Many people reading this will be digital natives.
These are people who don’t remember an era in which we were unconnected.
There is no doubt that technology brings benefits to our lives and I have been a heavy user of tech since I was 13 (in 1981). I was connecting to online communities as a teenager on a 9,600 baud modem which is considerably slower than you can even imagine connecting today.
And for a bit of nostalgia for those that connected via modems (our original modems were external about about the size of two Amazon Kindles stacked on top of each other) play this short SoundCloud audio of a modem connecting to the telco network. Even if you never experienced it yourself it’s a cultural phenomenon I’m sure you’ll have heard.
The modem (modulate / demodulate … mo-dem) converted our digital computer information so that it could be transmitted via our analog telephone lines until it could be received by a modem on the other side that could convert the signal back to digital.
In my unconnected world there was no personal email. On vacation you really checked out because you had to. I lived and worked in Italy in the mid 90′s and weekends were sublime. I picked a city and traveled there and completely unwound. There were no Blackberry’s, iPhones or Internet to distract me. I was forced to go out and talk to people and when we sat at cafes the only distraction to our conversations were people watching.
Strangely, workers didn’t really email each other much or if they did they didn’t expect quick responses. In our company (Andersen Consulting) voicemail ruled. It was the quickest / easiest way to send a message to a work colleague friend (“meet at De Klomp tonight after dinner?”) or to send / receive work instructions from a colleague. Octel “voicemail” ruled our world.
Many places in the world didn’t have readily available digital phone lines so I had to carry a “tone generator” that could mock dial tone sounds in order to even use my voicemail systems.
I don’t say all of this to harken back to a better era – I like the world we live in and the democratizing forces of technology. And if you doubt just how pervasive the impact of technology on our daily lives consider this Tweet sent out today by the IDF.
Holy shit. Twitter as a communication tool in war. If that isn’t a plug for why every government and every corporation needs DataSift I don’t know what is. How’s that for people who keep saying that social media hasn’t been truly transformative. Twitter in many ways is as powerful as the telephone.
Despite our technology progress, there were benefits of “the world we lived in.” I was reminded this in reading Om Malik’s short post “The Problem of Plenty” which brings back nostalgia for “events” which resonated deeply with me (I, too, still call my mom every Sunday).
I am also reminded of the destructive nature that technology can have on our social lives when not properly moderated. My friend Daniel Wolfson sent me this poignant 2-minute video that is worth a watch. While you might find it slightly “over produced” there is no denying that there is a huge truism you will feel about how we tune out loved ones to plug into our mobile phones.
It’s why I recommend banning laptops and iPads at board meetings (all meetings, really). Give regular breaks for people to get their email fix but live in the moment. Maximize your productivity together.
So that brings me to Searching for Sugar Man.
This was by far my favorite film of 2012 and was totally unexpected. If you haven’t seen it – do yourself a favor and don’t read any blogs about the movie and don’t ask friends. Just go see it. Some way. Some how. I won’t spoil the film here – I will only give the set up.
But first, click on the SoundCloud below and torque up the music written by Sixto Rodriguez (aka Sugar Man). I had never heard this song. It is simply … magnificent. Nearly perfect.
The “not ruining anything” version of his life is set out at the very start of the film. He was an abject failure as a musician in the US. Many music executives of the era considered him to be the best musician they had ever heard. He was producing in the era of Bob Dylan yet he languished in US audiences.
Somehow he became popular in South Africa – with popularity approaching something like that of the Beatles. He inspired revolutionary fervor for change in an era of apartheid and injustice.
He became big somehow – despite not having done promotions there. And he had never known of his success in South Africa. No Internet. No email. No Twitter. Truly … and unconnected era.
And in SA there was a mythology to how Rodriguez had died. Some believed he had immolated himself on stage, killing himself in a performance fire. Others had claimed that he committed suicide on stage with a gun.
And some of his most beloved fans set out to find out what happened and went on a journey to find out the truth. The information of Rodriguez’s life journey and struggles were known in the US yet it was nearly impossible to find out in South Africa.
Imagine that in today’s era.
So they go “Searching for Sugar Man.” To find out what happened to this great man of music fame. This national “Beatle.”
And the journey will take you through the sparsely known origins of his life, his music, his supreme talent and his failures.
It is a truly marvelous film. And it will make it clear to anybody who is a Millennial just how different the world was just 20 years ago. And it will make those who are my age a bit nostalgic for the simplicity of a disconnected life.
And if you’re interested in a piece I wrote a long time ago on the impact of technology in our lives you can read, “We are All Frogs Boiling in Water” which includes a link to an article about a correlation between broadband computing and LOWER test scores in math and reading.
[Note: please don't read the comments section if you haven't seen the film Searching for Sugar Man as it's possible that the circumstances of his life and the story of his stage death will be discussed there.]