One can’t imagine running a modern-day office without internet connectivity. Data, which is considered the fuel of the digital economy, needs capturing, processing and transmission for which the fastest media is internet supported services. In today’s workplace, where digital devices and platforms are plenty and the employee’s performance is constantly challenged on the scale of time and quality, new laws need to be written in respect to human-device pairing. Over dependence on social media platforms have become a ‘necessity’.
With advent of emails in India in the mid 90’s, the trend of paper communication saw a gradual shift. Emailing emerged to be a medium of communication which was frugal on both time and cost. Then came the mobile telephony, which offered the flexibility of a non-wired medium and further crunched the communication lag through the instant messaging system, which came to be popularly known as SMS.
Cut to the new millennium! High speed broadband connectivity and advent of smart phone technology further changed the way we communicate. With newer technology, human lives undergo changes as it graduates to new set of calibrations. While this is inevitable, as per Dr Larry Rosen, author of ‘iDisorder’, a book on technology driven psychological disorders in humans, this “dependence on technology (is) an obsession rather than an addiction”. He further writes, “With our extensive commitments to our smart phones and our connections to the world through that phone, we check in with our virtual world and then our adrenal gland starts secreting cortisol ( among other chemicals), which makes us feel uneasy that we have not checked in recently... it reaches a point of obsession where we must check in to remove those chemicals, that also explains the phantom ring you hear, swiping every few minutes to check if you’ve got a message or patting a pocket quickly to check that your phone is still there...”
In an office meeting, this phenomenon is quite common where participants, prone to temptations, will keep on tapping their smart phones and in the process will move away from a focussed discussion. In a bigger gathering or conference, where participants are more in number and generally anonymous, this percentage may breach the 50% mark.
We live in an age of e-communication. Can you remember when you have last handwritten an inter-office memo with a carbon paper tucked in between. Technology has made such practices redundant. On the flipside, today your mailbox, apps or timeline get scores of messages, some of them perhaps not as important to be acted upon, and collectively they try to capture your mind. It is anything but futile to respond to all of them. So, as a smart worker must pick and choose.
It is not uncommon to become a member of several WhatsApp groups - official, social, professional or otherwise. While trying to fathom the exact reason of your being in the group, you start getting bombarded with messages, videos, sound clips - some provocative enough to seize your eyeballs and mind share. Figure this out, how can you be of real help in restoring the water supply to the west block loo of your apartment - as reported by your otherwise friendly neighbour in the WhatsApp group - while trying to justify the sagging sales curve to your enraged superior? Being an incognito and incommunicado participant is the safest strategy in this real-life scenario.
Digital technology also tends to affect your health as it evens out the day night divide and creates insomnia induced sleep disorder. According to a 2011 study of more than 3500 people from 1100 large corporations worldwide, 61 % of those surveyed keep their cell phone in the bedroom and more than four in ten have it within arm’s reach while they sleep. Those who keep their phone close to the bed are 60% more likely than average to wake during the night and check their phones. Sleep experts say these devices are addictive and the alert systems built therein train us to respond instantly like the Pavlov’s pup. Your friendly digital device does a ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ between day and night and distracts your body clock. Again, the solution is right in your hand; offer your gadget a good night’s sleep as well.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram may give rise to anxiety and obsessive behaviour. Look around and you will come across a colleague of yours who would take more than 500 selfies a day - an indicator of social anxiety and insecurity of being left behind. He hunts for excessive admiration. Looking good on social media is now considered an integral part of virtual wellness and of being popular. Want it or not, with time you become a part of this ‘attention economy’. Again, you are the best judge of how much to succumb to this digital noise.
Digital marketing, the latest buzzword in the world of branding and publicity, also builds up various brand promotion models. Often your digital behaviour is being tracked by big data analytics which help digital marketers to frame their campaigns. While the result is overwhelming at the marketer’s end, you, at the receiving end as a ‘target audience’ bear the brunt of pesky calls, texts, unsolicited pop ups and notifications.
Should you give up technology and become a Luddite? As Dr. Rosen argues in his book, “I know that is impossible....” However, avoiding a technology-induced disorder does not mean getting rid of technology. The solution is about balance and moderation. It is pertinent to note that the West, which is already in the throes of a backlash against digital devices, boasts of many celebrities and Silicon Valley technocrats who have proactively detached themselves from gadgets. So, choice is yours.
The author is Chief Manager – Legal & Risk, Peerless Financial Services Ltd. The views expressed here are is in the author's personal capacity.