A little while ago, the family was on our way out — I don’t even remember where we were going — but we were waiting for one of my daughter’s friends to arrive, because she was riding with us. And minutes were passing, and we’re getting gradually more impatient, when finally my wife turns to my daughter and asks “where’s your friend?” To which we get in return “I don’t know, she’s not texting me back.
“Well, have you called her?”
“No.” And you could practically hear the follow-up, “As if ...” Like as in, “As if I would ever actually talk to one of my friends with this device which was originally designed exclusively to allow me to talk to everybody, at any time.”
I’ve written before about how weird it is that the next generation is so constantly interconnected by their cell phones, but at the same time so disconnected in every other regard. But it turns out that that phenomenon of youth also has a troubling manifestation in adult life.
My friend Jay is in sales, and has been for 20-some years. Business has been dicey for the last several years, but he’s keeping his head above water. One thing that we’ve talked about a lot in respect to his business is how impersonal it’s become. And he sees that as a very bad thing, from both a business and a cultural angle. People who he’s worked with for 20 years don’t have the time to say “hey” and catch up with how the family is doing; a salesman from 15 years ago who would look you in the eye and give you a handshake promise now sends you a text message with a vague statement of intent. The personal part of business has become completely subsumed by the need to keep up with the speed of technology, and things that used to work because of relationships don’t work anymore.
Let me come at it this way: 50 years ago, investors had brokers who they knew by first name; brokers had relationships with companies; and companies valued that chain of connections because it was the lifeblood of their company. Now, you or I can log in to e-Trade from our iPad while sitting on the couch in our pajamas, catch up on the stock market in a few minutes, and send instructions to the HAL 9000 on the other end of the ether, and go about our merry day. Nowhere in that is there any accountability to the investor from the company, who barely knows you exist, if at all.
You wonder how a thing like Enron could happen? Because Ken Lay never had to look one of the “little people” in the eye and tell them he was in the process of bilking them out of their life savings. Personal relationships require accountability, and when business is managed by text message, there are no personal relationships.
I like technology, and I think there are a lot of really wonderful aspects to it. But it seems like what it has actually done is replace conversations when it was intended to augment them. It’s made the messy part of relationships an arms-length away, where it’s safe and unaccountable.
And that’s not good for anybody, whether it’s working out six-figure deals or just trying to get to dinner on time.
Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.