Hey Digital Maven: Are You Okay With Silence?

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Ilence It’s a funny thing Silence. We crave it on one hand since it brings us ‘quiet’ and perhaps we think a little ‘quiet’ in our life brings us peace and tranquility.

Let’s take a look at polarity for a minute, not chemical polarity, but linguistic polarity which does in fact change our behavior, our wants, our likes, our dislikes and so on.

The most well-known polarity items are those that are sensitive to negation and related expressions – think: negative and positive expressions. The speech and behavioral patterns that you consistently do again and again define your life experiences.

When we live ‘most of our life’ in a digital world, we can’t possibly define our lives any other way other than digitally. The same applies to the opposite. There’s only so much space, time and energy we can dedicate to a given thing – does that one thing fall into a digital realm or a non-digital realm? Those patterns become what we know, what our bodies and minds do and what we ‘become’ most comfortable with. While we may argue that these patterns do not define us, over time, they do in fact become part of our DNA, our make-up, our new persona, our new identity.

Among other things, I suppose I could call myself a ‘digital maven.’ It didn’t start that way — I’m not a daughter of an engineer or from a family who spent their life employed at HP, Intel or Apple. Quite the contrary, I’m about as opposite of a poster child for Silicon Valley as you can find, yet…..here I am, a victim of the digital revolution. (G’head, slam for me the use of the word victim, but not unlike other addictions, technology takes on its victims in the same way cocaine and alcohol do).

We can make our own choices and create the necessary life balances but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall prey to the addiction. Pattern repetition: repeat, repeat, repeat. Ever have this feeling? I’m a mouse caught in a digital and social media maze — please let me out.

I grew up in an environment where access to a digital life was limited and discouraged. The mantras I received included getting an old fashioned education, reading literary masterpieces and more than anything else – world experience. “Get your hands dirty, and walk on the dark side, the tough side and there…..there, you’ll learn how to get ahead in life.”

If it came easily, my grandfather believed, it wasn’t real, or at least not sustainable. Two main things that fell into the easy category as a teenager: TV and fast food. Both were off limits without some kind of negotiation. We were also a family who held onto a rotary phone for longer than most.

Falling into technology twenty years ago had its rewards then as much as it does today. Innovation is exciting – you can feel the pulse of leading edge…..you have an opportunity to see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, and experience it.

If you’re not an early adopter at first, the digital world soon converts you into one. Suddenly you wake up and you’ve become a geek, unclear of how you made it from luddite to digital maven. It’s not as if there’s a single moment where a lightbulb goes off and you suddenly can fix your pal’s PC or set up your aunt’s cell phone. It’s gradual like all addictions.

Once you move into that world, it’s hard to turn back to a mindset where silence becomes your truth rather than your digital persona.

Let’s face it – while many will argue that their digital persona, in other words, who they are online, IS their physical persona, it’s not the same – it can’t be. The medium changes us, whether it’s a large monitor, a small mobile screen or a GPS gadget. As humans, we simply respond differently to human touch — sound, sight and smell in the physical world than we do in a digital, virtual one. It doesn’t mean that innovation and progress isn’t blurring the lines (read: singularity), but it’s important to acknowledge the distinctions for us to understand the digital addiction and how it can and does lead us further away from presence, and further away from silence. Singularity enthusiasts and futurists may think differently about this of course.

Enter my world. This world is one which never shuts off and is rarely disconnected from the web in one form or another. In other words, life is almost never offline. What does almost ‘never’ lead to?

Almost ‘never’ leads to a world where silence can’t exist, at least not as we have known and understood it for centuries.

Enter Silicon Valley, a place some call its own planet. Others call it a insular bubble shut off from the ‘real world.’ It doesn’t mean that everyone who lives in Silicon Valley is living in an insular bubble, but what it does mean is that the technology culture Silicon Valley has created is all digital and as such, removed from the way the rest of the world thinks and lives.

I moved here after the 2000 crash, but before the recent economic downturn when start-ups were not getting funded, companies were not hiring and the outlook was grim. That said, there was still advancement – products were still being launched, companies were sold and innovation ploughed ahead economic surplus or not.

The early adopters and creators continued to throw invites my way for every new social media service, plug-in, mobile feature and software download under the sun; I got a daily dose of them for months. In this increasingly ‘more authentic than ever’ time, I was asked to ‘friend’ people I never met or heard of on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, MySpace………..the list goes on. And on.

Are you tired yet? At what point do you say “get a life, enuf already.” It’s not about keeping up with the Jones anymore; it’s about keeping up with the digital mavens and these mavens keep coming at you from all sides. Their persistence is so prolific that you can’t really escape them if you work and play among them, nor can you create uninterrupted time for silence.

Ahh yes, that magical word: Silence. Being connected to all of these disparate digital worlds takes time, energy and focus because for the most part, these worlds are silos even though there’s an attempt to integrate more and more of them. Integration isn’t happening fast enough nor is it a priority, and so we continue like mice in the maze of ever exploring one path (i.e., social network with no clear value-add or problem that it solves) after another.

*Check to see what my friends are doing on Facebook, do status updates and write on their walls.

*Find out who poked me and why and then respond.

*Respond to comments in MySpace world.

*Answer questions from people who send me notes on LinkedIn despite the fact that they have my email address and have known me for a decade.

*Check messages on the six vertical market social networks that promise to keep me appraised of the latest in the world of my top passions and interests.

*Check aggregator for top news and to sift through favorite blogs and sites.

*Read Google News. Read Yahoo Alerts.

*Check Google Analytics. Check Statcounter. Check feeds.

*Check blog post comments. Respond.

*Respond and monitor spam on blog. Respond and monitor spam on Facebook. Respond and monitor spam on…..

*Try to find useful and important stuff in email in the midst of useless and irrelevant stuff.

*Wonder daily how on earth you got on so many newsletter lists for so many companies. Try to unsubscribe and note that the volume continues to go up despite your best effort.

*Update location on FourSquare. Update again on Gowalla.

*Tweet something useful on Twitter or retweet someone else’s thought provoking comment. Tweet again. Respond to tweets.

*Repeat above.

*Update status on LinkedIn.

*Write Blog Post. Respond to comments and emails about blog post.

*Make silly correction from something someone didn’t like from blog post they see as inaccurate but isn’t really.

*Update contact database.

*Do back up.

*Copy files over for trip and then do again. Back up. Do it again.

*Synchronization. It always works flawlessly right? Don’t get me started.

*Download new updates and upgrades for software, hardware, web browsers, mobile phones….

*Download new apps for phone, laptop, iPod, iPad, Droid, Blackberry, do it again.

*Upgrade to new operating system: Phone, Laptop, Blackberry, iPod, iPad, Droid. Do it again.

*Download new printer drivers.

*Windows Crash. Firefox Crash. Chrome Crash. And yes, Apple fan boys, iPod Crash. It happens almost daily and I own five.

Since I work in this industry, go there I must, at least to some degree. Create more boundaries, more balance, you might say. And I do and others I know have tried also. In making that conscious choice however, bear in mind that the inevitable happens: you move yourself further away from your ‘digital tribe.’ If you are not fully integrated into your ‘digital tribe’ yet you’re not ‘out of it’ either, you’re living a luke warm ‘digital existence,’ at least in the eyes of the tribe.

Yet, if you have your toes dipped into the waters of the digital tribe, you’re not fully living in the tribe that lives, breathes and honors ‘silence’ either. No-man’s land. Doris Lessing remains a great read for those who have never been attached to any one label, any one culture, any one name.

When there’s nothing to click, nothing to push, nothing to update, nothing to respond to, silence takes over. It can be disconcerting at first, especially for the digital maven. For example, watch a digital maven board an airplane. As they walk onto the plane, they’re checking text messages — head down — paying little attention to the announcements or people around them. They check into Foursquare, send out a tweet and make a phone call the instant they sit down, thereafter begrudgingly switching their device off when the order comes from the cockpit.

Continue to watch. They’ll look around, then back down to their lap, then at their device, which is turned off. They play with the keys anyway just like a smoker coddles the unlit cigarette when they’re forced to abstain. They’re at a loss where to turn and what to do. Read a magazine? A Book? Unless it’s on a Kindle, it would appear foreign, out-dated.

The neurons don’t know how to fire up that part of their brain – it’s out of practice and ‘hooked’ on digital connection…..addicted to that digital connection. Enter the world of no silence. Silence doesn’t have the juice they need, the ‘hit’ that keeps them engaged, connected, in motion. Hey Digital Maven, ask yourself an important truth: “how okay are you with silence?” Then, sit with the question for a long, long time. In Silence of course.