disconnected, connected … and we are all nomads now
“Most of us are “nomads” when it comes to computing and communications. We live in a disconnected world much of the time as we travel between our office, home, airport, hotel, automobile, branch office, bedroom, etc. As nomads, we own computers and communication devices that we carry about with us in our travels.”
There is a threshold beyond which one becomes a Cultural Nomad.
It is usually measured in the time one has spent living in a foreign culture. You don’t reach the threshold when you have completely integrated into the new culture – that hardly ever happens – you reach the threshold when you realize that you can’t go back to your own.
Some Cultural Nomads return home to find that they no longer fit in (if indeed they ever did) and become bitter or cynical critics of what was once their home. Others come back and devote themselves to preaching the ways of “the rest of the world” to their ignorant friends and family members. Others simply never return.
We believe that the most fortunate Cultural Nomads are those who are able to accept their Nomad status, and move easily between many different cultures – including their “home” culture – while recognizing that none of these cultures will ever be home. This type of Cultural Nomad has done something the others haven’t: given up the dream of ever having a ready-made “home” provided by their culture — in exchange for the privilege of designing their own “home”.
I’d rather give up, like, a kidney than my phone. How did you manage before? Carrier pigeons? Letters? Going round each other’s’ houses on BIKES?”
Philippa Grogan, 16
Ok. I sometimes believe we don’t discuss smartphones and being ‘disconnected’ correctly. To me, while it is technically a technology transformation, it is more so a cultural shift. And maybe no in a way we typically discuss. To me its about disconnecting from the traditions, and traditional thinking, of home and the ability to carry home where you go (connecting from wherever you are). the dynamics of this shift create some generational tension. Roots to the older generation not only are defined differently but they see the roots being challenged in term of their value. Roots to a younger generation are found more in connectivity therefore freeing them to make home wherever they are and create home-like experiences not within the construct of some structure you have invested your life savings in but more so in the greater world which is now their home.
Me, being older, I have a bunch of older friends, so the discussion <despair?> about ‘what a disconnected world we live in’ seems to come up a lot. By the way. Disconnected is very quickly attached to “something is broken.”
Well. Let’s discuss if anything is broken in the new connected disconnected world of ours. At its most basic level I kind of find this whole “disconnected’ topic a contradictory discussion in that in such a connected world can we truly be disconnected from each other? In addition … are we simply embracing the freedom and less defined <or confined?> Life of a ‘nomad world’?
I tend to find this quite the generational discussion. I also find this entire conversation revolves around how you may define ‘connected’ <or disconnected>.
I also find there is an underlying angst within this discussion based on the fact many of us feel like we are suffering from a mild form of chronophobia <fear that time is moving so fast I’ll never be able to catch up>. In today’s world the usual assumption that most of us make about our computing and communication environment is that we are “always” connected.
Indeed, most of us are “nomads” when it comes to computing and communications. We live in a disconnected world much of the time as we travel between our office, school, home, airport/hotel, car, coffee shop, bedroom, etc … and yet remain connected. We now recognize that access to computing and communications is necessary not only from one’s `home base’, but also while in transit as well as wherever we end up. It is an anytime, anywhere access world and we not only expect it — we believe it is necessary in the new Life normal. This new Life normal has many characteristics of ‘nomad.’
This mental tug of war we go thru with regard to some lack of boundaries in a nomad life yet always tethered to the connected aspect creates the whole disconnected aspect which, in turn, creates the societal flux we are dealing with.
The mental tug of war? While the majority of the connected activity is with other humans it seems like many people are worried we are entering a disconnected human world. Disconnected may sound crazy but it’s because this generation’s connected looks different than past generation’s connected.
What everyone seems to be overlooking in this whole discussion is that handheld mobile technology has actually disconnected us from traditional forced connections <home, home computer, land lines, retail stores, etc.> … and we like it. The tradeoff is that in this nomad like lifestyle we are actually now MORE connected but in significantly different ways than we have traditionally.
I did some research on this nomadic system and lifestyle and found a technical paper written by some impressively smart technology gwonks who outlined all aspects of the technology <or Life enabler> aspect:
One can easily identify the physical parts of a nomadic system as consisting of the following (among others):
People that move (or don’t).
Things that move (or don’t).
Things that communicate (or don’t).
Things you connect to (or not).
Things that can process, store, etc.
Things that can sense.
Things that can actuate.
On the other hand, the logical parts of a nomadic system are more slippery to define. Among others, they consist of the following:
Context (what things surround and touch my current activity).
Individuated nexus (what is the set of currently working objects).
Shared objects (what things are shared with me and others).
Replicated objects (what things are copied in multiple locations).
Cached objects (what do I hold onto as I travel and use objects).
Nomadicity exacerbates a variety of issues <problems?>:
Variable connectivity: unpredictable and voluntary.
Variable requirements as the nomad moves.
Awareness of the environment by the user (environment discovery).
Awareness of the user by the environment (user discovery).
Adaptivity/compression to match bandwidth and platform capability.
Being a nomad is freeing but within the freedom is an underlying stress driven by the fact this is a new world with no established “how to live this kind of Life” rules. In general, this means two things:
– we continue to try and use the ‘old Life rules,’ which were drive by location grounded boundaries, in this boundlessness nomad world
– we are often overwhelmed in this environment by the management of distributed “stuff”
In addition the things on the lists above are capable of changing extremely quickly, making things even more problematic <and challenging>. This creates even more angst.
One of the key characteristics of this “way of Life” paradigm shift in the way we deal with the information is that while our systems have been nomadically-enabled, in that mechanisms have been developed that deal with such changes in a natural and transparent fashion, our brains have not adapted completely to being nomadically enabled <and it varies by generations>. Suffice it to say we are connected 24/7 living in an age where there are numerous ways of communication and interacting. The user of advanced mobile technology is empowered to have more control over the multiple spaces they inhabit <the place they stand> and the numerous boundaries that can be crossed.
This empowerment bleeds into everyday behavior <to the distress of many>.
It’s an unmissable trend.
Even if you don’t have teenage kids, you’ll see other people’s offspring slouching around, eyes averted, tapping away, oblivious to their surroundings. Take a group of teenagers to see the seven wonders of the world. They’ll be texting all the way. Show a teenager Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi. You might get a cursory glance before a buzz signals the arrival of the latest SMS. Seconds before the earth is hit by a gigantic asteroid or engulfed by a super tsunami millions of lithe young fingers will be typing the human race’s last inane words to itself:
C u later NOT 🙁
Some people suggest this means that we stay disconnected within the connected world. But we seem to be missing the bigger societal or cultural issue as this thing called ‘Nomadic computing and communications’ enters Life as we know it. All of this just makes us all a variety of nomads. I am not sure this is a paradigm shift or not but what I do know is that it clearly has shaken up everyone’s traditional view of stability & connected in life.
We thrive in some aspects … balk at others … slow to embrace some and are baffled by others.
However. All of us are intrigued by it <and have some angst at the same time>.
Angst & desire? Here is the interesting thing about an innate desire to be a nomad <we all want freedom> … technology simply frees this innate desire <to some more than others>.
Douglas Adams’ rules about technology:
1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
3) Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.
I imagine my point here is that there is an interesting clash between what we, almost all of us, innately desire – nomadic – and change. We desire one thing almost desperately and yet find ourselves fighting the opportunity to do it.
This maybe a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’
But. What is winning? The desire.
All demographics are embracing their nomad desires <freedom> and at the same time it creates a new Life normal which makes us feel uncomfortable <I like flying but where is my nest>. Paradoxically the nonstop connectedness can feel very disconnected mainly because at the same time we seem to use this freedom to constantly try to shove 25 hours’ worth of Life into 24 hours.
Let’s face it.
We are in the ‘adapting mode’ <adapting to a new Life normal>. Adapting can be painful, stressful and generally uncomfortable. But the whole disconnected thing gets thrown a wrench because it also permits someone to build stronger connections with those you know by sharing your story in a way only you can.
These connections lead to a strong support system and allow you the opportunity to actively engage in a large knowledge base of people with whom you share interests and experiences. The communities built around these social media tools offer us access to a wealth of information from peers to experts that help community members to make better informed decisions and better shape opinions.
In addition … there is perception and reality with regard to disconnected and ‘being connected.’
Yes, you can find studies that suggest online networking can be bad for you. But there are just as many that show the opposite.”
“Our research shows face-to-face time between teenagers hasn’t changed over the past five years. Technology has simply added another layer on top. Yes, you can find studies that suggest online networking can be bad for you.
The mobile phone, smartphones, is now the favored communication hub for everyone … not just teens. The difference is that digital communication IS teenagers’ lives while it is a ‘bolt on’ to adults lives <although that is also changing>.
“Simply, these technologies meet teens’ developmental needs.
Mobile phones and social networking sites make the things teens have always done – defining their own identity, establishing themselves as independent of their parents, looking cool, impressing members of the opposite sex – a whole lot easier.”
Amanda Lenhart – Pew senior research specialist
But, let’s be clear, this whole disconnected versus connected thing ain’t just about kids <remember the smartphone demographic chart used earlier>.
Hardly another month goes by in which there isn’t a new article or book released on the question of whether the Internet brings us together or separates us.
Alternating between lamentations by pundits on how social media tools are allegedly hollowing out our relationships (Deresiewicz 2009; Mallaby 2006, Turkle, 2011), or by breathless reporting in newspapers about how everything is now online, the debate refuses to die, and often seems unaffected by empirical research on these topics.
Perception-wise, it seems natural to think that the rising number of people who are on smartphones and the internet for hours a day would be less likely to interact with the people around them. Focusing on being on the internet would seem to pull people away from their immediate surroundings. Well. It does and it doesn’t. But I am not here to discuss how the internet can, or cannot, affect personal relationships or a sense of impending individual isolation <mostly because I do not believe it does … nor does research suggest it does> but rather this is a thought on how the internet has made things smaller & bigger and connecting in a larger scope. Smaller groups of people have become bigger groups … all with the same ideas and thinking <which suggests the ideas & thinking do not get any larger but rather they get smaller and more concise as they get honed within the group>.
I call it cocooned thinking & connection. So it is possible that the internet increases connection and decreases connection at exactly the same time. Yes. The Internet connects and isolates.
It connects us with a larger group of ‘birds of a feather flock together’ which also isolates us from other birds <who are also flocking>. We increasingly choose filtered communications over unfiltered communications thanks to more ways to digitally connect to other people and there’s less and less time spent being present to those we are physically near.
Why we do this is simple <and we do it in the physical world as well>.
We tend to be happier and less stressed and anxious when we are part of a community that thinks like you do … and even better? This community exists everywhere in that it extends globally <outside of your normal everyday physical reach>. We love the fact we can find people like us all over the world with whom we can connect in a meaningful way about a certain idea, topic, or shared interest. The Internet has made that kind of deep, direct communication a reality and it’s helping people find others who are like them.
Now. PewResearch has conducted two studies <in America> which provides us with at least a baseline to challenge my thinking <or clarify it>. Alone on the internet? Hardly. The internet expands people’s social networks and even encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person studies find. The Pew Internet and American Life Project also finds that US internet users are more apt to get help on health care, financial and other decisions because they have a larger set of people to which to turn. Further debunking early studies which suggested that the internet promotes isolation, Pew found that it “was actually helping people maintain their communities.” <Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociology professor and co-author of the Pew report>.
<PewResearch study, “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives” … a survey which builds on Pew’s 2009 report on technology and isolation>
Another knock on the Internet is that it isolates its users from the broader world in the embrace of familiarity otherwise known as an echo chamber — and so prevents us from a full expression empathy.
To measure the validity of that idea, the report’s authors measured what psychologists call “perspective taking” — the ability to adopt the viewpoint of another person (or, in the context of politics, to consider “both sides of an issue”) — on a scale that ranged from 0 to 100. And what they found is that social network participation, while it doesn’t necessarily encourage empathy, doesn’t seem to harm it, either. “Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter users are no more or less able to consider alternative points,” the report puts it.
Interestingly … research also suggests that the Internet actually increases connectedness and fights off isolation.
People who can use the Internet better to find and/or keep in touch with people with whom they share affinities with are more likely to be able to compensate for losing the neighborhood/family ties.
Research actually suggests that disconnectedness is increased by factors like suburbanization, long-commutes, long work hours, decline of community and civic institutions, etc. …. not being online. I could also use research to suggest our QUALITY of connectedness has improved. A huge positive of social connectedness is that it allows the crucial identity-establishing behavior without the embarrassment or typical ‘fear of speaking out’.
“These technologies give their users a sense of increased controllability. That, in turn, allows them to feel secure about their communication, and thus freer in their interpersonal relations.”
“Our research gives no reason at present for concern about the social consequences of online communication.”
“Controllability” translates into a newfound freedom to communicate. and within the freedom to communicate resides a fuller ‘connectedness’ with Life & people. The average person has in fact double the amount of online friends than physical ones, according to research commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which found users of such sites have 121 online friends compared with 55 physical friends.
“In wider society, the ways in which friendships are formed and nurtured is changing with people recognising that they can develop deep, meaningful connections with others that they’ve never met, and may never meet”
“It can foster a sense of social connection for those who can frequently feel isolated, which is important to psychological wellbeing.”
I personally believe we are no more disconnected than we were in the past … it is just that our ‘connection world’ has changed so radically that people feel uncomfortable leaving what they know.
In the end.
Change is painful especially if it affects cultural attitudes <like home, roots & social interaction>. Within that pain many people start identifying all the reasons why change is bad … or wrong … or harmful <even from “experts” … who sound like old stubborn unchanging curmudgeons>:
“continuous partial attention” — two people doing six things, devoting only partial attention to each one — she remarked: “We’re so accessible, we’re inaccessible. We can’t find the off switch on our devices or on ourselves. … We want to wear an iPod as much to listen to our own playlists as to block out the rest of the world and protect ourselves from all that noise. We are everywhere — except where we actually are physically.”
the technologist who once labeled the disease of the Internet age
“‘This was what was keeping me awake at night,’ Walter said. ‘This fragmentation. Because it’s the same problem everywhere. It’s like the internet, or cable TV – there’s never any centre, there’s no communal agreement, there’s just a trillion bits of distracting noise … All the real things, the authentic things, the honest things, are dying off.’
On the other hand … change is exciting to some people.
“In a world full of people, only some want to fly. Isn’t that crazy?”
I would suggest Nomads fly.
“They told me to grow roots, instead I grew wings”
Please. Please everyone stop having all this angst that being connected all the time is creating a disconnected society. The wireless cable. The telephone. The car. The television. All changed the way people relate to each other.
<p.s. – the world did not crumble>
And how did their parents respond? With the same kind of wailing and gnashing of teeth we’re doing now.
Technology is simply today’s “how we live Life” change agent. People stuck in the past want to stay in the past and while they may want the best for us they also tend to try to push everyone to a safe place <which is simply the trappings of ‘what we used to do and have always done’>.
Sure. The web and everything that comes along with it has some uncertainty and some risk because it is creating societal construct change <and therefore affecting people’s behavior … which impacts people’s attitudes> and it is affecting how we think, how our brains think &, inevitably, how we “do.” I would argue, most importantly than risk, it has shifted some of our Life boundaries … and that just makes us feel uncomfortable.
The uncomfortable conflict is Nomadicity versus some Stability.
Most generations are embracing the freedom of a nomad lifestyle … with some boundaries. And within that ‘yes & no’ relationship resides conflict. Holding on to somethings and letting go of others. Let us remember … children under the age of 15 have never known a world without the internet. It’s revolutionized how they learn, play, will work and communicate with each other. Any time a younger generation embraces a revolution of any kind older generations want to squash it. and they will do so by any means possible <and wave their hands in the air suggesting civilization is crumbling as they do it>.
Tune in. Tune out. It is your choice. The babbling insanity that surrounds us can certainly eat your Life alive but it can also feed the quality of your Life more than ever before.
The one thing you cannot ignore?
Your new nomad Life. It will come with some trappings you will love … and some you will hate.
But. Trust me. You are now a nomad.