How technology is making us less than human
It’s fair to say that we’re intrigued and excited about technology: how far it’s come and where it’s taking us.
The communications landscape of our work and home lives has changed forever, as has the myriad of ways we can now communicate and interact with each other.
However, we have become more and more immersed in technology over recent times. It’s such an enormous part of our lives that it has become a tool for how we treat each other and, sadly, often in not graceful ways.
The social space is swamped. We use every type of technology for remote working, meetings, conferences, catching up with friends, feeding our leisure time or liaising with mass audiences. But what’s the etiquette and how should we behave?
It was only in the late 1990s/early 2000s that people started to predict technology’s growth and path: seeing and talking to people through screens instead of in person. However, it’s the sheer speed of advancement that has taken us all by surprise. This means that behaviours haven’t kept pace.
Technology is here to stay. In the midst of the possibility that things will become ever increasingly automated, a world filled with robots, we have to learn how to be human and to be real about who we are. How do we then navigate it in a very human way?
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation
GenZ might be the first digital native generation to grow up with technology from the minute they were born. They use technology differently to a Millennial. To appreciate the differences, see Communicating with Generations Y and Z
However, the adoption and use of communications technology doesn’t necessarily relate to perceived generational norms. We must never assume that the older generation are luddites, the middle-aged doubting late adopters, and youngsters addicted advocates. Plenty of Millennials refuse to have a social media presence, and Baby Boomers can be completely socially savvy. It’s more about local impacts on your life and personality.
Sadly, we appear to have lost that graciousness and gracefulness in how we interact with each other, especially across social media. Many hide behind anonymity – which they feel gives a carte blanche excuse to say or do what they want.
The lack of connectivity and not seeing the critical cues and human reactions may drive people to do things online that they wouldn’t normally do in person. For example, when tweeting there’s no immediate indication on how that impacts someone. Yet over Zoom you see instantly the effect that a remark has on the conversation.
Sadly, people abuse the social element of technology to just broadcast, without boundaries, under the guise of being authentic, and this can create absolute devastation. Remember, just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t give you permission to be nasty to somebody else.
We always need to exercise etiquette, in meetings and in the way we use social media. Be nice, abide by the law and keep secrets should cover most potential pitfalls.
You don’t have to get involved or have an opinion on everything. On the other hand, it takes courage to be genuine online and be comfortable with the fact that there will be people that won’t like or agree with you. The skill is to practise the art of productive disagreement.
If comments turn aggressive or make you angry, feel free to step away to recover your thoughts – and then respond as if you speaking to that person face to face. And if you don’t feel able get your point across then consider an alternative medium.
Take time to set boundaries to protect yourself and evaluate what’s being said – is it helpful or harmful? And don’t be afraid to use the mute or unfollow functions.
Remember, you can control your time and energy so you can control your online space. Regulate who’s in that space with you by following people you want to follow – but that’s not always people you wholly agree with. If you invest time in your community, conversations can be wholly enjoyable.
Without body language and other subtle nuances, technology increases that risk of things being misunderstood.
Nobody wants to live in a world of assumptions or ignorance. If not 100% certain, undertake due diligence before responding to something unfamiliar, new, or outside your sphere of knowledge.
The personal touch
We’ve all heard people say, on finally seeing others in the flesh after lockdown, how wonderful it is truly connecting with each other.
Social events, conferences, daily office life, these all bring human contact and, therefore, connections. These connections and perceptions are strengthened by body language.
We need to realise how naturally we allow technology to distract us. Why? Because our brains like novelty.
Out of common courtesy in meetings, stay focussed on one shiny screen at a time. It’s disheartening to suddenly realise that your on-screen audience has mentally ‘left the room’ and become absorbed in a messaging sidebar or task elsewhere.
Mitigate distractions by silencing the cacophony of pings and alerts by muting those intrusive notifications. And, unless required in a meeting, place your phone at a distract-free distance or switch to airplane mode.
If you spot someone’s attention wandering, try the silent treatment. Stop speaking and see if who fills the void.
Listen to our podcast onStaying focused and being productive.
So, where’s the balance?
Relentless bombardment may be one reason behind people not enjoying technology.
If hybrid working is to succeed, we need to introduce those moments of casual conversation over Zoom rather than it just about work, work, work. This also helps dilute the feeling of being overwhelmed by back-to-back digital meetings.
When things get too much, take time to suggest taking a break over a cup of coffee.
Set the tone
Work meetings are such a prominent part of most roles. Whatever the industry, wherever meetings happen, people are rarely taught how to run or take part in meetings. It’s not part of any school curriculum, so most of us simply learn by osmosis.
So, people know where they stand, set participant expectations by putting guidelines in place right at the start of a conversation. For example, how to signify a wish to speak: Raise a hand or use the hand emoji? Press ‘Unmute’? Politely ask people to stay focussed on the meeting for 45 minutes.