Focused in New York with ‘Distracted’ author Maggie Jackson

April 28, 2009

Last week in New York City, I sat down with Distracted author Maggie Jackson for a rare face-to-face interview. It was rare because most of the interviews I conduct are through the digital medium, either via phone, Skype or email. We enjoyed a cup of chamomille tea at a quaint Swedish cafe just off Columbus Circle where, during one of my previous visits, I had spotted Scarlett Johansson rushing by while chatting on her cell phone.

Once we got acquainted, our discussion quickly turned to one of the subjects in her book that is most pressing on my mind – the blending of man and distractedmachine. Digital devices are rapidly becoming extensions of ourselves. Quickly surveying the Manhattan landscape, you are guaranteed to see at least five people with a cell phone or BlackBerry pressed to their skull at any given moment. I had to ponder whether that man on the corner who was smiling into space was actually directing his humor at me or at the pinky-sized ear attachment that blinked periodically as he spoke.

“Our constant connectivity leaves little time for self-reflection,” Maggie aptly stated. She pointed to the surfeit of information we handle on a daily basis. “Virtuality [on some level] trumps ‘reality’.” We have built worlds based on digital data. And now it’s portable, too.

Cultivating our inner self comes when we give our thoughts time and space to unfold. Take the recent Miss USA debacle in which Miss California took a stand against gay marriage. It is said that Miss California felt she was the true winner of the Miss USA pagent because of the number of Facebook friend requests and tweets she received. If that is true, it does not bode well for our children’s generation. Internet ranking as the benchmark for morality? A scary prospect indeed.

“Twitter, by its nature, is very reductive. It accentuates the trivial,” Maggie suggested. She was quick to point out how Twitter exacerbates our love of the instantaneous. Instant gratification informs who we are as a nation. Don’t make me wait. Give me the answers now. Yet, at what cost?

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane at Munich’s International airport. The air was a blend of spring and serenity. People weren’t generally moving at the speed of a Tweet. I returned home to my non-existent couch that I had ordered seven weeks ago.

“You’ll receive it in the eighteenth calendar week,” the sales rep stated, not without a tinge of annoyance that I should expect it any sooner. I marveled at the cultural differences between the US and Germany for a moment. The power of slow shone through once again. Some things take time. We needn’t rush it. The furniture store hasn’t learned about citizen journalism or Twitter yet. Perhaps a new social media movement will provide the tipping point that will make the furniture industry in Europe self-adjust. Given the speed at which Germany moves, it may take decades before they catch up.

And that might not be such a bad thing, after all.

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