Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Is Our Technology Making Us Autistic? Be Here Right Now...

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 31, 2014

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This ad for  Autism Speaks at a San Francisco bus stop reminded me of an excerpt from an article written by Curt Woodward, senior editor at  Xconomy, about the lack of eye-contact within Google’s top echelon:

During Schmidt's decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.

It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.

"Even one hour per week, you couldn't have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I'm sorry--you lost," he said to laughs.

Schmidt: Google Glass Critics "Afraid of Change," Society Will Adapt | Xconomy

The lack of eye-contact is pervasive and extends well beyond the Google C-suite. It seems likely that our technologies are encouraging autistic types of behaviors.

We even see it in how tech companies try to use "Big Data" to understand social behavior by customers and communities when empathy is pretty much all you need. It provides insights that data analysis won't reveal. Lack of empathy towards others is a sign of autism. 

There are quite a few tech companies who sit at various points on the autistic spectrum. The disorder isn’t curable but it is treatable and companies with an autistic culture can still lead highly productive lives — they just need some help in playing well with others.

Treatment requires sometimes unplugging from our always-on, always-with-us technologies. Be Here Right Now will be a new mantra and the new manners.

It is derived from the 60s rejoinder but remade for our times, with an emphasis on “right now,” and it implies a real-time environment — a concept familiar to engineers.

We only  have ”now.” But our tech steals it from us constantly with shoals of glittery distractions. Sometimes the price is worth paying but other times our technologies get in the way of meaningful experiences.

There’s no such thing as augmented reality, as Google Glass is often described. There’s something in the way — it’s an occluded reality. 

Be Here Right Now is scary and great. It’s a good kind of scary to switch off for a while. It’s great for startups because original ideas come from original experiences. Original experiences are those that are found as unfiltered, and untainted by other people’s opinions, curations, and as un-occluded as possible.  

It’ll lead to original ideas — increasingly rare in Silicon Valley.

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Autism Speaks - it's time to listen.

There's also an app: Autism Speaks.

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