BLOG, Leadership / June 05, 2018

Has the technology that was supposed to connect us made us more disconnected than ever before?

By Janine Garner

Never in human history have our brains had to work with so much information as they do today… We have a generation of people who are so busy processing the information received from all directions that they are losing the ability to think and feel.’ - American psychiatrist Edward Hallowell

There is no doubt that the internet has opened up a whole new world of content, connections and networking possibilities. The explosion of digital and social media has fundamentally changed the way we function, communicate and do business both on and offline. We are bombarded with multiple networking groups, industry-specific events and meet-ups through friends, colleagues, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you name it. There’s even speed networking – an event designed on the format of speed dating, where you have a set period of short time to strike up a ‘connection’ before you have to move on to the next person.

According to statista.com, ‘The power of social networking is such that the number of worldwide users is expected to reach some 2.95 billion by 2020, around a third of the Earth’s entire population.’

We are more connected than ever before through our smartphone, the internet, instant messaging and social media. Yet the technology that was supposed to connect us and bring us closer together actually seems to be having the reverse effect.

The increase in ‘connection’ seems to be resulting in a parallel increase in ‘disconnection’.

In her book Alone Together, social psychologist Sherry Turkle argues that our relentless connection to the digital world is actually driving isolation. On the whole, she says, we are now ‘more lonely and distant from one another … this is not only changing the way we interact online, it’s straining our personal relationships, as well.’

A 2013 study by Hanna Krasnova and a group of researchers from two German universities examined the impact of envy on Facebook. The study concluded that one in three people felt worse after visiting Facebook. ‘Lurkers’ who spent time looking at everyone else’s content, while not posting any of their own, felt especially dissatisfied. This behaviour led to feelings of loneliness, frustration and anger.

Even the term FOMO is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’.

Social media encourages one-way communication. Status updates and shout-outs, overloading and oversharing of personal information and hashtags — #kidspam, #foodenvy, #bestdayever, #grateful, #inspired — make us look ‘good’ but feel ‘bad’, and add very little of actual value to our lives.

In reality, our actual conversations tend to be brief, fleeting and superficial. A quick scan of any café, restaurant, bus, train or footpath will suggest we’re more interested in what is happening on our screens than in the people next to us — even our children, who are now babysat with Peppa Pig on the iPad.

If the number of connections we have on social media and in our database were all that mattered then every one of us would be basking in unparalleled success just from the sheer number of opportunities we have to connect. But as we know, that’s simply not the truth.

Our obsession with quantity over quality, with width versus depth, with transactional connecting versus building connections that transform us is leaving many feeling overwhelmed, over exhausted, over stretched and over it. Connecting, as we know it, has become shallow, superficial and ineffective.

We are currently doing it all wrong.

What you actually need for exponential growth is a network of transformational rather than transactional connections. It’s about connecting in the right way, engaging in two-way conversations and sharing value with each other.

It’s about immersing yourself in conversations that span industries and functions with no limits on the range and depth of discussion. It’s about colourful conversations, sharing different perspective and broader views.

It's up to you to start connecting the right way – two way conversation, the giving and taking of ideas and insight, supporting each other’s dreams, simply checking in to ask “how are you today?” without any other agenda in mind. It’s up to you to invest the time, and energy to build quality relationships and to commit to not getting lost in a field of ‘likes’ and accepts.

Who can you really connect deeply with this week?  Let’s make this week’s conversations more than a simple ‘like’ or checking in of ‘to do’ lists - let’s make each connection matter.

 

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