I saw a recent article posted by a friend of mine which caused lot’s of coffee and much thought provoking with friends, oh-and research!
Its title was ‘Remember when email was fun?’ It is hard to think back that far. Email was silly then, a trifle. A scary statistic shows as human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. Indeed, it’s only when we can hear a tone of voice or look into someone’s eyes that we’re able to know when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean they’re fine at all.
Studies from the Radicati Group show that 192.2 billion emails are sent every single day. Now that’s a lot of emails being passed back and forth! It doesn’t stop here, though, there are approximately 3.4 billion email accounts worldwide, with three-quarters of those owned by individual consumers.
Email is a pot constantly boiling over, we read, respond, delete, delete, delete, only to find that even more messages have arrived whilst we were having coffee. A whole time management industry has erupted around email, urging us to check only once or twice a day, to avoid checking email first thing in the morning, and so forth. Even if such techniques work, the idea that managing the communication for a job now requires its own self-help literature reeks of a foul new anguish.
If you’re like many people, you’ve started using your smartphone as an alarm clock. Now it’s the first thing you see and hear in the morning. And touch, before your spouse or your crusty eyes. Then the ritual begins. Overnight, twenty or forty new emails: spam, solicitations, invitations or requests from those whose days pass during your nights, mailing list reminders, bill pay notices. A quick triage, only to be undone while you shower and breakfast.
Email and online services have provided a way for employees to outsource work to one another. Whether you’re planning a meeting with an online poll, requesting an expense report submission to an ERP system, asking that a colleague contribute to a shared Google Doc, or just forwarding on a notice that ‘might be of interest,’ jobs that previously would have been handled by specialised roles have now been distributed to everyone in an organisation.
No matter what job you have, you probably have countless other jobs as well. Marketing and public communications were once centralised, now every division needs a social media presence, and maybe even a website to develop and manage. Thanks to Oracle and SAP, everyone is a part-time accountant and procurement specialist. Thanks to Oracle and Google Analytics, everyone is a part-time analyst.
In 2002, Allison Pearson wrote “I Don’t Know How She Does It” – she exposed, for the first time, the mayhem and exhaustion of a modern working mother. Yelps of recognition came from all over the globe. It was an international bestseller.
But in the short time between then and now, there seems to have been yet another seismic shift. Everybody is exhausted, not just working women with children. We’re all run ragged by what social commentators refer to as ‘the breakneck pace of life’, or the 24/7 society that never sleeps.
What research points to is our inability to switch off and relax, either because of internal anxieties or those placed upon us by a boss, by society or by all of these things. The new technological age that was supposed to bring us freedom by allowing us greater flexibility is, in fact, slowly working to destroy us. It is as if we have made a pact with the devil. We’ll work at home but we’ll do so until 1.30am. We can leave the office at 7pm on a Friday – although we’re too tired for a movie – but it means we’ll be looking at and responding to emails on Sunday. Once at home, we are often too tired for guests or for dinner out (restaurants now mean seeing people texting and tapping BlackBerries, a nauseating sight when you are trying to have a rare work-free supper yourself). When we do climb the stairs to bed, our heads fuzzy with wine and crap Friday-night television, we have trouble sleeping. Sex is off the agenda, because, yes, we’re too tired for that, too.
So what’s the answer?
It is a fact, never have we had greater access to knowledge than we do right now, limitless information just a few clicks away, the line between man and machine increasingly blurred. Is all of this connectivity helping us to evolve into a more intelligent species, as some futurists speculate, or is this actually hurting us?
An even bigger question: As we surrender our cognitive independence to our devices in an effort to make our lives easier, what is happening to our humanity? Is it a trade-off between greater intelligence and loss of humanity?
We have this amazing and wondrous thing called a brain, and yet as we make increasingly greater strides in technological innovation, we are tempted to use this masterful tool less and less. If you use technology at every opportunity as a replacement for critical thinking or problem solving, in time, those skills will begin to lose their edge.
There is a reason why computers haven’t yet reached human level intelligence, and it has nothing to do with how fast they can compute, or how much power we can load them with. It’s because humans have something that computers do not, something that is a pretty significant component of intelligence that many people are all too quick to disregard. This critical element? Creativity.
When we over-rely on technology to do our thinking for us, not only are our cognitive skills losing their edge, but our creativity can suffer as well. Why do we care about creativity? For one thing, creativity is at the root of our ability to problem-solve novel situations. Creativity is what we use when we’re presented with a new problem and need to figure out the best course of action. When we let our devices make all of these decisions for us, we stop utilizing those problem-solving skills.
Do I see the rise of technology as the Intellectual Apocalypse? Not necessarily. The best way to make technology work for you instead of against you is to be smart about it: I think there needs to be a balance of email, social media and collaboration tools. What ever happened to picking up the phone? Or talking to someone face-to-face? Or do we not have time because of technology?
George Gissing once said:
“It is the mind which creates the world around us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.“