The foundations of electronic engagement

We’re surrounded by RF, IR, EM, and God-knows-what-else. My six-year-old son has his own iMac (the original Bondi Blue one; a hand-me-down from his big sister). He “checks it” early in the morning before school. He’s been able to launch apps and change screen resolution since he was three. He knows the difference between Safari, Firefox, IE, and Netscape.

My 19-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, both away at college, don’t email or even call anymore: they text. My students email me at all hours. Sometimes I’ll return emails at one or two in the morning. I usually get replies immediately. The average person gets 117 emails a day. In this respect at least, I find that I am above average.

I pumped gas the other day. The monitor on the pump told me all about the specials I could get (none of which I remember, by the way).

I went grocery shopping. There were coupons in aisles for me, and after I scanned my frequent shopper card at the self-serve checkout, I got (more or less) appropriate coupons at checkout, and gas points.

iPods are everywhere. People (it seems) spend far more time talking (or texting) to each other on their cell phones than they do face-to-face. “Google” is a verb. The “conventions” of IM are destroying — or at least changing — the written language. My dog has a chip in him to help us reunite should his travels ever take him out of the neighborhood (our police proudly proclaimed in a recent newsletter that the department has acquired three AVID chip readers to identify wayward dogs).

What is going on? And is it good or bad? Or just the natural evolution of things? Does it impact just our civilization, culture, and basic societal units? Or is it impacting us on a far more personal level and changing us fundamentally as humans? Two microcosmic views: the good: Playing video games helps surgeons perform better in the operating suite. (Annals of Surgery, v.241(2); Feb 2005) The bad: Video games facilitate bringing virtual violence into the real world. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2000, Vol. 78, No. 4, 772-790 )

The point isn’t so much to judge whether this “electronic engagement” is good or bad; it’s happening. So how do we deal with it? How do we — whether we’re on the “engaging” end or the “engaged” end — use our powers for good? Consider this the start of a conversation. I’d love your thoughts. I’ll be posting once a week to allow time for responses.