Source | LinkedIn : By Caroline Fairchild
To understand the deepest and most complicated problems facing the United States today, a Pulitzer Prize winning scientist says you just need to look around the next time you are in an elevator.
Jared Diamond, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and author best known for popular books like Guns, Germs, and Steel and The World Until Yesterday, said increasingly Americans are less likely to let people ahead of them in an elevator. The same confrontational behavior can be seen when driving around any major city. Diamond also shared that in his own world of academia, competition among the seemingly passive community of professors has become hostile. At one point, Diamond – a 79-year-old professor – had to hire a bodyguard to protect himself against potential threats from other researchers.
So what’s the cause of all the increased animosity at the root of these issues? The rise of technology is decreasing modes of face-to-face communication making it easier for Americans to compromise less and argue more, Diamond argues.
“This is the most dangerous problem facing Americans today,” he said. “It is much easier to be rude to words on a screen than rude to a face… That’s the best sense I can make of the deterioration of American society.”
Diamond sounded the alarm against advances in technology in front of likely one of the most plugged in rooms in America. At the Upfront Ventures Summit in Los Angeles, he spoke to venture capitalists, founders and tech executives whose lives in many senses depend on the further growth of tech. Rather than blame the polarization of American politics squarely on politicians themselves, Diamond encouraged the leaders in the room to see the role they’ve played in building an aggressive and insular society.
The average American cell phone user checks his or her phone every four minutes and spends six hours a day looking at a screen, according to Diamond. When Diamond goes to do research in New Guinea, he automatically notices that New Guineans still rely nearly 100 percent on face-to-face communication. The result is that people are much more civil to other another and come to consensus more quickly.
While America is not the only developed country currently engulfed in communication driven by technology, Diamond has some theories on why the problem is worst in our country. For the most part, tech innovations begin in the U.S. and then infiltrate into other countries. Polarization of thought is also propelled by American culture’s emphasis on the individual. Finally, the United States is much larger geographically than most developed nations, further fueling the communication divide. These factors are also driving the growing political tension in our country, he added.