Twenty-four years ago when I started my corporate career the world was a different place. In the department I worked in–Information Technology, or Business Systems as it was called then–we didn’t even have personal computers on our desks. We had dumb terminals connected to a big mainframe in the back room and a centralized smart terminal in the middle of the department that we used to submit commands to the mainframe; we got up from our desks and walked over to the smart terminal to key in commands when we needed to. (There’s something to be said for the health benefits of that given recent studies revealing the negative impact to our health as a result of sitting at a desk for too long during the day.)
We had phones on our desks, but no voice mail, and if a co-worker’s phone rang you were expected to answer it, help the caller if you could, or jot down a message on a pink message pad to leave on the desk of the co-worker who’s phone had rang. When we first got voice mail, there was a lot of concern about the potential for decreased customer service so we were still expected to answer co-worker’s phones when they were away from their desk.
We finally got personal computers, and eventually there was a lot of buzz about some new-fangled thing called the internet. You had to put in a special request and justify your reason for wanting access to it. In my department–Information Technology remember–many of us requested access so we could “learn the internet”. I have no idea what that even meant.
These days I’m a big fan of the technology in my life. Text messaging is a grandma’s best friend when she’s out shopping: a quick text to ask a question about size, style, or suitability, a quick response, and I’m able to move on with my day (and my shopping). Facebook helps me keep up with what’s happening with friends and family, see current photos of the grands, and engage in good-hearted banter with my daughter especially. And Skype, I don’t know how long-distance grandparents survived without this one in the past.
There’s a trend I’ve noticed recently in the corporate world that mystifies me though. Smartphones. In meetings. It seems common place for some (mostly younger) individuals to spend a significant amount of time during meetings with their heads down, fingers scrolling, doing something on their phone. Catching up on email? Personal or work? Updating their Facebook status? Tweeting? Browsing Pinterest pins? I have no idea.
The outward appearance is one of disengagement and disinterest in the task at hand yet, for the most part, these technology-tied folk are still able to contribute and deliver results at work. I’ve read articles recently that indicate that we’re not so inclined to be able to multi-task as we once thought–that having competing priorities can have a negative effect on the quality of work and our general stress levels–so how is it that many of these young folks are able to stay engaged in the cyber-world at the same time as they’re building a career? Are they wired differently as a result of a childhood spent with technology all around them? What does this mean for the future of our grandchildren?
Will the lives of our grandchildren be one of constant connectivity? Will they be able to appreciate the smell of freshly mown hay, the sun on their shoulders, the dust of a country road beneath their feet? Will they be too busy Tweeting about it or snapping a pic to post on Instagram to engage in the simplicity of the moment? Or perhaps they’ll be able to do both in a way we don’t understand today. Maybe the wires in their brains being rerouted differently than ours were as a result of growing up playing Angry Birds instead of Kick the Can, and they’ll have the ability to fully delight in the glory of the sunset while they’re engaging in conversation about it on a little screen in 140 characters or less.
I hope so.