My article from an old Media & Tech blog (August 26th 2011)
‘Disconnect to connect’ is quite a phrase, isn’t it. It’s from a good friend of mine, who is verse in technology devices but who also appreciates how vital it is to truly connect with others. It’s so easy to get wrapped up on our smartphones when we’re up and about and on our PCs when we’re home. As much as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter tout the rich connections we can make, paradoxically we seem to get more alienated from people around us.
It should come as no surprise, then, that athletes are wrapped up in media and technology as well. So much so that team chemistry, and perhaps team play as well, suffer.
Sports Illustrated featured a series of articles on this, and it spoke to how prevalent the problem is, across major American sports:
Teammates in pro sports today are talking more than ever, just not as much to each other. Ask many coaches, general managers and older players and you’ll hear a common gripe: chemistry on teams has been altered because of modern technology, and not for the better. The rise of smartphones, with all their instant-communication and entertainment options, have created insular worlds into which distracted players too often retreat instead of bonding with teammates.Reference: Team bonding suffers in tech age.
“Insular” is a perfect word. It’s almost as if people around us, and the place where we’re at, disappear, and we’re alone somewhere in the reaches of cyberspace. In the fast-paced heat of the game, players have to communicate with each other instinctively and instantaneously, and this requires perfect team chemistry. Which is about being truly connected to each other, and also knowing each other so well that a fraction-of-a-second eye contact is all they need to communicate what to do in a given moment of play.
Social media - particularly Twitter - has invaded NBA [National Basketball Association] locker rooms … “Guys in the locker room are always on their phones,” [Caron] Butler said. “I don’t know if it’s just an NBA thing, but we’re always texting. With Twitter, it’s easy to hop on and say ‘had a big game’ or ‘had a rough one tonight’ and communicate with other people.” In some ways, Twitter has become the ultimate instant trash-talking tool. After Cleveland took a 55-point beating from the Lakers last January, ex-Cav LeBron James tweeted “Karma is a b—h.”
Trash talking, done in a good-natured way, is cool. It’s very much a part of sports culture, certainly in the US, and it’s on the field or forum of play. Its migration to mobile devices and social media in recent years must seem like a never-before-seen tsunami, however. I know that league officials and team management are grappling with how to handle players who cross the line into provocative, questionable trash talking.
Take the case of this athlete:
It was about two years ago when Visanthe Shiancoe first saw the downside of mixing one’s modern technology with the rather old-school setting that can still prevail in an NFL training camp. That’s when the veteran tight end tweeted from the team’s 2009 camp-opening introductory meeting in Mankato, Minn., letting the rest of the cyberworld know just how riveting he found the proceedings: ‘Zzzzzz zzzzz zzz zzz (in meetings) lol.. Introducing the staff.’ Shiancoe got the predictable blowback from that Twitter misstep, with the Vikings banning their players from tweeting in meetings and Shiancoe’s Twitter stream becoming a must-read for all his new followers.Reference: NFL teams not worried about technology affecting chemistry.
This is rude, for sure, but hilarious, too!
All hope for genuine connection is not lost, though. More senior players on the team can take initiative to forge it:
[Jason] Giambi said he and fellow old-schooler Todd Helton actually have instituted informal clubhouse rules as to when players cannot be on their smartphones or other devices. “Times like before stretch. Right before stretch, we all try to get together and we’ll stretch a lot together in the clubhouse. You really want that team chemistry, for guys to talk to each other and hang out,” Giambi said. “We’ve made a point to go around and try to include everybody in the clubhouse.”So let’s step back from all of this a few moments, shall we, and reflect on what’s going on.
I see this as an evolution in human relationships, in the midst of a revolution in media and technology. Yes, there are many experts in this wild-and-crazy revolution, and there are hordes of articles offering us the how-to and what-for of iPad2, BlackBerry and Android. In truth, I believe, we’re just trying to get a grip on what’s really going on, never mind what to actually do about it. We just don’t know for sure. We can observe, we can participate, and we can get lost in it. But as Neal Gabler encourages, simply, in his thought-provoking article, we must reflect and we must think - The Elusive Big Idea.
In this light, then, we ought not be so judgmental or harsh when we see others, athletes and non-athletes alike, wrapped up on their smartphones or tablets. The fact that they are connecting with others is a thing to treasure, I believe. We don’t always know with whom or for what purpose, but it’s actually a human connection, nevertheless. Yes, it’s bridged by media and technology, and, no, it’s not at all like face-to-face physical talking. What’s more, it’s downright insular in that physical world, as we acknowledged earlier. But it doesn’t make such a connection any less human. In fact, it cannot be anything but a form of human connection, because we as people are an integral, intimate part of it, aren’t we. I envision a future where a friend isn’t categorized as “online” or “real,” but simply a “friend” wherever and however of a friend he or she is.
So what are officials, management and players to do? Well, for one, don’t see this as an either-or proposition, such as mobile or no-mobile. Teams have to impose rules on the use of media and technology, of course. But they can certainly leverage it for the good of the team and its chemistry. Perhaps as a lighthearted change-of-pace in the locker room, the head coach can talk about what’s trending on Twitter, which his or her players are interested in. Maybe joke about a player’s tweet the night before, and get a laugh together from the whole team. Maybe players can watch videos or listen to music on their smartphones, together.
Maybe do what I did, one time. A friend and I were sitting next to each other at a meeting. We happen to be connected on BlackBerry Messenger, too. So we’re BBMing each other about something stupid and funny in the meeting, and we end up snickering a bit as we hold back our laughter. We don’t look at each other, we keep as straight of a face as we can. We are connecting, and it doesn’t impinge on the people and the goings-on in that meeting.