Reality or Perception?

The growth of high-technology, particularly in the area of electronics, entertainment, and communications, is giving a new meaning to the question of what is “real.”  As part of that question, there’s also the issue of how on-line/perceptual requirements are both influencing and simultaneously diverging from physical world requirements.

One of the most obvious impacts of the instant communications capabilities embodied in cell-phones, netbooks, laptops, and desktops is the proliferation of emails and text messages.  As I’ve noted before, there’s a significant downside to this in terms of real-world productivity because, more and more, workers at all levels are being required to provide status reports and replies on an almost continual basis.  This constant diversion encourages so-called “multitasking,” which studies show actually takes more time and creates more errors than handling tasks sequentially – as if anyone in today’s information society is ever allowed to handle tasks sequentially and efficiently.

In addition, anyone who has the nerve or the foolhardiness to point this out, or to refrain from texting and on-line social networking, is considered out of touch, anti-technology, and clearly non-productive because of his or her refusal to “use the latest technology,” even if their physical productivity far exceeds that of the “well-connected.”  No matter that the individual has a cellphone and laptop with full internet interconnectivity and can use them to obtain real physical results, often faster than those who are immersed in social connectivity, such individuals are “dinosaurs.”

In addition, the temptations of the electronic world are such, and have created enough concern, that some companies have tried to take steps to limit what on-line activities are possible on corporate nets.

The real physical dangers of this interconnectivity are minimized, if not overlooked.  There have been a number of fatalities, even here in Utah, when individuals locked into various forms of electronic reality, from Ipods to cellphones, have stepped in front of traffic and trains, totally unaware of their physical surroundings.  Given the growth of the intensity of the “electronic world,” I can’t help but believe these will increase.

Yet, in another sense, the electronic world is also entering the physical world.  For example, thousands and thousands of Asian young men and women labor at various on-line games to amass on-line virtual goods that they can effectively trade for physical world currency and goods.  And it works the other way.  There have even already been murders over what happened in “virtual reality” communities.

The allure of electronic worlds and connections is so strong that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of students and other young people walk past those with whom they take classes and even work, ignoring their physical presence, for an electronic linkage that might have seemed ephemeral to an earlier generation, but whose allure is far stronger than physical reality.…

Does this divergence between the physical reality and requirements of society and the perceptual “reality” and perceived requirements of society herald a “new age,” or the singularity, as some have called it, or is it the beginning of the erosion of culture and society?

8 thoughts on “Reality or Perception?”

  1. Lawrence says:

    Thank you for your continued insights here. I appreciate the opportunity to see your relatively uncensored musings.

    To your final question I’d say erosion is the answer. Since moving out of the city where I grew up two years ago I’ve noticed more and more peoples preoccupation with electronic means. The fact that my residence is in such a location that only low grade dial-up internet is available (short of paying exorbitant rates for sattelite) constantly shocks my associates. It is incredible that people are so surprised others can function without a “net-ready” cell phone, high speed internet, several hundred TV channels and so forth in their home. Personally, I’ve found that the more time I have away from those distractions, the more time I’m discovering for interaction with family and friends of a much greater quality (to say nothing of my personal productivity). Despite my reiteration of these facts most of my associates maintain that they couldn’t survive without their current unlimited connectivity.

    Please don’t misunderstand me for being anti-technology. Rather like the “netless” in The Octagonal Raven, I just prefer to be able to choose my exposure to the rest of the world rather than have it chosen for me.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on this site as well as for such a prodigious supply of quality literature.


  2. C. Smith says:

    Your post is just the tip of the iceberg and I agree with everything you stated. Proponents might say electronic communications is expanding possibilities rather than damaging existing practices but I think it is damaging a better way of interaction. Hopefully the eventual outcome, as society adjusts to this technology, will be a more balanced result than what we are currently seeing.

    I would also like to tie your previous blog,”Important Beyond the Words,” into this entry. Instant text communication, be it email or text message, has led to a decline in writing skills. You would think that the opposite would be true because people have to actually “write” to use these technologies. The reality though is that you get quick messages with almost no thought behind them and often no sentence structure at all! Not only are writing skills suffering but reading skills are taking just as big a hit. When people are in such a hurry to get to their next task they often don’t take the time to really understand what is being written. So you get an impatient writer sending a poorly written message to an impatient reader who quickly shoots back another poorly written message for clarification… It is a vicious cycle!

    I am not sure the true cause is the technology though. The technology is inert without a user. The question we need to be asking is what is wrong with the users?

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