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The progress paradox

By Ronnie Apteker

You know, all technology has ever meant to do is save us time. All these great advancements and innovations are meant to make our lives better, easier, and more exciting. And yet, with each incredible leap forward we seem to go backwards in our souls. This is the paradox of progress.

Yes, we get more stupid with each smart invention. Crazy how the world works like this. As George Carlin once pointed out, in this day and age we have more degrees but less common sense.

Take email for example – you got to love it. It is fast, it is simple, and it costs practically nothing to use. Once you are online you can email as much as you like. But, are you really being effective with this cold, dull medium? Efficient yes, but effective, no.

I have heard so many people lecture me on the uses of email. And I am always amazed at how insecure these people turn out to be. No one builds real relationships via email. Yes, you can share information, you can send technical notes, and you can set up meetings. But you can’t really establish trust via email. You can’t build bridges via email. You can’t really connect via email. Email is about speed. And relationships are about time.

The same goes for cellphones. I love it when someone goes on at me about their new cellphone. Who cares about that stupid device? The only thing that matters is who is calling you. I would rather have quality calls than a quality phone.

I also love it when I call someone up and they say: “Sorry, I can’t talk to you, I am in a meeting.” You’ve got to laugh. Why are they answering their phone if they can’t talk? Seriously, technology really is making us stupid.

The problem with all these technologies is that we keep getting interrupted and we find it hard to focus. We find it harder and harder to listen. Imagine going to talk to someone and while you are sharing something important their cellphone rings and they take the call. At this point you have lost faith, and trust, in that person. At this point you might as well talk to the wall. The problem with all this technology is that we are meant to be more in control, but alas, it is in fact controlling us. This is what the message of that movie the Matrix was about.

I know this column is a bit of a departure from my usual ramblings, but I have been going through some soul searching recently and I am trying to get my head, and heart, around the fundamentals. I am exploring the curious paradox of progress once again, and I am trying to examine the continuous struggle we all face when it comes to quality versus quantity.

I would rather trade all those silly emails for one meaningful conversation. But, let’s not forget the power of email. One simple email could set up a time and a date for that meaningful conversation, with someone you care about. So, let’s leave it right there for now.

Yes, this would be a good place to stop – I think I am going to email a special friend of mine and make a time to get together with them for a good heart to heart, and a bit of a laugh. The friend I am talking about here has the most wonderful laugh and I have not heard it in a while – I hope I hear it again soon.

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate Internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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