Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mercurial Communication Technology (CT)

As a child, I remember my older brother breaking open thermometers and demonstrating how the silvery, shiny glob of mercury could make an old dime look brand new.  This process was fascinating to me. The mercury seemed to almost be alive as it jiggled over the coin’s surface—and if separated from itself by an intrusive finger, when the globs got close enough, it pulled itself together as though it had never been broken apart. It was solid, but not; it was fluid, but not…it was magic!

With all its shiny possibilities to make our lives easier, faster, more social and for business…reach a world of prospective clients; communication technology has some properties similar to mercury. With a push of a button, we can connect to family, friends or work; no matter how far away they might be. 

While this technology may not yet be as “solid” in our minds as mercury seems at room temperature; it’s getting closer every day. We rely on its ability to keep us connected. When a person logs out and then back in, CT rejoins that “isolated” part as though it had never broken the connection. Sometimes, it just seems like magic. Sounds a little familiar, right?

The omnipresence of this technology begs the question, is it safe? Sure, it has all of these wonderful, hypnotic properties that enable us to find information in seconds; but will there be a price? Has there already been? Really, if you think about it, we’ve all known, and maybe even welcomed this intrusion into our personal lives; accepting that privacy does not exist on the internet. Are we becoming desensitized to protecting our “down time” and redefining what “personal space” means? 

What can be learned from mercury which may be applied to CT? No longer an awestruck child, I have since learned that not only is mercury a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage; it also changes the surface of silver coins…forever. There’s no way to get it completely off and it continually works to displace the silver in those coins ‘cleaned’ with mercury; effectively devaluing them instantly.

Since mercury can make a coin shine immediately; and permanently erode it’s properties; can communication technology (CT) change our lives similarly as it continues pulling us back in every day? As it relinks us to a global social body? It’s available on our desktops, in our briefcases, on our laps, in our pockets or purses…our vehicles—at any time, we can rejoin the nebulous glob of CT with the push of a button or touch of a screen…or just our voice. It’s leached into every aspect of our lives.  

So, again, I ask the question; is it safe? Will we find out 50 years from now that there’s been irreversible damage? Of course, we don’t really know at this point, but I think it’s worth asking the questions…and not to “someone else.” Let’s ask ourselves what this may be displacing within us. Communication technology makes our lives seem easier, faster and more social. Maybe it should come with a disclaimer? 

Warning: too much technology can create social, psychological and anti-social behavior problems where none existed before.

New terms have entered into our language, which describe the pitfalls created by communication technology: technostress and technology detox. (The term “technostress” was coined in 1984 by clinical psychologist Craig Brod,) [1];

I found a great article on technostress if you’d like to read it: http://features.clemson.edu/creative-services/homepage/2013/techno-stress-working-in-a-digital-age-can-be-nerve-wracking/ [2] Of course, it’s online; and no, the irony isn’t lost on me. Within the article is a section of the benefits of ‘unplugging’ and detoxing from technology. It’s clear that we need to manage some boundaries for inviting technology into our lives; so we can remain healthy in myriad ways.

Find ways to disconnect and enjoy life. Remember that we all can suffer from technostress; even employees.

-T. Barlow AAF Creative, LLC

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