I was standing up in the back seat of a convertible filled with high school friends while the driver cruised Main Street and for some reason,the phrase, “spitting into the wind” popped into my mind. I can’t fathom why it struck me to try it, but the result was predictable and quick—mucus on my right ear. I immediately wiped it with my sleeve, but not before being seen. Nobody since has told me I was cool.
As a person with a lifelong commitment to helping humans connect in ways that are #as personal as possible, I’ve noticed over the past decade large and scary cultural developments that make my commitment look and sound like spitting into the wind.
By far, the most significant one has been technologizing communication, first with computers and now with smart phones and other devices.
We’ve known for decades that what we build on a large scale shapes who we are. Discussing how to re-build war-torn London, Winston Churchill reminded Parliament in 1943, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
Three decades later, Marshall McLuhan showed how “the medium is the message.” He meant that what we say and show is affected by whether we use a video, phone call, text, a meeting, or a hug to say and show it.
In 2010, Nicholas Carr displayed how technology is making critical thinking, decision-making, and relationship-building increasingly shallow. His book is The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain. Not just to our behavior. To our brain.
Soon after, MIT professor Sherry Turkle showed how, as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. “We expect more from technology,” she writes, “and less from each other.” http://alonetogetherbook.com/ So the more we technologize communication, the more we depersonalize it.
A few years later, Turkle argued passionately that face-to-face conversation “is a cornerstone for empathy as well as for democracy; it sustains the best in education and business and is good for the bottom line.” http://www.reclaimingconversationbook.com/
Today Business Analytics is the specialty of choice for thousands of managers and CEO-wannabes dedicated to using statistics to drive decision-making. Turkle’s colleague Ben Waber even calls his detailed argument that face-to-face conversation is equally important, People Analytics. www.humanyze.com/ Notice what Waber calls his consulting firm: “humanyze.”
As I show in my book, Personal Communicating and Racial Equity, critical studies in medicine, education, business, and many other fields are urging us to manage—be aware of, reflect on, be intentional about, limit-- our uses of communication technology so we can help make at least our most important communicating as personal as possible. It’s especially important to do this when you’re communicating with somebody different from you. bit.lyPersCommRacialEq
Are all of us spitting into the wind?
Everybody acknowledges that the Trump-Clinton debates are unprecedented in U.S. history for their depersonalization. Town Hall participant Karl Becker’s last question in the October 9 debate was, “Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?” Although it was way too little and too late, for a few moments this question clearly changed the event in a very positive way.
Was Becker also spitting into the wind?