Is our digital behaviour causing bad behaviour?
My husband is starting to sound like a scratched record: “Are you looking at anything important on your phone or would you like to talk to me instead?”
We made a pact recently to call each other out when our digital consumption was at risk of spilling over into family time. I hate it when he’s right. Some days I can’t seem to put the damn thing down. When Time magazine surveyed people’s mobility, it found that 68 per cent of users take their mobile phones to bed with them, 20 per cent check their phones every 10 minutes and one third feel anxious when briefly separated from them.
The rise of anxiety and stress in the workplace is well documented. We are expected to deliver more, quicker. And no industry feels this more than digital media, especially on the services side – buying and selling accountable advertising and marketing in real-time, in a highly buoyant, ambitious and competitive industry. Is it any wonder that sometimes we may behave a little less humanely?
In his YouTube video 'Cell Phones Have Made People Flaky As F*ck', designer and filmmaker Alex Cornell argues that it is harder in this digital age to make plans and stick to them. Flaky is one way of putting it; rude and ignorant are others. Mobile phones give us permission to be badly behaved: to be late, to be distracted, to not give someone our undivided attention. Fast forward a few decades... will mobility spell the death of manners, I wonder?
Living in a digital world is to exist in a permanent state of distraction. Take me: I’ve worked in digital media for nearly 20 years and nowadays I have the attention span of a gnat. I allow emails, texts, tweets, posts to disrupt me every hour of every day. To an extent I have to – it’s my job. I have to consume digital media and I have to keep up.
There is definitely a correlation between my digital activity and my stress and anxiety levels. And I do more than ever to keep the latter in check: massages, reflexology, yoga, acupuncture, exec coaching – oh, and lots of wine and off-loading to friends. One thing I haven't yet tried is a digital detox. But the truth is: I am addicted. I find myself craving distraction. I’m a distraction addict and digital is my drug.
If digital is the drug, Facebook is arguably the most toxic stimulant. I enjoy its benefits immensely: seeing photos of my friends and their cute kids, sharing jokes, amplifying social meet-ups with pre-meet-up banter and post-meet-up gossip. Yet there is also a dark side to Facebook, one which I have been pondering and struggling to pinpoint in terms of human behaviour for some time now.
Facebook can make a cry for help easier and amplified, it can be a virtual ‘rent a crowd’ at times of loneliness, it can give a voice for those who ‘doth protest too much’. I have observed over the years that when friends are going through periods of crisis or depression, their Facebook status updates become more frequent and more braggish: “Look at my life! Isn’t it amazing?” We’ve all got Facebook friends and family who do this from time to time, haven’t we? These are the digital behaviours I worry about the most.
Is digital making us happy? Or the opposite? And is it making us behave badly? Less respectfully? Irresponsibly? Bad behaviour can derive from a desire to rebel, to be noticed. Is there an irony here that for all of the exposure and interaction digital can bring, we're actually more desperate to stand out from the crowd? To be noticed more? Is digital making us feel insecure?
Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness, suggests that there is a correlation between technology and unhappiness, and offers some non-digital actions to help us get happier at work: have a 'walking meeting' with a colleague, take five minutes out each day to just breathe, perform random acts of kindness.
I don't see enough 'me time' happening in business today. Appraisals are rescheduled, one-to-one catch ups with bosses pushed back, training budgets cut. When was the last time you got feedback on yourself? When was the last time you even tried to ask? And probably the biggest challenge our industry has is that being too busy has become the acceptable pace. To be too busy is 'de rigueur'. If you're too busy, no one will ask questions.
And another thing: when I look around the digital industry, I don't see much fun being had. Technology brings transparency and accountability – things clients now demand. Our screens alert us to our ‘to-do’ lists, our deadlines, our efficiency levels, our profitability. Our levels of busyness. Technology provides structure. But does it provide support?
We hide behind technology. Managers hide behind emails. Our industry needs better leaders, but there isn’t an app for leadership development, for inspiring and influencing people. We need more face time – not FaceTime. Google Hangout? When was the last time we ‘hung out’ with our colleagues in a meaningful way? Working from home might be productive but it can also be boring!
Digital professionals, is it time we had a digital detox? We need the interaction, the support, the warmth and the fun that comes with being human. Go grab a colleague, take a walk in the park or have a coffee together at lunchtime. Listen to them. Offer them your support. Worry less about how many LinkedIn connections you have and improve your real-world connectivity instead. Take time out of your busy work schedules to be you, to be a human being.
Otherwise who knows who we'll become – robots?
Amanda Davie is a digital business consultant and executive coach. She is founder of Reform and Mentoring Digital Minds. And she is a human being working in a digital industry