The Butlerian Jihad

The Butlerian Jihad

In the sci-fi novel Dune – praised before here as an aside – the culture is set in an environment where there are no computers or even calculators.  Machines, if they are automated, are nothing more than mechanisms; anything requiring intelligence is guided by a human (e.g., the “hunter seeker” assassination device).

Several thousand years earlier there had been a war between the human planets and the machine intelligences that had ruled over them – part of that war was a religious movement, the Butlerian Jihad, that had purged all electronics as evil.  (E.g., in the “Orange Catholic Bible” was the commandment Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.)  Mentioned only briefly in the original novel, it is described in much more detail here.  This galaxy-wise purge had the effect of forcing human minds to develop.  As I’ve said before, Dune is a fantastic read as are most (though not all IMHO) of the related books.

Technology as we know it is certainly useful.  LinkedIn and other social media sites like facebook, twitter, etc., have enabled people to be more open, share information, and connect with people with whom they’d never otherwise have connected.  I’ve managed to communicate instantly with long-lost relatives in pursuit of my genealogy.  Email alone has become a critical part of our daily lives and interaction with others (last year we went on a week-long trip to the Bahamas; I found myself yearning to sneak off to the resort’s business center just to check my email – I didn’t.).  But there are multiple downsides too.  One of the most important is the loss of human interaction.

Rethink Your Hiring? Does Social Media Make Minds Mushy? is an article I just read.  While some people are disagreeing in the comments, I think it’s spot-on.  And while “mushy” is not the term I’d use, I definitely agree that the various forms of electronic communications we use divorce us from one of the most important aspects of human communication: non-verbal cues taken from the other people in the conversation.  For example, in telephone conversations I find myself interrupted by others, or doing so myself.  Why?  Because it’s hard to tell just from the tone that a person is done speaking and is now expecting a reply.

In my essay Done in Seven Seconds I referenced our evolution, and how making snap decisions about others is hardwired into us as a survival trait.  Another thing that’s hardwired is our need for visual feedback from our conversation partners.  It’s how we judge the other person on all sorts of dimensions, e.g., their integrity, etc.  After all, it’s a known fact, often-commented on, that the majority of our communication is non-verbal.

(An aside on the visual, in particular in relation to truthfulness.  In my youth my mother, father, and I would be sitting watching 60 Minutes or some such investigative reporting program on TV, with a person being grilled.  The person would swear X and Y were true, Z false.  And my mother would say “He’s lying.  It’s on his face.”  A few weeks later X and Y would be proven false, with Z absolutely true.  My father and I, despite this happening time after time, would never fail to be flabbergasted at my mother’s ability to read faces and body language.  Years later, I heard about micro-bursts – fleeting moments of expressions that betray your true emotional state… those, and other cues, are probably what my mother was detecting instinctively.)

People ignore each other at the dinner table, in restaurants, etc., in favor of their phones.  Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone is an interesting article that portrays our tech-obsessed lives (emphasis added):

Ms. deGuzman’s video makes for some discomfiting viewing. It’s a direct hit on our smartphone-obsessed culture, needling us about our addiction to that little screen and suggesting that maybe life is just better led when it is lived rather than viewed. While the clip has funny scenes — a man proposing on a beach while trying to record the special moment on his phone — it is mostly … sad.

It reminds me of a TV commercial for the Toyota Venza.  In it a daughter laments her parents’ lack of involvement with social media, commenting sarcastically about her parent’s social media life that her parents have “… 19 friends [on facebook].”  In the meantime, her parents are out, off-road biking with people and obviously having fun.

Not only is technology reducing in-person communication and familiarity with others, there is the constant-on aspect.  Employers now have 24/7 demands on peoples’ time like never before.  A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Welcome to the 72-Hour Work Week, cites the exhaustion and life disruption many companies now insist people submit to.  The advent of all this technology has led to people being on-call round-the-clock, leading to the inability to have predictable and safe downtime.  (Which brings to mind a Corona commercial.)

At a recent networking event I heard an interesting phrase: “Face-to-face is the new networking.”  Things circle back to basics.  This is why someone I met with recently has dumped an enormous number of events to go to into my inbox with the strong recommendation – which I’ve been trying to do the whole time! – that I attend events, and follow up by meeting people for coffee, for lunch, etc.  My blog’s article aggregate has a networking heading where articles I read and post also tout the need to get out, meet people, and engage people in one-on-one conversations.

LinkedIn is fine for reaching out to people, and for making connections; I’ve found it especially good for identifying people in target companies to attempt to meet.  Other social media venues are also useful, not only in a job search but in building a social media presence for potential employers to see the nature of your character.

Ultimately, though, networking, and even more getting hired, depend on your ability to interact with people live-and-in-person.  Declare a miniature Butlerian Jihad of your own against the seductive easiness of social media.  Put down the phone.  Get up from the computer.  Go out and interact with people.  Don’t be the daughter from the Toyota ad, cloistered in her apartment.  Be the parents – out in reality, enjoying the company of real, live people.

Declare a new job-seeking commandment: Thou shalt network in person.

©, 2013, David Hunt, PE

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