Social change

Are we relying too much on technology?

I have been a reluctant participant in much of the technology that has been developed and refined over the last 10 to 15 years. I’ve been convinced that we rely too much on technology, and incidents such as the stock market glitch of last week that helped to send the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeting for a time tend to reinforce that opinion in my mind.

But I see value in some tech applications, as well, and so have become fully a part of the cellphone/Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/etc age—for better or worse. But I remain wary and cautious.

It seems I have a kindred spirit in, of all people, the President of the United States. Barack Obama, in his commencement speech to the graduating class of Hampton University, noted with concern the information overload that threatens to inundate us.

“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter,” the president stated.

He also expressed concern that technology serves too much as a distraction to young people, “a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation,” in Obama’s words.

I was reading the president’s words while researching news and information for two presentations I will be giving in July on the topic of social media and their applications in noncommercial foodservice. Last year, I did a similar presentation at the HFM conference in California, and I issued a caution similar to Mr. Obama’s.

I noted that, for an increasing number of young people, social media such as Facebook and MySpace and phone technology such as texting have become a primary means of communication. My sons, nieces and nephews—even my own brother—will just as soon text me as phone me, seeing it as a quicker form of communication. (I often return their texts with a phone call, unless their questions requires only a one-word answer, because I’d much rather talk than type.)

The concern for the foodservice industry is the assimilation into a people industry—one in which face-to-face communication is still essential—of young persons who are far more comfortable with text than they are with talk.

President Obama is worried that the iPod/iPad generation may not be adequately prepared to help solve the world’s problems, being so overwhelmed with conflicting information and opinion that they may be unable to perform the critical thinking necessary to make the smartest choices.

On a smaller scale, I’m worried that the next generation may ultimately use social media and other forms of technology to inadvertently remove the soul from the foodservice industry.

What do you think?


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