Yesterday, I sat in a video conference room in a company in Nashville where executives hold conversations with their counterparts in India and other global locations, sometimes several times a day. They not only see and hear each other with crystal clarity, they view the same spreadsheets and images, and work on them together.
Technology not only shrinks the world, it connects us in remarkable ways.
Recently the world surpassed 5 billion cellphone users. Many are in rural areas once described as remote but now connected. Each month, more than 734 million unique users log on to Facebook. They stay in touch with family and friends around the world. Hyper connection.
It’s sparking a burst of creativity. Mini Silicon Valley-like technology centers are sprouting the world over–Nairobi, Guatemala City, Mumbai.
Technology entrepreneurs are creating solutions for long-term problems of isolation, lack of knowledge and access to information, lack of voice and power. Sometimes they’re solving problems people didn’t know they had because they were socially marginalized and geographically isolated.
As a result, children across the world are developing media skills, creating content and sharing it through these media in ways that were beyond imagination only a few years ago. This is changing how we form community, share information, see ourselves in the world and even how we think.
I reflected on this recently as I tried to get in touch with someone who had not activated his voicemail and doesn’t use email. He lives in a different world, the world before global hyper-connection. That’s hard to imagine.
An exciting new world
We can choose to live outside the media ecosystem that has developed around us. But because these technologies are shaping the lives of billions worldwide and fueling cultural changes that sometimes we can’t predict beforehand, it’s hard to understand why some choose to opt out.
I’m not talking of sleeping with your cellphone, being online 24/7, interrupting meetings to text or replacing face-to-face interaction with screens and keyboards. I’m not suggesting ignoring your children or spouse to hunch over a screen.
But there is a universe of information-sharing, conversation, engagement and interaction that’s fascinating, enlightening, informative and connective that, I believe, enhances life. It’s not the whole of life, and it has its drawbacks, but it’s an interesting, often exciting, new world that we all live in.
Acquiring skills – and relevance
I think it’s essential to understand how people use media for good and ill purposes. We need to know how social media are being used to build community and sustain relationships, as well as how they’re used to manipulate and misinform. We are beyond the reading and writing skills of the past. They won’t go away, but they are being complemented, supplemented and sometimes replaced by new media skills.
We need to understand how content is created and distributed, and we need to participate in the evolving media ecosystem that is re-shaping our cognitive ecosystem (our brains) individually and collectively.
Dan Gillmor writes that solid communication skills are becoming necessary for social and political participation. I would add that without these skills we become (at best) less effective in communicating our ideas, and at worst irrelevant. The new media culture will move forward without us.
There are so many different worlds to explore, to choose to not engage them puzzles me.