The question is a cliché but timely in light of this cover story in The Atlantic, recent books such as “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby and “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein (a former professor of mine*), and even animated films (WALL•E).
I don’t have an answer, just a hunch, and it’s prompted by two quotes. First this statement from Sergey Brin in the Atlantic: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Then from this Los Angeles Times story: “Bauerlein also frets about the nature of the Internet itself, where people “seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort.”
It seems to me this isn’t an issue of stupidity or intelligence, but of foolishness and wisdom. Technology is increasingly designed to provide people with what they already want, what they already ‘hope to find’. This is indisputable. The wisdom to make productive use out of having “all the world’s information directly attached to your brain” is what’s increasingly lacking.
Or maybe it’s just not well articulated. Ceaseless innovation creates a kind of permanent impermanence. Millennials haven’t grown up with the internet; they’ve grown up with several – each replacing the last over shorter and shorter intervals. Wisdom comes with experience but how can anyone develop experience if one tech fad quickly replaces another?
At some point all companies (even Twitter) will need to articulate how their innovations enrich people’s lives beyond providing a new experience. Of course I would argue that that’s the role tech PR people are uniquely suited to play – helping bridge the gap between the technically feasible and the personally (or professionally) meaningful.
Now who would have believed publicists could serve the public good?
* He wouldn’t remember me, and it’s a good thing too, my academic career is best left forgotten by all involved.
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