Technology is now doing more damage than good. Left unchecked, our children will live longer but lower-quality lives than our own.
While developing nations starve for technology to protect against disease or improve crop yields, we blow our resources intentionally publishing people's credit card purchases. How warped our sense of "progress" has gotten.
News Consumption? There's an App For That
We are becoming a nation of headline chasers.
Fifteen years ago, long-form features stories made the magazine. It was the amazing investigative journalism happening at places like Business Week, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times that shined a bright light on the dark underbelly of society. We rely on these journalists to play a critical counterweight to our nation's government and corporations.
Today, long-form journalism is rapidly becoming extinct. The Internet is cannibalizing the business model of subscriptions and ads, but it is also doing something much more meaningful, and infinitely more problematic: it is fracturing our attention span to consume information.
There is a raging debate on the Web right now about whether the Internet is rewiring our brains and making us stupid. These arguments miss the point. The important question is how our relationship with technology is changing, and how technology is changing our relationship with those around us.
It is no longer enough to have dinner with friends or attend a meeting. We must leave our iPhones and BlackBerries on the table so we can simultaneously maintain connected to the world outside our immediate reach. We even have iPads to use while we watch TV.
In the United States, we are now consuming our news from applications like Facebook and Twitter. This year, Facebook passed Google as the number-one traffic driver to news sites.
We no longer read, we scan. Our constantly bifurcated attention span is forcing journalists to write shorter and shorter stories. Eventually, it will devolve to a headline and a few sound bites.
Celebrity of One
These new platforms are even shifting our view of ourselves.
Our television stations are riddled with reality shows that put the idea of celebrity within the grasp of every American. We love them because they sell the unstated idea that you are only a contest, sex tape, or affair away from celebrity.
Facebook has become the platform of choice for the "micro-celeb" -- an opportunity to practice narcissism in a socially acceptable way. If the obvious point of posting is for people to read and comment, is success measured in the number of comments?
How long will it be before people begin optimizing their lives for "broadcast-worthiness" rather than quality?
Will the Facebook Generation Become the Asperger's
The fascinating question is whether we are witnessing evolution at an unprecedented pace, or merely becoming the victims of our own creation.
We have become fantastic multitaskers, well-suited for tasks like text-messaging seven people simultaneously or trading stock. Meanwhile, our attention spans are evaporating. Studies have shown that younger generations are getting worse at eye contact and detecting nonverbal cues. Are we unwittingly pushing ourselves down the autism spectrum?
The average American now watches more than 1,800 hours a year of television, yet 80% have not read a book in the last year. It's beautiful irony that we created a culture that likes watching authors be interviewed on TV, yet doesn't like reading the books they write.
Maybe deep thinking no longer matters. Maybe we are a culture that prefers to be entertained rather than informed. Maybe everything that is important can be said in 140 characters. Or, maybe we should stop and think about whether we want to live in the world we dreamed up.
Consider this: 42% of college graduates will never read another book for the rest of their lives.
As publishers, this will transform our businesses -- and as a society, harm it irreparably.