From computers to laptops to touchpads; phones, mobile phones, smartphones; text messages, emails, voicemails; e-papers, online news, Google, YouTube, facebook, twitter, WordPress; online sales, e-commerce, online banking, … What can I say? I must admit I am far from being the first to touch this topic; it is actually one of those that might have been discussed often enough. However, it is something that weighs heavily on my mind.
For me, it has never been that much of a big deal, cause I had always thought I could handle it. Facebook is normal. Google it, before you open an encyclopedia. Locate and navigate it via internet, before you buy a map or ask your way through Berlin. I grew up with a certain amount of technology that already the generation of my parents is not used to. And that was okay. I did not think much about it, because no one forced me to use it.
However, this has changed.
At university, I was obliged to take a course in Business Applications. We had to create HTMLs, internet blogs, download a lot of stuff in order to connect ourselves to our teacher, other students, to work as teams, arrange our assignments, manage our time, to share our homework, our thoughts, our questions, our life… Each one had to sign up for Google Groups, a service supporting discussion groups and threaded conversations. This thing made sure that whenever someone had a question and wrote an email, everyone else got it. Whenever our teacher answered those questions, everyone got an email as well. When he felt like he had to share something from his seemingly constant surfing on the internet, everyone got an email. Whether random or important; emails over emails.
For our group work, some people suggested creating a facebook group in order to “privately communicate”. That was the first time I felt like I would be better off, throwing my laptop as well as my smartphone (which was constantly ringing with its Android systems requiring synchronization to my email account) out of the window. At that point, information technology killed my curiosity, my free time, my yen for university, my nerves!
I started to swear. My teacher told me he wanted to prepare me for future business life. He claimed this whole stuff should only be helpful to manage my time. It might be to a certain extent. But aren’t there any borders anymore? A point where we keep our private life separate from a “online life”?
The question that arose for me personally was: Is this the business world I want to work in? I mean, honestly?! This is not fun. Definitely not. And where will it lead?
I started to think about things until I couldn’t keep myself from asking: All that information technology – friend or foe?
The Internet distracts us, makes us impatient, and makes us forget information. Some people claim it even compromises our ability to grasp abstract concepts, to use our imagination. “As media has progressed, we have moved from entertainment from the conceptual media requiring us to use our imaginations (such as books) to concrete pictures of things (as seen in the visual representation brought forth by television)” claims Chuck Bauerlein, teacher of media studies at West Chester University.
Before you get to know people, you stalk them on their facebook profile or website. You can find out so much about the guy before you simply have a cup of coffee with him.
At university, you cannot have a simple oral presentation anymore, you need media; PowerPoint, Prezi, iWork … You download your homework from an online platform, you get your marks there, you asks your questions online, borrow your books from the library and you get bombed with a lot of stuff supposed to support your career: Internships, summer schools, panel discussion events, scholarships, student employee jobs, …Not all of this is bad. But it is a lot. It can overstrain you.
In a world where theoretically, by means of “simple technology” (I mean, a smartphone isn’t that sophisticated anymore, is it?), everyone is reachable at any time, requirements change. Anyone can be reachable has become anyone must be reachable.
“It’s bad for the individual worker’s performance being online and available 24-7. You do need downtime, you do need periods in which you can actually reflect on something without needing instantaneously to give a reaction,” says Will Hutton, chair of the Big Innovation Centre at The Work Foundation and governor of the London School of Economics.
In December 2011, the German carmaker Volkswagen decided on stopping its blackberry servers to send emails on their employees’ smartphones when they are off-shift as staff’s work and home lives were “becoming blurred and stress could increase to a dangerous level”. 20 years ago, employer’s greatest concern healthwise became cardiovascular diseases due to malnourishment and adiposity. Today, stress level increases through sensory overload and lack of work-life-balance which is fired enormously by modern means of communication.
Information technology – solely foe? Some of its bright sights in next week’s blog post… Have a nice time until then!