When it comes to digital infrastructure and the relationship we have with it, it feels as if we're at an important crossroads right now. There are a lot of conversations going on about the impact that emerging and current technology will have on our society, particularly the untold consequences and whether we really want the future that's being proposed to us.
I think of it like this: The point of technology isn't to move us further away from communicating with each other but rather to bring us together more easily.
Is this idea becoming lost in translation? And if so, what can we do about it?
All you have to do is watch an episode of the popular Netflix series Black Mirror to see some outlandish future scenarios for humanity and tech. The show's creators expertly play on current unsettling themes around our use of tech and run with them to create a dystopian reimagining of the digital landscape. But one of the key takeaways is that technology isn't inherently bad -- it's bad if we choose to use it in bad ways.
While Black Mirror is fictional and based on eccentric storytelling, that's not to say that we shouldn't take notice of some warnings concerning the tech community and be cautious with our approach. Just look at real-life examples of various Facebook and Google ex-employees going on the record
to question the software they've helped to create. Tristan Harris, ex-Google, said, "We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first."
Think about how you interact in an office. Messaging apps like Slack probably improve your workflow, but as Basecamp CEO Jason Fried wrote
, "Group chat is like being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda." Are workers missing out on defined meetings with face-to-face participation where we can make meaningful relationships and tackle the subtle art of good conversation? Are they just sending emojis around instead?
Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist
used Slack with his team but decided to leave the app after two years. It was affecting real communication between employees - it was addictive, demanded instant answers, promoted shallow conversations and wasn't really about having transparent conversations at all, as there was too much content. Employees are spending on average 10 hours a day
in the app.
There's a lesson to learn here: Amir and his team designed a new messaging app that worked for them. It allowed people to have time off from the app (they didn't include an indicator of someone's online status) and was built on promoting well-being and productivity. They made their tech more human-centric.
Software That Promotes Real Connections
In my experience, some software is already built with that in mind. The idea behind them is to help improve communication and help us make space for relationship building. These are my favorite programs and uses for tech-enabled human connection in the workplace. (Full disclosure: I've consulted the team at Lately.)
I use X.AI to build a virtual artificial assistant - her name is Amy - and she (I say she but it's a robot) actually eliminates hours of my time that used to be spent finding a time to meet with someone. Amy stays on the case until something is booked. All of my information is fed in and the software knows my conference numbers, phone number and Skype address. With one email, you could be saving hours, which leaves more time to work on other things. AI can help connect people faster and more efficiently than a single person could. The technology used is AI, but the consequence is face-to-face communication.
Nimble is a CRM tool that helps you find the right contact and stay in touch with them. It gives you methods of measuring your level of interaction with someone, and then it has AI that reminds you to make sure you keep in touch. Nimble also lets you find the right contact information faster much faster than if you're doing it manually. Essentially, you'll be reminded to chat and connect with people.
Nudge analyzes your entire network and points you in the direction of new, useful relationship opportunities. You can receive real-time information about notable people in your own network and in friends' networks, too. This moves you closer toward new, interesting and valuable relationships - on top of updates about what's going on in their world, giving you subjects to connect over.
OutreachPlus lets you send out emails to multiple people simultaneously from your own email account, and the best part is that you can personalize each email. There are unlimited variables and follow-up sequences you can address automatically, which saves you time lets you concentrate on making connections with people based on their interests - a much more personal approach.
Lately is able to take an entire article or blog post and create several different combinations of social media posts for you within seconds using IBM's Watson AI software. With the amount of time it takes to make posts for every one of your brand's social network profiles, a solution like this enables you to focus more on the actual content and create engaging posts.
So, back to the crossroads - which path are we going to take? My view is that we need to keep building and using tech that allows us to be better humans, not tech that shirks real conversation and keeps us behind a screen on messaging apps for 12 hours a day. If you can use tech that encourages you to keep in touch, make connections and build meaningful relationships, then your personal and professional life will be more wholesome.
We should use tech to unlock and enable conversation for better communication, not discourage it.