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December 11, 2007

Richard Florida

Who Took My Free Lunch

« The Race Is On | Main | Really Good Advice »

Austin Contrarian takes issue with my earlier post:

"Face-to-face communication may be richer, but interaction online is still human interaction no matter how one defines it.  The alternative to interaction online is frequently not face-to-face interaction, but none at all." 

I don't buy it. And in any event, what a stark choice!  Time for any individual is a very limited resource. I am not saying that these two types of interaction do not reinforce one another, they certainly do. But when I'm doing one I simply can't do the other.

When I interact on-line, I cannot interact in person. Because I have such great on-line tools (which I adore), I interact with people remotely a lot more. I go to the office less, have less meetings, go out to the store less frequently and so on. Because these tools are around ubiquitously, when I use them, say at home in the evening, I also interact less with my wife at home, friends and family.  Sure, that's better than watching TV. But is it better than watching TV or reading a book or listening to music and having a glass of wine with my wife, who jokingly refers to me from time as ""electronica husband."  If I had a Blackberry, the on-line world would literally take over my life, which (along with my pitiful eyesight) is why I do not have one.

One could argue that access to the wired world allows me to do work more efficiently, thus making the quality of my face-to-face interactions better. But what really happens, more often that not, is because we haven't seen each other for soooo long my professional associates and I take up a huge amount of our time with small talk, leaving less time to discuss our professional interests in person.

On-line interaction also drains time away from other solo activities.  I read fewer books than I used to and I more quickly "scan" the ones I pick up. I also listen (intensively) to far less music, though it is always on in the background.  I play my guitar less. I have let go of all other hobbies. On the plus side, the on-line world keeps me writing more than ever.

The upshot: Because I can interact with fascinating people - like YOU - across the globe, and because I can dig up lots of information, I get out in the real world less and interact less with real people.

There really is no free lunch and just 24 hours in a day.

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Comments

Harold Jarche

The wired world enables those of us who are not in major urban centres to participate and be productive. I live in a rural part of the country, in a town of 5,000 people and were it not for all of these devices, I would have to pack up and move to the big city. Many of us have been liberated by this connectedness. I don't commute & pollute, and my overall cost of living is much lower.

phaedrus

While some of this definitely rings true for me (I shop in stores less and read less paper based materials), I have also interacted with more people than before, both on and off line. The internet is a great way to interact with fascinating people from both around the world, as well as in the same city. In fact the later online interaction has introduced me to several people and groups, with whom I subsequently formed f2f relationships. This would either not have been possible or extremely unlikely through simply 'getting out in the real world'

Of course, personal experiences will vary and online interaction should be seen as au augment to, not a replacement for, f2f interaction

phaedrus

While some of this definitely rings true for me (I shop in stores less and read less paper based materials), I have also interacted with more people than before, both on and off line. The internet is a great way to interact with fascinating people from both around the world, as well as in the same city. In fact the later online interaction has introduced me to several people and groups, with whom I subsequently formed f2f relationships. This would either not have been possible or extremely unlikely through simply 'getting out in the real world'

Of course, personal experiences will vary and online interaction should be seen as au augment to, not a replacement for, f2f interaction

zuko

An earlier comment:
"Our neighbor was looking at her daughter's cell phone records and there were 4,000 text messages......... I don't see technology cutting these kids off from human interaction."


Everyone knows what this discussion is really about, it's just that the truth is far too gut wrenching, or maybe embarrassing, to say out loud:
Our increasing participation in the wired world is not about human interaction at all, or even communication - it's about entertainment.
And mighty souless entertainment at that.

Walk into any class room in America, peer into the car next to you, an occupied stool at Starbucks.......is all that texting and yabbering and surfing the new conduit by which great ideas, too imperative to delay a moment longer, are being urgently disseminated? Not bloody likely mate.

We're plugging ourselves into a comfy, more controllable reality. We create the stage, set up the props, cast ourselves as the star.

Human interaction? Hardly. Before the first binary couplets had even had chance to get to know each other, job one was finding new ways the new toy could sheild us from interacting.

In our wired world, 'human interaction' is now barely necessary. There is hardly an actvity that doesn't offer a more convienent, alternate route to escape the imperfect, tedious human dimension. Online pizza, call waiting, internet banking, the list is endless. Don't worry about saying 'good morning' to the grocery clerk - no need to fake a sheepish grin as he rings up the raspberry filled croissant.....with chocolate swirls. Just self-serve, scan and go

For everyday users of consumer technology, that sucking sound you hear at the keyboard, in front of the television, or rapacious video games, is the escaping finite treasure we were all endowed, equally, with: time. Gulped down and digested. Even arguments defending the luxurious benefits of today's speed of thought technology for business can be made hard to swallow. The Pyramids, Panama Canal, Wall Street and a document publishing industry providing to the world millions of 'bytes' of data all existed before Wozniack & Jobs.

But the issue isn't whether technology has it's practical benefits, but rather how much has it impoverished it's creators? And is the loss real or imagined?

I can only suggest, rather subjectively, that with all the wireless connections and high definition imagery, society seems have never been more isolated, less connected as humans ......and certainly American culture appears less highly defined than ever.

There is simply no substitue for being in contact with other humans, learning their habits. The glance of an eye, the tick of a cheek, the body language that confirms the words, the text if you will, that our ears are hearing. It educates us; we continue constantly to apply and refine these essential skills throughout our lives. No qwerty dialogue comes close.

But more importantly, we may be experiencing a real, measurable loss. That undefinable, supple understanding and acceptance of each other. In society, the individual is constantly projecting their own self image by means of everyday comparisons and observations of their fellow humans. A great deal of what we eventually become, good or bad, relies tremendously on our evaluation of others.


They call it 'virtual' reality for a reason. Reality is almost always that thing you can touch, smell, hold in your hand.

Then finally, comes understanding.

When I was 17, I hired on crewing for a commercial fishing boat in Southern Alaska. One morning, after my last day of high school, I gently kissed closed a pair of watery blue eyes and tucked back a fallen whisp of fine blond from the sweetest face I'd ever seen. Then I said goody-by. The giant Northwest liner lifted off exactly on time. I landed in Anchorage just before nine. A weathery, beaten looking man, in a red pickup truck was waiting, he motioned me to toss my pack in the back.

Her first letter came the second week of June. General Delivery, Seward, AK. It was a bored and pidgeon breasted man working behind the counter that handed me the single envelope. A purplish circle said it had been marked in San Francisco and it was smeared in two places "Air Mail". I gave him a dopey, smiling 'thanks' and pushed the letter into my coat pocket.

Even in the summer here, the wind was likely to blow stiff and cold off the bay, and it pushed at me along down Main St., directly into a coffee shop. I sat alone at the counter and I believe I ordered pie. Cherry.

I guessed she'd used her mother's tortise shelled fountain pen, I remembered it was always kept in a tray on an emerald colored desk set in the den. A dark blue ink. I could smell the lilac without opening it.

Today, I honestly can't remember a thing from the eight or nine fine lined and blue inked pages. Not a single word. But between each page she'd left a single tiny buttercup, still glowing and mustard yellow - exact duplicates of the hundreds of others our bodies had mashed down into the soft outfield grass, behind the high school, just before I'd left for Alaska.

Up near the corner of page two, and part of page three, a faint yellowing circle. I was sure it would match perfecty to the bottom of the fat ceramic mug she used to drink that liquorice smelling tea. Calmed her she said.

The thing I remember most however, is when the letters stopped comming. Slowly they faded away like the Alaskan daylight, as summer gave in to Fall. For a time I continued my walks to the post office, but each time with less pace, and left with only brave, nonchalant smiles I gave to the pidgeon breasted man who handed out the General Delivery. Finally, I gave up my trips to the post office. On my last visit, he left only me a bored little grin.

When one day I again greeted the postman out on Main St, both of us being blown along by the wind, it was with a much firmer jaw this time and a matter of fact shrug of my shoulders under my coat. I caught a light in his eyes and thought maybe he understood. Out there, on Main St., he seemed somehow a little less bored. Maybe it was a new slight firmness of jaw, I'd missed in him before.

I not sure at all what that story is saying exactly. But I think, in the end, that I'm far better off that the girl with the watery blue eyes and perfect blond hair didn't have e-mail.

z


bri

Well, one form of communication does not [and should not] preclude others. I'm an avid blogger and texter, but at the same time, I make it a point to have vis-a-vis contact with colleagues and friends on a daily basis. And thanks to Howard Schulz’ 'hangouts' also known as Starbucks and their oh-so-reasonable 5-dollar soy macchiatos, we can socialize and discuss our respective research and so forth.
And I listen to more music now than I did in antediluvian days, i.e., b.iP. i.e., before iPod. That little gadget has enabled both my research and social sides.
But to me, online communication allows me to discuss the 'texts' I encounter daily with close friends and colleagues from all over the world, which feedback is necessary. And as I communicate with various folk, I have the latest Muse or Radiohead album on and I manage to be au current entertainment-wise as well.
Different forms of communication can, indeed, inform each other in a rather constructive fashion, I find.

RF

Zuko - Come on now. You're scaring me. Me thinks because you are right. Very, very, very nicely said. R

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