Fruit, phones and techno-overdosing

A little while ago I was on the phone and the person on the other end of the line suddenly interrupted conversation to say ‘there’s a man dressed as a blackberry walking around the office.’ At least, that’s what I thought he said. What he actually said was ‘there’s a man dressed as a BlackBerry walking around the office.’ I must be one of the few people in London who still thinks of fruit before phones.

Since then I’ve been thinking about the impact of technology on our lives these days and the pros and cons of this. In our line of work we spend a lot of our time thinking and talking about how to make more of technology. How can we use Facebook or Twitter to enhance our learning solutions? How can we move from formal training to a social media based approach? How can we deliver training to BlackBerrys and iPhones? How can we find new and ever more numerous ways to reach our clients’ employees?

Now, I fully support this in terms of offering learners an increased level of choice about how, when and where they learn. With most people spending around an hour commuting to work each day, many of those on public transport, it makes sense to offer them the option of using that time to catch up on their learning and training requirements. And I agree with Clive Shepherd that ‘new thinking and new media are no longer the province of pioneers and geeks’ – these things are clearly here to stay (in some form or another) and we need to keep ourselves at the forefront of new developments. But I can’t pretend I’m not concerned about what we as an industry might be doing in terms of contributing to our growing national reliance on – in fact, I’d go so far as to say addiction to – technology.

I’m not suggesting that I’d like to return to the days before mobile phones (being the kind of person who’s usually very early and having the kind of friends who aren’t big on planning ahead, I’d spend a lot of time waiting around or being stood up if I had to rely solely on landlines). But there is a part of me that misses the days when people talking unnecessarily loudly into their brick sized phones was as intrusive as technology got. These days our lives are dictated by the politics of Facebook friendships, network coverage and battery life. Umbrellas have been replaced as the most perilous hazard on the high street by technophiles who stroll and surf the net rather than looking where they’re walking. And romantic restaurants are no longer the domain of loved up couples, but rather of loved up couples, the flashing lights and ‘discreet’ vibrations of new messages and frequent furtive glances just on the off chance that a message managed to sneak through unnoticed.

I’m not alone in this: in an article about the damaging effect of technology on relationships recently featured in The Times, Emma Cook writes that ‘we’ve long know about the compulsive allure of the “CrackBerry”, as well as its younger upstart the iPhone, but with the advent of Facebook, and particularly Twitter, a new level of distractedness is developing.’ And Cammy Bean, devoted to her iPhone, admits that – along with Twitter, blogs, Facebook and emails – it destroys boundaries between work life and home life (a threat which people who work from home are particularly susceptible to: as Cammy says, ‘my office is my home, my home is my office’).

Of course, it’s not all bad, but not everyone has given in to the allure and demands of social networking, video sharing and the blogosphere – and it’s this that I think we’re in danger of forgetting. Not everybody likes the fact that they are contactable anytime, anywhere. Not everybody feels anxious if their BlackBerry is in the next room rather than their pocket. Not everybody defines friendship in Facebook terms. Not everybody understands the draw of real time status updates throughout the day.

At the moment, all this technology means that we’ve got much more choice in terms of how we get information – whether that’s news updates, cinema times and gossip between friends or company updates and training sessions. But we need to make sure we strike the right balance, continuing to capitalise on this without overdosing on it (or, more importantly, forcing other people to overdose on it). I’m all for using Twitter and Facebook to offer people a new way to learn if they want to. What I’m not all for is creating learning solutions that are entirely dependent on these things. Just as some people prefer to learn through video and others through reading, some people appreciate training being delivered to their fingertips when they’re on the train or at home with their families and other people don’t.

So I say, let’s make sure we continue to offer choices, catering to the already techno-addicted, the techno-curious and the techno-minimalists. But I suspect I might be venturing into controversial territory here – am I alone on this side of the fence or are there others out there who share this view?