November 06, 2011
Going Beyond Digital Distraction

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NOTE: The following piece is authored by Sarah Jacob, a new member of the Heart of Innovation blogging team. Sarah will be focusing on all things digital and the launching of Idea Champions new Virtual Innovation University -- a series of webinars and other online experiences that will make our work available to millions of people around the world. Welcome, Sarah!

Last night I read an article about the benefits of unplugging from the constant stream of information and data spew coming our way. The main message? Our addiction to distraction has made "human connection" unlikely, uncommon, and all too often, unavailable.

Forget "to be or not to be." The question these days is "To connect or not connect?"

At any given moment, any one of us is sitting in front of a computer with a seemingly infinite variety of social media options before us: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Skype, Klout, and Google Plus just to name a few -- our cell phone just inches away ready to deliver the next text message (and the ever-more-rare phone call).

These days, it is easier than ever to connect with people -- a primordial urge that can be traced all the way back to our Neanderthalic roots and the ancient need to be accepted by our tribe.

Indeed, to the amygdala, the number of Likes we get on our latest Facebook status update is really just another form of survival!

"Am I accepted?" we wonder. "Do I belong?" Am I going to get booted from -- or worse, ignored by -- my virtual tribe if my status updates aren't interesting, profound, or funny enough?

Smart phones aside, we're really not all that different from our pre-Industrial Revolution ancestors who had to rely on family, neighbors, and community to harvest crops, raise barns, and fix roofs.

Skyscrapers have replaced farms, but our need to survive is as real as ever -- a need that is no longer satisfied by "job security". Why? There is none these days. It is gone, along with most of our seemingly unshakable economic structures.

Making a living these days is no longer about "getting a job" -- it's about creating work.

The good news? People are getting really creative towards that end. People are becoming their own brand. They are marketing their own unique skills, passions, and value to anyone and everyone who will listen.

They're doing it via social media in ways that blur the line between casual socializing and cunning marketing.

Was your friend's post about her exciting client meeting an enthusiastic desire to share, or was it "creating buzz"? Or both? These days, friends, acquaintances, and business contacts are all swirling around in the same human connection soup -- a soup that seems to be feeding most of us.

And yet, many of us share a gnawing sense that something about this recipe doesn't taste quite right. Something is missing. The mouth goes dry. No amount of drinking quenches our thirst. We are hungry all the time.

Today, for example, I communicated with 40 people and another 200 of my FB friends now know how I feel about the guy in high heels on the subway. But was there even the slightest hint of a sincere connection? A single authentic human exchange?

I'm being asked out on dates via text message and the most contact I've had, in the past three years, with my oldest friend is that she likes my Facebook status updates.

The constant tick of text bytes coming our way has become the digital equivalent of a strange clock ticking high on the wall in an empty room no one ever enters.

What are we really hungry for? What do we really want?

The answer is simple: Meaning. Beauty. Authentic connection. Soul. Experiences like seeing sunlight across a honey-colored wood floor. Like the sound of the wind scattering dry leaves. Like the perfect roundness of your dog's brown eye framed by a crescent of white.

In these all-too-rare moments of stillness come a surprise, an insight, an idea -- something brand new and utterly genius. Something worth sharing with another.

In this moment, without even thinking, you walk across the street to tell your neighbor. The animation in your gestures as you describe your idea is an act of creation. The aliveness you feel as you share your never-before-uttered thought is intoxicating. Your friend listens, really listens.

And if you're like me, you dance.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at November 6, 2011 06:23 AM

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