The Irony of Tech
By Adam Kohl
Life In the Time of Internet
I’m not writing anything profound when I state that technology is used in ever greater quantities year after year. There are countless examples of it. The number of smartphones in use is predicted to hit 3.8 billion in the next two years, whilst humanity spent a collective total of 1.2billion(!) years online during 2018.
We are all aware of this, it’s everywhere we go. On the train, commuters are on their phones. In the office, people staring at their screens. Even if you go to a party, you’re bound to see somebody looking down, rather than engaging with those around them. The rise of this technology has obviously been an amazing development in so many ways. The ability to ‘facetime’ a parent, check when your taxi is due, order food to arrive when you get home, know instantly how close you are to being overdrawn; these, and many more, are features which many of us use and find to be very helpful.
It has come at a cost though. Mindfulness (or lack of!), sore necks and eyes, reduced sleep and unhappiness are all talked about as being linked to our insatiable appetite for technology. In addition, what about the costs that are harder to measure?
‘Practice makes perfect’ was drilled into me by my parents when I was younger and it’s something that I firmly believe in. You may have heard the concept that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect anything. This can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. It was then popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’.
It’s a simple idea, do something enough and you’ll become an expert in it. Largely it’s true. Natural talent will undoubtedly play a role and some will get there quicker than others, but practicing something makes us better at it. With all of our time and practice going into smart-phones, tablets and gaming, what areas are we neglecting? Eye contact, active listening, the art of conversation, demonstrating empathy, public speaking, I could go on. With our focus elsewhere, we spend less time practicing these ‘softer’ skills and therefore they become rarer and desirable traits.
It’s well talked about that technology is changing the role of the workplace. Some jobs will go, others will be created. I personally think that new jobs will equal those lost and we shouldn’t worry about a world of people unemployed. However, many of the jobs created will require strong interpersonal and creative skills and herein lies the irony. The technology, which is making some jobs obsolete and therefore raising the importance of a workforce possessing these ‘softer’ skills, is also perhaps destroying those softer skills.
So what can we do about it? Clearly not many people are going to dump their iPhone to be more empathetic! However, we could make a few small changes that might start to help. When we go to a meeting, we could leave our phone on the desk. Or perhaps turn them off for a few hours per day. We could certainly go for a dinner and leave the phone in the pocket. Certainly with just some minor changes, we could find time to practice a bit more human engagement and then become experts in interacting with others.
It’s something that our freelancers are all too aware of. Those personal skills are so important when you are parachuted into a company. The technical skills are of course a must, but engaging with stakeholders and understanding the culture is just as important. And, with the rise of technology and AI, they will become even more important in the future.