Technology attitudes and generations

The degree of open-ness to technology has more to do with “generation” than it does with age.  If that sounds contradictory,  then let me explain.  I have a friend who is 2-3 yrs younger than me that is more suspicious of technology than I am.  First,  I am somewhat of a geek when it comes to technology (again,  a relative term.  To my family,  my being a geek is not saying much.  I work in the Internet business,  so therefore I am a geek.  That’s their perception.  It’s similar  with my same age, slightly younger friend.)

Second,  my friend has a pretty intense privacy instinct.  He didn’t have a phone for a year or so,  which didn’t bother him much at all.  He didn’t like that people could “interrupt” what he was doing.  His friends (like me)  had to depend upon  being  able to find him,  usually at his place.   Or he had to call us from someone else’s phone.  It was maddening.  Finally he succumbed and got a phone.  But now,  he doesn’t have a cellphone,  which by today’s always-on expectations,  is equally as maddening to his friends (like me).

Generationally,  there is much more of a way-of-relating or way of socializing that predisposes us to be adverse to people doing “hyper-connected”  things.  My friend complains about this as well.  He gave me the example of the friend me met for lunch,  and described his sense of offense that the other party was constantly reading stuff on his phone,  even while in the context of an ongoing face to face conversation with him “right across the table  from him”.

I think we can assume that it is a good bet that the older a person is,  the more likely,  IN  GENERAL,  that there will be anti-tech feelings toward people exhibiting connectivity habits that impinge upon the less technical modes.  The extreme examples my friend bemoans are ones where I can agree with the sense that “that’s overdoing  it”.  But there  are increased connectivity expectations that are closing  in on all of us.  To resist the cell phone entirely is a choice fewer people are willing to make,  for the sake of maintaining the level  of contact we have all come to expect,  much of it for good reason and even personal  safety.  Car  trouble,  getting lost (where it is helpful to have a “data plan” so one can find the right route to get back in the right direction,  to take a popular and frequent example).

But beyond “practicalities”,  when does “connectedness” become an addicition?  Or is that even a concern of yours?  Or more  difficult still,  when do OUR habits offend others?  Do parents communicate a reduced interest in their young kids by a certain level of increased attention to smart phone information? Or non-smart phone related , “traditional” mobile calls to someone the child cannot see?  Sherry Turkle,  a psychologist at MIT specializing in cases of online addiction has written a book,  quite controversial in today’s “tech-heavy, hyperconnected” world,  about how we are “Alome Together” (that’s the title, subtitle is “Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”).   As a Sociology major in college (Murray State University 1978)  ,  and a tech enthusiast,  and a theology degree (M.Div.) ,  I have long been intrigued and fascinated  with the way people react to technology,  and how they assess its impact(s).  The church has long been known as slow to adapt and adopt.  Becoming as it is ,  an “older” institution,  it has the age/generation factor added to the “slow adoption”,  innate suspicion to “machine enhancements” and other “spiritual” concerns.

But the immediate negative reactions to Turkle’s work indicates there is a deep well of debate and resistance and differences in social relationship norms that create a variety of divisive opinions about what is expected, normal, or even healthy.   My post last week about Howard Rheingold’s “Virtual Community” covers some of this ground,  as does especially his latest work, “Net Smart: How To Thrive Online”.  I think our age group and generation,  the “Boomers” are a particularly good case study for these things,  tending to spread the gap between the tech-savvy and the older,  more inclined to be resistant to or intimidated by modern communication technology and devices.