Are we addicted to “Digital”?

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There’s no getting away from it. The speed of technology advancement is now a major factor in changing how we interact with the world around us. For the first time, it seems that innovation in technology is being applied across every industry to drive innovation, increase efficiency and open new market possibilities, whilst in our daily lives we rely more and more on a connected existence. This is seen in areas such as the increase in wearable tech and the Internet of Things.

But what is the impact on business and society of this technology revolution regarding human interaction?

Firstly, let’s get the “Digital” word out on the table. Like cloud before it, the industry seems to have adopted a label on which we can pin everything related to advancement in technology. Whilst technically relating to web, mobile, apps etc. it seems every organisation has a “digital agenda”, likely a Chief Digital Officer and often a whole department in which some sort of alchemy takes place to create digital “stuff”. Meanwhile, service providers and consultancies sharpen their marketing pencils to ensure we are all enticed by their “digital capabilities”. Did I miss the big analogue computing cut-over in the last few years?

What “digital” does do (I guess) is position the narrative away from just technology to a business led focus, which is a good thing.

So how is technology changing the way that we interact on a human level? Before we move on to the question of technology dependence, let’s look at some other applications.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a big theme today. We’ve discussed the growth of AI here before and the impact on future jobs. However, one of the areas relating social interaction which is interesting, is the development of emotionally intelligent AI software. This is most evident in call centres where some workers can now receive coaching from software in real-time which analyses their conversations with customers. During the call the software can recommend changes such as with style, pace, warning about the emotional state of the customer etc.

Clever stuff, and whilst replacing call centre agents with robots is still something that many predict is a way off (if at all) it does offer an insight into the way that humans and AI might interact in the future. By developing AI to understand mental states from facial expressions, vocal nuances, body posture and gesture software can make decisions such as adapting the way that navigational systems might work depending on the drivers mental condition (for example, lost or confused) or picking the right moment to sell something based on emotional state. The latter does, however, raise wider ethical issues.

So what about the increase in digital dependency and the social impacts? Anyone who has been in close proximity to “millennial gatherings” will have witnessed the sight of them sitting together, head bowed, thumbs moving at a speed akin to Bradley Coopers character in Limitless punctuated by the odd murmuring, comment or interjection. Seems once we drop in a bit of digital tech and a few apps we stifle the art of conversation.

In 2014 a programmer called Kevin Holesh developed an app called Moment which measures the time that a user is interacting with a screen (it doesn’t count time on phone calls). The results interesting, with 88% of those that downloaded the app using their phone for more than an hour a day, with the average being three hours. Indeed, over a 24 hour period, the average user checked their phone 39 times. By comparison, just 6 years earlier in 2008 (before the widespread use of smartphones) people spent just 18 minutes a day on their phone.

It’s the impact on students and the next generation that has raised a few alarm bells. Patricia Greenfield, distinguished professor of psychology and director of the UCLA Children’s Digital Media Center in a recent study found that college students felt closest (or “bonded”) to their friends when they discussed face to face and most distant from them when they text-messaged. However, the students still most often communicated by text.

“Being able to understand the feelings of other people is extremely important to society,” Greenfield said. “I think we can all see a reduction in that.”

Technology is changing everything about how we interact with each other, how we arrange our lives, what we eat, where and how we travel, how we find a partner, how we exercise etc… It is what makes up the rich fabric of the digitised society and will certainly continue to evolve at a pace. Humans, however, may be going the other way.

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Posted on : 28-02-2017 | By : john.vincent | In : Cloud, Data, Innovation, IoT, Uncategorized

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