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7 Min Read

Is Communication Technology Tearing Us Apart?

David Mizne
David Mizne

It’s become appalling clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity. Just look around you on the train, in the coffee shop, or anywhere else that internet is available. People are lost inside the virtual worlds that they hold in their hands, disconnected from what is happening around them.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate communication technology. I googled the first sentence above to learn that Einstein did not in-fact say it, which is why it’s not in quotes. You probably discovered this very post via email or social media. And I have to admit that without Google Maps, I probably wouldn’t be able to find my own house.

But there are some very real concerns surfacing due to our unhealthy relationship to technology. These 5 articles discuss what is at stake and what we can do to live happier, healthier, and more productive lives in the digital age:

1. Stop Googling, Let’s Talk

by: Sherry Turkle

Our current reality is that our attention constantly drifts to our phones (text, email, and social media) even while we are engaging with others in-person. Professor Turkle poses the all-important question, What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk?

One effect is that conversations never get too deep so that people feel that they can drop in and out. That results in people feeling less connected and invested in each other’s lives. A larger concern is that we are becoming less empathic, avoiding conversations “in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable.”

When we stop looking others in the eye, and become less aware of the physical pantomimes that accompany conversation, empathy and intimacy fade.  

2. Humanity As a Competitive Advantage

by: Tony Schwartz

Tony shares how he recently went to see an expert for medical care and how moved he was by the humanity and care he felt in the interaction. Contrast the depth of this in-person interaction with the breadth of expertise made available via technology. Smart phones, social networks and internet mediated services are plentiful, and are making humanity obsolete.

In his new book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will, Geoff Colvin discusses how computing power doubles every two years and how machines are becoming far more capable technically. While few people will differentiate themselves in the marketplace by coming up with the next great technological achievement, the most highly-valued skills in business will soon be relationship building, co-creativity, and cultural sensitivity. Things robots can’t do…yet.  

3. Un-Hooked: Increasing Focus In the Age of Distraction

by: Nir Eyal

Shortly after writing Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir found that he was indeed hooked by technology. He couldn’t focus on work or be fully present to the people he cared about most. And so he posits the all-important question, “Why do we act against our better interests at the hands of these objects?”

For starters we haven’t had time to react socially to technologies that are emerging and evolving so rapidly. We form habits via hooks that start with an external trigger like a call-to-action, or an internal trigger like an emotional experience.

The solution is not to unwind progress, it’s to find ways to moderate our habits with tech. Instead of removing the devices, we can simply remove the triggers from our lives. For example, we can keep them out of our bedrooms to improve our sleep patterns.

We can also change our notification settings so that we can check our communications on our own schedule. And in business, leadership can make focus a corporate priority by having blackout periods during the day – several hours when email is not allowed.

4. Multi-tasking: How To Survive in the 21st Century

by: Tim Harford

Yay, multi-tasking! We can do almost anything from anywhere and handle multiple things at a time! On second thought, maybe that’s not so great. Always being “on” can have deleterious impacts on many aspects of our lives and can create a feeling of overwhelm. Take for example the 2006 study led by David Stayer that found that driving while using a mobile phone was as dangerous as driving drunk.

But not all multi-tasking is the same. Many successful scientists, artists and professionals actually thrive by focusing on several different initiatives over long periods of time. The four practices are broken down as such:

Multitasking – performing two or more tasks simultaneously

Task Switching – rapidly flitting between different tasks

Getting Distracted – the compulsive act of internet addiction

Managing Multiple Projects – a lot on your plate, but doing one thing at a time

Harford offers several solutions for being highly productive without driving ourselves crazy. My favorite one was abstinence – battling tech with tech and using apps designed to limit our access to internet so that we can stay focused.  

5. Rise of the ‘Next-Pats’: How Technology is Helping Us Live More Global Lives

by: Sophie Curtis

Even a luddite like me has to admit that technology is not all bad. The sharing economy and communication technology have paved the way for some to lead more connected, global lives. These Next-Pats are not controlled by technology, they use it as a vehicle to achieve freedom and success.

These entrepreneurial risk-takers do not see geographical borders as boundaries to experience and growth.  They also feel more connected and are involved in activities to better the lives of others in their home countries and adopted communities. Next-pats will comprise a large percentage of the US and UK populations in the coming years, as technology improves and worldly experience continues to be valued.

Barring a solar flare or the zombie apocalypse, communication technologies like email and text messaging aren’t going anywhere. They are likely to become more prevalent as time passes, or replaced by even more habit forming innovations.

The big players in this space have a responsibility to take a stand in the interests of mankind. I call on Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to start addressing the negative impacts of their creations. Encourage people to turn off their devices or log-off social networks for a couple of hours each day, and implement features to make those choices easier.

Imagine for a moment how beloved a corporation could be if they actually encouraged people to make choices in their lives that created a greater connection to themselves, to each other, and to the natural world.

Those choices may hurt revenue in the short-run but they create long-term loyalty. At the end of the day the big tech players would be allowing people to be more of who they want to be. Those businesses would be perceived as close friends instead of necessary evils. Is that not a sign of success?

Image Credit: Keoni Cabral