Is Technology Making Us All Autistic?



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.

Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
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2 Responses to Is Technology Making Us All Autistic?

  1. Anthony A Compagnone
    Anthony A. Compagnone February 12, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    Let me first start off by saying, great article! I can tell you first hand, as a Bilingual Speech and Language Pathologist, we need to have young people as well as ourselves to turn off technology and begin again to look into each other eyes and enjoy good spirited conversation. Children as well as adults with pervasive developmental disorders or who are on the autistic spectrum, lack the ability to make eye contact with their communication partner. It is not uncommon during many of my therapeutic sessions, that making eye contact is one of may major goals to achieve with my clients. Let us not take for granted our natural ability to be competent communicators with one another. And as a side note, take off those Google glasses, please. As a accomplishes martial artist, I can assure one should not be distracted walking down a street looking at the internet on his/her glasses without knowing what and who surround in the environment. It is kind of like, texting while driving. A very bad combination.

  2. JD, Esq. March 30, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    I don’t know if technology is making us autistic. But I do know that it is causing us to have more back pain, to slouch more, to shrink – rolling our shoulders forward, stretching out our head and neck into a forward head posture and reduce our lung capacity in the process. With an nagging back pain and a picture someone took catching me in a profile at a party I discovered at 45 that I stood with toes pointed a bit like a duck, that I had kyphosis…there is no pill or surgery for this.

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