Anthony Weiner is interesting. And not just because of his jejune technological hijinks. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Heck, I personally come from a background of addiction and extended immaturity, and have done many more egregious and embarrassing things than Mr. Weiner. Many. Though I don’t particularly like Anthony Weiner, I do think there is a deal too much schadenfreude and gleeful piling on per his recent salacious tweeting.
However, Weiner’s case got me thinking again about technology. Weiner’s puerile acting out over the Internet could not have happened even four years ago. I think it is especially important for us entrepreneurs to be aware of the possibility of unintended consequences inherent in the marvelous efficiencies of technology and social media. My own virtual company, Corporate Rain International, could not exist without this multifaria of technological magics, and yet…
Technology has created a multitasking enablement that is almost God-like in its efficacy. But could these God-like powers be breeding an ethically unmoored, shallow thinking, morally unclear, hubristic new species of politician or business leader?
Linda Stone writes about this in the Harvard Business Review. (2007, February) She describes what she calls “continuous partial attention,” which she defines as a constant state of “scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events and activities in an effort to miss nothing.” Both William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry and Nicholas Carr in The Shallows have written thoughtfully on this phenomenon. (See blogs of 7/20/10 and 7/27/10.)
It’s hard to pay deep attention while tiptoeing through the tulips of constant emailing, blogging, friending, tweeting and linking in. As the leader of my small firm, I have to concentrate to maintain meaning and tonality for my company culture, not to mention for my own life. I need non-efficient, non-multitasking space to reflect, maunder and dream. Otherwise my life becomes a roundelay of shallow skimming; a heedless, uncentered, probably narcissistic, self-referential solipsism. Perhaps this is what happened to Anthony Weiner. Maybe technology can affect character.
Christine Rosen comments compellingly about a U.S. culture increasingly defined by a social media that presents a constant demand to collect fans and adoration. (The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Number 20, Spring 2008) She quotes Lord Chesterfield, who wrote to his son in the 1740s: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.” For Lord Chesterfield such steady focus was a sign of intelligence and moral rectitude. “This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”
Or, as William James said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will.”
Thank you, William.