30 August 2010

Curse of the Distracted Generation

Through ever-advancing technology, I've become accustomed to a personal network characterized by extreme connectedness. At any given moment in time I am generally able to reach out to to any one of the thousands of people I know, and hundreds of thousands whom I don't. At the same time, I am instantly accessible to many of that same number. Such great connectedness--while incredible--causes a problem.

I used to stick very strongly to the belief that technological communication is in the hands of the device-holder, and similarly would respond to email & voicemail on my own schedule--a very comfortable method for me. Often though, any response that was less than immediate would prove to drive the person on the other end into a state of anxiety, anger, or total confusion...which I always felt guilty about causing, even though I knew the world would not end if 1 + 2 remained = x for today. Either that or I'd thoughtfully respond only to discover that the other party found my thoughtful response to be completely un-navigable, without even giving it a chance.

This instant-gratitude expectancy creates in me a sickening sense of duty to try not to disappoint the person on the other end of a message, even though in most cases I am 100% sure that my best thinking is not immediate. I used to feel--without conscious consideration--that I simply owed my best. Now, people care little for the best, unless it's also the fastest, the most anxiety-quenching, and the most self-affirming.

My lack of ability to keep up with voicemail or email or other personal communication has taken me to the extent of making my most recent New Year's Resolution "to be responsive". And I meant just that--it doesn't matter the depth of my response, simply that I do respond. In so many cases the meat of a message is either only about helping the sender achieve their own success, or about some related shallow topic, and nothing more. I haven't necessarily achieved my resolution completely, though I have kept it in mind at all times and have done pretty well with it.

Yet this kills something inside of me. It takes away the meaning of conversation, and generates distracted behavior that is constantly seeking to make everybody happy, instead of tackling whole issues and visioning the bigger picture.

What I really don't get is why the folks who reach out and shake you to see why you didn't respond to something quicker, or the ones who are completely perplexed when their question is responded to a couple of days later (acting as if they had never asked the question in the first place) are the same folks who stick their nose up at you and make comments when you are responding to someone else in their presence. It makes no sense. If you demand immediate responsiveness, then embrace the distracted behavior you build in the people around you. Otherwise, relax. Trust the person you are corresponding with to treat the relationship thoughtfully and with due diligence. Reminders are OK, though not accusations or vulgarities.

There is one way, one place I can go to escape distraction completely: the Adirondacks. And that's because there's no cell phone signal in the heart of the wilderness. Maybe I'll just go there, and stay.


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