It is not uncommon for my conversations with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to touch on the idea that technology might hamper our ability to connect with others.
I guess it is because I work in enterprise Information Technology (IT). Conversations tend to shift toward technology and a lot of people only see the consumer side of the industry – a side dominated by social media. It’s probably natural to wonder why everyone seems to be focused on a smartphone instead of physically interacting with the world around them. It’s like talking about the weather –a topic none of us will really disagree on.
“Yes, it is hot outside.” “Yes, two kids might stand next to each other and communicate via text message instead of actually talking. “
This may be an overblown fear. However, my commute to work brought the point home for me. Getting cut off in traffic is a daily occurrence for me. That safe distance between my car and the one in front of me is often violated by someone else.
I don’t get mad. Okay, I do get mad. I even invent new words to describe these people. Some of these words are pretty creative. None of these words can be repeated here.
My anger quickly fades, but my focus on the offender does not. I use it as an opportunity to brainstorm the many things that could have made cutting me off a reasonable move on the part of the offending driver. I take the high road. I try to stay positive.
For example, maybe they dropped a bowl of chili in their lap. I think we’d all have a hard time eating chili in the car. Maybe they swerved to avoid a unicorn. The options are limitless and you might as well have some fun with it.
I realized this morning that people are very different when behind the wheel; they’re generally much less polite.
A car is a mask. It gives you just enough anonymity for you to dispose of politeness in favor of speed and convenience. I think technology could be doing the same thing. Just look at the comments on many online news articles and blogs (not this one). I can’t brainstorm positive thoughts about those people. Some of them are pretty sick.
However, I think I got it figured out. Our online personas are just enough of a mask to allow us to dispense with the niceties. The more anonymous we think we are, the less filtered we act.
I can’t prove this, but it sure feels right. Your car is a mask. Technology can be a mask. However, I might just disagree with someone the next time they say that technology is making us lose our ability to hold a conversation. I’ll instead brainstorm all the different ways that we use these new tools to make us better.
That’s when I shift the conversation to crazy online commenters. That’s a group we can all complain about.