There is absolutely no way I am going to my ten-year high school reunion this summer.
Okay, so it is over 3,000 miles away in Dublin, Ireland, but even if it was easier to get to, I am not entirely sure what the point would be. I don’t feel the need to reconnect with my high school classmates; we never disconnected.
When I was in my senior year, we talked about how strange it might be to get together in ten, twenty, or thirty years time. What would we be working at by 2017? Who would be married? Who would have kids? Who would be living abroad? We even imagined renting a room in the local restaurant where we would reminisce about our high school years.
But the truth is I know where you work; I know who sits next to you in your office; and I know you got promoted. I even know where you for a beer after work on a Friday! I know that you are married. I know you have kids. I even know what Santa Claus brought your kid for Christmas this year! I know where you live. I know where you went on vacation last year. I even know where you would like to go on vacation this year. I am sure if I went online right now, I could probably find out where you went for breakfast this morning. You probably posted a picture of your eggs benedict with candied bacon and hollandaise sauce on Instagram earlier today.
We were naïve to think that our 10-year reunion would be some big celebration full of surprises. We were already deeply immersed in various online social media platforms such as MSN Messenger, an online chat forum, and Bebo (a Facebook-like platform that allowed you rank your top-16 friends and share one heart everyday with your favorite Bebo friend – finally we had a tool to quantify just how popular you were relative to your high school peers).
We really should have known that regardless of what we each decided to do after high school, we were living in a new age of interconnectedness. In late 2006, aside from the online communities that we were actively engaged in, it was becoming clear that the Internet was changing society rapidly and that this change had only just begun. Steve Jobs was developing the first iPhone; George W. Bush’s popularity was waning; one of the most decorated soccer stars, Zinedine Zidane was sent off for heading butting another player in the World Cup soccer final; J.K. Rowling was preparing to release the final installment of the Harry Potter series; and a up-and-coming Senator from Illinois was being talked about as an long shot for President of the United States. With everything that was going on in the world ten years ago, TIME magazine decided that the “You — Yes, You” were the TIME’s 2006 Person of the Year. TIME magazine observed that we were seizing the reins of the global media and framing a new digital democracy.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself in recent years that I wished I did not live in the social media era. I know we are living through the largest increase in human expressive capability, but sometimes I long for the anonymity that other generations enjoyed. I don’t enjoy having my personal life documented online for hundreds of my closest ‘friends’ to like, comment or share. I hate starting conversations with “oh, I seen online that you were… ”. It baffles me that someone could become a millionaire by being a social media influencer by monetizing the act of living. Issues such as cyberbullying and the dark web concern me deeply. I have seen more thoughtful ideas articulated in restroom graffiti than the hatred that can be found on Twitter and the comment section of online newspapers.
Last week we read Professor Kane’s interview with Phil Simon, author of “Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It” (see http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/are-you-part-of-the-email-problem/). The article is entitled “Are You Part of the Email Problem?” and truthfully, I work as part of a team that is very much part of the problem. We know we send too much email, we know that there are scheduling, task management, and file sharing tools that could make our lives easier. My primary activity is project management, but we know that there are better tools available to manage a project effectively.
I know there are more effective ways to work and I know that there are companies that are digitally maturing. I am hoping that this class will enable me to take a step away from my day-to-day routine and think about ways to become more effective in my current role, and also to prepare myself for taking a role in another organization some day that is further along in the digital development process.