Monday, April 24, 2006

Continuing the conversation with Wilf Jarvis

Last time, I published part of an email discussion between myself and Wilf Jarvis, founder of four quadrant leadership.

He said something that bothered me:

"We cannot have personal-relationships with electronic devices; but, for countless children, adolescents and adults, captivity to things is diminishing close, dependable relationships with people."

So I asked him:

Is it not possible that technology is actually facilitating closer relationships between people? Relationships that couldn't have taken place previously, for example, this conversation we're having now by email?

He said:

"This kind of interaction is better than none at all, but I would not call this a conversation. We could have benefited more through a phone link, or could improve that interaction via video conference. But the best “meeting” would be in a face-to-face conversation where we exchanged not only words, but also inflections, vocal signals, bodily mannerisms in our endeavour to achieve a true meeting, and thus a genuine conversation. Subsequent to that kind of relationship, our emails would allow us to feel far closer to each other, and much more adequate in translating the meanings of our electronic interchange, than we can now.

During my drive to work this morning, halted by traffic lights, I saw four girls, same age and from the same school, waiting for their bus. Each stood in psychological solitary confinement, listening to their separate iPods. Research evidence from Sydney secondary schools predicts that, during recess times today, girls of their age will be more concerned about receiving or not receiving text messages on their cell phones than about spontaneous conversations.

A recent study of three hundred sons of senior executives showed that, on average, they experienced about thirty five minutes in one-on-one conversations with their dad each week, and about twenty hours with electronic devices. The boys were aged 13-15. Which of those two sets of “communications” will be more powerful in shaping the value systems of those adolescent males? Another local study has shown that teenagers prefer TV shows depict that people competing with each other in “I-win-you-lose contests,” or so-called “reality TV” presentations where victims of the groups are eliminated sadistically.

Numerous wives of executives complain to me about their husbands’ “addictions” to emails and mobile phones!!

One student in my class asked me, “Wilf, do you remember when there was no TV?” The group disbelieved my reply. “I remember when nobody I knew had a radio!” After some hilarity the questioner followed with. “Well, before TV, when the family sat in the lounge room, where did you look?”

I could go on for a long time with illustrations that confirm an axiom I have studied and taught for fifty-five years. It is this. Societies can remain stable systems indefinitely if technology does not change. (EG Australian aboriginals, NZ Maori etc. etc.) But when technology alters, so does society. We have not been successful in accepting thousands of beneficial technological innovations without sacrificing needs that are essential for our growth and progress as humans.

have become needs, and many needs have been sacrificed in the endless pursuit for more newly invented and widely publicised wants.

Read the article in “Time”, April 10. It is headed. “Are kids too wired for their own good?”

I'm usually a technology optimist. I'm far more likely to agree with Vincent Heeringa, who in the latest Idealog has written about "Generation C" - wired youths for whom the C stands for 'Community'.

But it's hard to simply reject what Wilf is saying because he's of an older generation. This is a behavioural scientist, someone who has not only thought about but studied and observed the issues.

Adding fuel to the fire is the current discussion at Virtual Chautaqua, where Bob Seidensticker is dissing the hype around technology and - among other things - saying that technology can enslave as much as it can enrich.

Of course, these are not Luddites. After all, it is a virtual discussion taking place on the internet. But as with so many things, the burden of knowledge is heavy. And if we don't take up that burden, that responsibility of understanding how things work, those things end up running us.

PS: These things come in threes... Wizard of Ads agrees with all of the above!


At 11:43 AM, Blogger Jack Yan said...

To me, Sy, there needs to be a balance between the physical and virtual worlds, for a modern citoyen du monde to grow up healthily. Yes, by all means, form groups on the internet for advocacy, for work, for fun—but make those the groups you would never have reached in person. All other groups that can be conducted in person should be.
   I do not ultimately worry about which way we go provided people are taught the notions of responsibility and honour. However, if kids are preferring those horrible reality TV shows, then I have to wonder. I also wonder where they are picking up these isolationist habits. Yes, you guessed it: adults. They are merely taking our own behaviours to the next logical level—and it’s adults who furnish them with all this technology without teaching them accountability.


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