Heads Up!: Is it time to Turn Down the Technology?
In previous columns I've written about relying too heavily on technology if it places a barrier between the customer experience and your brand--and of the need for policies that empower employees to have genuine, flexible interactions with each customer. In this column I examine the downside of how an overly digital perspective can diminish the customer experience.
Currently, we are seeing a negative side effect to what many consider the over-digitalization of our everyday lives. Results from studies on over-digitalization are troubling. Social media appears to promote narcissism, smartphones could be causing insomnia, screens seem to make people less empathetic, and the Internet makes people less innovative, more negative, and reduces our memory. Based on these studies, here are a few thoughts.
- What is a digital detox? A digital detox is switching off all mobiles, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers for a certain length of time. One study featured in Fast Company ("What Really Happens To Your Brain and Body During a Digital Detox") showed that after three days without technology, people began to make better eye contact, rather than stare downward into their screens. This better eye contact also appeared to encourage people to connect with one another more deeply. They were able to relax into conversations and seemed more empathetic toward one another.
- Google is a conversation killer. In a connected world, when a general trivia question comes up, people immediately Google the answer, ending that particular line of questioning. However, without Google, people keep talking as they look for an answer, which often results in creative storytelling. "These are the conversations that really form bonds between people," says Kate Unsworth, an expert in social change. "You gain insight into the way someone's mind works, and it is not typically a conversation anyone has had before, so it is engaging and memorable."
- Improved memory. Even after a few days without technology, people were more likely to remember obscure details about one another, such as the names of distant relatives mentioned in passing. The neuroscientists believe that this is because people were more present in conversation, so their brains were able to process and store new information more easily. With the many distractions of technology, our brains have been trained not to register seemingly insignificant details, which is very important in the process of bonding and learning about other people.
- Life-changing. One of the most powerful findings was that people tended to make significant changes to their lives when they were offline for a while. Some decided to make big changes in their career or relationships. The lack of constant distraction appeared to free people's minds to contemplate more important issues in their lives, and it also made them believe they had the will power to sustain a transformation.
- Do you suffer from MSA? There is a new emerging crisis called Mental Stimulation Addiction (MSA). Today, millions of people are smartphone junkies, needing to constantly be texting, checking Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or a multitude of other social media habits. I am guilty of this. If I have a few minutes of downtime (sitting in a doctor's office or riding on an elevator) I am checking all of my social media accounts, as well as other website forums l belong to. And after I have exhausted all of those resources, I find myself immediately going through them again, only minutes after I just checked them. It's like I can't just sit and relax--not to mention the impact these distractions have on our personal and professional productivity.
- Is technology killing creativity? We have all heard how technology is hurting our social skills, but something just as bad is that it is killing our creativity. Downtime and a relaxed mental state are the best environments for our mind to veer off from its stressful mainstream thought patterns and venture into the unknown. Think about it. When have you gotten your best ideas? When you daydream. When did you used to daydream? Early mornings with your coffee on the patio, in the shower, some say in the bathroom (just repeating what I heard), on vacation, and other idle times that now come few and far between. Technology has gobbled up the majority of our idle time. A decrease in creativity is dangerous in our lives, both professionally and personally.
- Schedule time to daydream. Limit your time on your smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and social media outlets. Make a commitment. To start, actually schedule downtime on your calendar at least three times a day: early morning, middle of the afternoon, and before bed. If you find yourself stale lately, you may be suffering from MSA. We need to protect our peaceful idle time, let our minds rest, reset, be reinvigorated, rejuvenated, and just daydream. You will be surprised at how stimulated you may become.
So the next time you find yourself or your front-line associates head-down, staring at that entrancing little rectangle of light, think instead about how you and your organization are connecting with customers--with a focus on how you may be allowing technology to come between you and your next customer's experience.
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