A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic meal with my good friends at Massimino’s, a nice little Italian place in the North End where we gather once a year to catch up and remember the past. This is a group of truly special people.
Eight, maybe nine years ago I was assigned to help implement a financial system at StateStreet. Little did I know about the true complexity of the project and the history prior to my assignment to the project. To sum it up, it was a mess! A multimillion dollar implementation on the brink of failure, this project seemed impossible and probably would have been scrapped. Multiple weekly status meetings with 40-50 people (at least 30 consultants @ ~$300 /hr), half dozen project managers with their assistants, an entire floor in the most expensive building in Boston, the best hardware costing over a million dollars, and much more didn’t seem to matter enough. Yet somehow this team of special folks managed to successfully roll out its piece of the project. It’s a nice annual surprise to hear that the system is still in use globally.
Even though I have worked on many projects since then, I haven’t been in a similar team. It is even more troubling to see some of the latest currents that seem to sweep across this great society. Here are some observations.
We have all of the great communication technologies yet we’re less connected. I am certainly not talking about efficiency of transactional communication or the productivity gains from instantaneous dissemination of information. We seem to be less connected with transformational life-long relationships. At work, many of us stare at computer screens all day long with little time to actually talk to people outside the transactions we conduct. On Facebook, as a close friend pointed out, we see status updates that scream of loneliness and boredom. Instead of bowling or golf, many have the living room computerized “equivalents.” We have everything yet we have nothing.
To contrast this, I remember life back in Armenia back in the dark days when we had no electricity, no telephone, no running water, nothing! My father would joke that of all systems of communication/infrastructure only the sewer system worked (and even that froze one day in the dead of winter). We had hardly any food and I had to go for a daily fight for a loaf of bread. Yet in that environment we were (incredible to imagine) happy, never bored or lonely. The space/time for those days is no longer; only memories remain.
Today we are well connected exchanging / processing hundreds of e-mails, instant messages, text messages, tweets, phone calls, video chats, blogs posts and comments yet so many seem to be lonely, alone and feeling completely disconnected and alienated. TV commercials scream about depression and insomnia drugs and other remedies to address anxiety disorders. Netflix, OnDemand, and YouTube bring thousands of channels of passive “entertainment” yet it seems people need even more despite some of the videos and programming being pure trash.
The industrial revolution has ruined our external environment. Technological revolution seems to be ruining our internal environments. Or is it just a mirror?