Life was so much easier when I walked into the office and someone handed me a pink slip of paper that said, “While you were out…” Now I come back in and have to check e-mail, voice mail and Facebook before I sit still for a conference call that drags on forever because everybody thinks they are supposed to say something profound.
For the longest time, I convinced myself social media was a fad. But I’ve been interviewing senior corporate leaders for a book project and now realize that social media is in its infancy and I’d better figure it out or get left behind. I am too young to escape all my electronic tethers and too old to be happy about them.
Tethering has changed us as a people. I was recently at home with two friends and each of us was somewhere else, via our laptops. We did not interact, and all we shared was space. My friend Scarlett posted that she was at my house with me — but was she even there?
I watched a young couple glued to their cell phones instead of each other while dining in a fine restaurant. On Valentine’s Day.
We Google everything. Dinner conversation stops so we can check what year Foreigner released I Wanna Know What Love Is or whether it is true that a female ferret will die if she goes into heat and can’t get a mate. We now have an insatiable need for useless knowledge, an uncontrollable mountain of e-mail and an infinite opportunity to distract our focus and minimize our productivity.
What you are hearing is the voice of someone resenting the technology we must all master in order to remain relevant and viable in the business world. I have to learn it, use it and excel at it — we all do.
The old dogs of the work world have no choice but to learn all the new tricks. Years of experience or loyal service don’t matter if you are less effective than a new college grad who will work for a third of what you make.
We have to realize the potential of technology and new media every day, and we have to learn, learn, learn. Technology frees and imprisons us at the same time. We have to define for ourselves how we can be effective without letting a monitor, cell phone or tablet computer define our world.
We can take charge of our Internet addictions, learn to stand in line without staring into our smart phones, regulate how often we check e-mail, leave devices in the car when we go to dinner…
Well, we should be able to do that. I was on vacation last week and had no Internet access. A neighbor let me check in daily, but I was forced to untether. It was painful — yet liberating. I was present and mindful during my vacation and couldn’t obsessively check CNN, the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post or the like. My attitude was not colored by negative news. I didn’t waste my day getting lost in meaningless Internet searches or idiotic Youtube videos. All I did was check my e-mail in the morning, then go live my life.