The social and mobile world is undergoing another change in perception. Back in 2006++ when most of today’s social networks commenced their big leap into our everyday life, they drove the always-on culture, the work-everywhere culture, the instant-communication culture. People where happily adopting all the tremendously great possibilities they were given by the smartphone vendors who in turn where driven to ever-new feature climaxes by the evolving hype. And today – these days, virtually – a shift (maybe: a turn) is notable. The crucial point here: This turn is risking to go utterly and completely into the wrong direction!
And here’s why!
Why dictate instead of educate?
These days an article crossed my desk saying, that the German government has introduced a policy that employees must not be called or contacted anymore outside working hours. “The guidelines state that ministry staff should not be penalised for switching off their mobiles or failing to pick up messages out of hours”, says the article in The Telegraph. Digging further, one can find the Daimler “Mail on Holiday” program which allows employees to invoke an automatic process delegating and deleting eMails form their inboxes when on vacation or a Volkswagen initiative (admittedly already from 2011) where the company switched off eMail synchronization during out-of-work hours.
When reading this, the very simple thing I am really asking myself is: Where is the awareness education for people confronted with such kind of policies? How do employers or governmental organizations ensure that their core value – their employees – actually understand how mobile technology and social interaction influences their behaviour and – even more important – how they can find an approach of wellbeing to all the thrilling possibilities of technology for themselves?
Why allow speeding in messaging?
The second thing that hit me really hard was the article of a 17yo girl in an Austrian newspaper, contemplating the behaviour of herself and her friends in WhatsApp. What she essentially says is that FOMO (“fear of missing out”) is actually FOMF (“fear of missing friends”). Young people everywhere seem to have floated into a symbiosis with their phone for the sole purpose of instantly – literally within a second – answering any incoming message. Otherwise they would risk losing friends and social contacts because when their friends and schoolmates having seen them online sometime during the day wouldn’t receive an answer within “due course”, they’d assume not to be liked anymore and quit friendship.
The shocking detail here is two-folded: On the one hand, instant messaging conversations in 90% of all cases completely lack content anyway (they run along a thread something like “hey :)” – “hey :)” – “how r u” – “ok. and u” – ok, too” – what r u doin” – “nothing”) and on the other hand, not being answered can so frighteningly quickly evolve from frustration into anger and into ignorance within instances.
And I am asking myself: Is friendship worth anything these days? And who teaches our children how to keep it up? Who educates them for responsibility humans deserve and for responsibility and self-awareness and caution with the technological possibilities they are so happy to be given.
Why allow loneliness when everyone is always around?
The third thing that stroke me was another awesome TED talk (TED talks tend to be awesome whatever topic they touch) by Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and cultural analyst, talking about being connected and still remaining alone (here’s the link to it). What she is stating – undermined with respective research – is that we have grown more alone then in former times when getting in touch with each other was so much harder due to the lack of communication facilities. The truth of what she says is undeniable: When we wanted to arrange to meet our friends in the 8oies or even 90ies, we had to pick a landline, hope the other one was where his landline was and plan around other duties (like school, sports, music education, homework, shopping, etc.) as a long as to find a free timeslot for meeting for a coffee or coke. And by that, we were closer to each other than we are now. We always and ever knew our friends plans. We literally felt them without having to talk to them. Today, we don’t talk. We chat, message, eMail or tag’em in a post – and know nothing about how they feel. They remain as alone as we are in fact – with all those 100s of social network “friends” around.
And I am simply asking myself why nobody really notices?
The items above kept me thinking … thinking of a solution … Here’s what I think, we can do – as a parental guide, a school teacher, an employer or just a human friend. The solution to the huge challenge our society is facing with the equally huge technological possibilities does not lie with rules, regulations, policies and prohibitions. It will not help at all to tell our kids, our employees or our friends what they can do, shall do or must not do.
The true answer is within ourselves and the only thing helping it to surface is helping to create self-awareness about how we treat technology around us. So here’s 3 simple things to try:
- Do not ban eMail, switch off sync or forbid mobile phones. Instead, offer freedom to employees. Start with educating management to not expect availability from their people at weird times, teach them to accept individuality in how employees use the technology around them. And coach the employees in acquiring and living up to what they need for wellbeing at work. If one wants to switch off when leaving the building: Fine. If one wants to check eMails during vacation: Fine, too. I trust more than anything, that productivity increases when one can use social interaction and mobility the way they want it.
- Do make children understand the amount of pressure they put themselves and others into when expecting behaviour without explicitly explaining it. In terms of communications, I think, it is no bad thing to chat and message a response instantly upon message arrival. It’s getting tremendously dangerous when a response is expected without even taking into account what hurdles might hinder the other to respond. They might have forgotten their phone, be on holiday without parental phone admittance, be in a verbose conversation with someone. And their lack of responsiveness may have nothing at all to do with a lack of appreciation. Understanding the difference may make them truly self-aware and sensitive users of that great mobile and social revolution, we’re facing.
- And finally: Get a feeling on how much in touch you really are. How much you really know about someone who is posting on facebook or twitter, is joking with 20-something groups on whatsapp … and at the same time is feeling tremendously alone because of a complete lack of real life relationships. And maybe that one is you …
I think, the technology surrounding us – and the path, twists and turns this technology keeps taking – bares so many great advantages for our day to day lifes, if we only learn how to integrate them without letting it role over us destructively. So let us not let it do so!