren’t that complex. We want happiness and authentic connections with people we care about and who care about us. We’ll always value spontaneity, serendipity, and stupidly fun conversations with strangers sitting next to us.
Granted, life is getting more convenient with text messaging, on-the-fly meetups, spreading a link, and finding the lowest price fare from NYC to San Francisco. But the things that 99.9% of us truly and meaningfully value won’t change no matter how much technology we have at our disposal. We don’t want an automated Twitter stream tweeting out to all our followers (not “friends”) how our wife makes us feel. We don’t care that all 900 of our followers know where we are at any point in time. We care about what the person we’re looking in the eyes at this very second feels about the connection we’re making in the moment.
Technology is currently being created to solve problems we as humans never had. The internet, Lady Gaga, and hyperlocal are being branded as “the next big thing” when the darlings of the internet and mass media are really only creating solutions for “nice to haves” rather than making me a happier human. That doesn’t make it any less interesting, it just makes it less significant.