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Modern Technology Attention Deficit Tipping Point

I recently got back from a two and a half week trip abroad, and the comparative lack of connectivity was refreshing. I often feel that here in Silicon Valley, we're progressing ever more rapidly to a world in which no one looks up anymore, and relationships and friendships take place entirely in the unfulfilling desert of the virtual. Getting out every now and then is a good way to reset your perspective.

For instance, during the nine days I spent in Korea, I had a phone that was "merely" capable of sending text messages and making phone calls (to be fair, it was an iPhone 4, but the 3G was disabled). Knowing that you can't check your email even if you want to is glorious! I ended up checking my email once or twice a day at the hotel, and didn't miss it. The main thing I really missed was GPS. But believe it or not, it's possible to find things without it. And people tend to be helpful if you ask them for directions!

I then went to China, where G+ and Facebook are blocked. Facebook got so nervous about the sudden drop in attention I was affording it that it sent me an email informing me of all my unread notifications. Surprisingly, the world kept spinning without my attending to those notifications! Crazy but true.

Then I spent last weekend in Beijing with a group of friends who all had old-school tier-3 candy bar phones. You know what? They're way more fun to hang out with than the smartphone-wielding masses. They look up way more than their iPhoned compatriots. They don't pull out their phones to check Facebook or check-in on Foursquare in the middle of a conversation. And they seem to be generally happier people.

I wonder if we're reaching an inflection point in our technology-driven attention deficit disorder. Will we humans be able to figure out a healthy way to coexist with technology? Will it consume ever more of our attention until we live most of our lives in the hyperactive snapshot world we've created for ourselves? Or will we break out of our self-imposed chains and demand more real and less virtual? I don't know the answer, but it will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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