Are We Slaves Or The Master To Our Digital Devices?

I recently read an article by Matthew Lieberman in Psychology Today headed: “Is Facebook ruining our brains?”. The interesting question for all of us as stated in the article is, “Will more digital screen time change the minds, brains, and behaviors of the next generation?” From my experience of working with the new generation, the digital screen has changed the world we live in today. However, how we define what is good or bad about it really depends on one’s own perspective. We are social beings and interestingly from the various studies, what I found really interesting is that if there’s too much arousal emotionally, the medial temporal in the brain gets activated and the hippocampus shuts down.Would this then explain why cyber bullying is affecting many young students emotionally and psychologically? The digital screen definitely has decreased the degrees of separation for many of us, however, the question remains whether too much of digital screen time and connectedness has led to many teenagers irrational behaviors. If the hippocampus shuts down when their medial temporal is too activated, dopamine levels are lower hence the feel good factor of being connected creates a missing link.

As a parent myself, learning more about the social brain has given me some food for thought. It’s almost like the iceberg principle – what we see on the surface is just the tip of what lies deep beneath one’s consciousness. In my experience as a human resource professional, I have found that it’s really important to understand what lies beneath the surface because therein lies the true essence of the individual.

These days, there is a fundamental need to be socially connected in one way or another. Hence, is almost like a source of instant gratification as we find an interface to stay connected 24/7, even when one may feel physically alone, there is still a form of connectedness through another platform.

One question to ponder is: How many hours do we spend online than offline? With around 2.5 billion internet users, fifteen million texts being sent every minute and many people now spending more time online gaming than sleeping, will this impact how the new generation interact with each other or will we eliminate face-to-face interaction moving ahead?
Observing people around us, we will notice what an impact these devices have on our daily lives. People walk down busy streets, drive cars, head down during traffic signals skimming through their messages. Research shows that on average we check our smartphones every six and half minutes! Is multitasking a myth or are we able to do it successfully? Studies have shown that our brains have yet to be able to perform two completely different cognitive processes simultaneously.

Therein lies an important thought: Are we slaves or the master to our digital devices? How important is human connectedness in this digital world?

The quote by Mother Teresa is really apt as the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved and having no one.

My experience has been that what lies above the surface is not necessarily what lies below especially when working with the new generation. Human connectedness enables us to ask better questions to seek better answers and this can only be done from a 360 degree approach where we utilize the technological advancements with added elements of human interconnectedness. To be able to see facial expressions, body language and voice takes communication to a more realistic level where we are able to understand verbal and non-verbal language. Communication channels have the belief that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. The famous Albert Mehrabian created this for a specific context when the verbal and nonverbal communication is incongruent (not matching). From his book Nonverbal Communication (page 108), he states: “When there are inconsistencies between attitudes communicated verbally and posturally, the postural component should dominate in determining the total attitude that is inferred.”

As an old adage states: “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, to coach or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” Margaret J. Wheatley. “Listening and observing the whole person…” would be my observation of working with the technologically savvy generation.

Alka Chandiramani is a multi-lingual HR practitioner with over 20+ years of HR and legal experience. She has been the Manager of the Career Resource Centre for Expatriates (CRCE) in Singapore since 2003. The American Association of Singapore (AAS) is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to enhance the experience of expats and other community members by bringing them together through social events, activities, and career and job support. She also runs her own consultancy firm, Alvo Connexions Pte Ltd.