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Discover The Future of Work

A recent video webinar on the "Timeline of Next" report ran a poll and asked our audience how they think their relationship with technology will look in 2025? It came as no surprise that 60% of our audience said they expect to be more dependent on technology than they are currently. What was especially interesting, however, was that 33% said they expect to have a love-hate relationship with technology. With this in mind, now is the time to look at our current relationship with technology, and ask ourselves who’s really in control.

We have all caught ourselves staring at our phones for way too long, or feeling like something’s missing if we accidentally leave them at home. But who can blame us when our every need is frequently only a finger swipe away (food delivery, doctor appointments, bill payments, etc.). Even nature is, in some ways, contained within our phones: Hear the bubbling waterfall? The wind rustling in the pines? Yes, your meditation app is open. COVID-19 has pushed us further, and deeper, into our digital addictions. Our internet use rose by 70%, and social media traffic surged by up to 50% compared with pre-lockdown levels. Zoom came from absolutely nowhere to take over our homes and become the word of 2020. So what now? Is there any turning back, or have we all just become part of the Matrix?

There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch. This increasing dependence on our virtual lives comes at a price. With more devices to hand, we are frequently consuming excessive information in a bid not to be left behind. More information than our brains can fully process, resulting in anxiety, mental fatigue, depression, anger, and possibly contributing to society's dumbing down in general. The human attention span is decreasing by 88% every year, and now stands at just eight seconds. Today, 45% of human behavior centers on unthinking tasks. Our children are growing up in a world where attention spans are dwindling to unthinkable lows. We are constantly fed fake news and misinformation. With just a few clicks and forwards, both can go viral, resulting in us trusting or distrusting a government or brand, misdiagnosing ourselves or failing to seek proper treatment, and panic buying certain items for fear of shortages – thereby creating a shortage. We are often frustrated that "truth" seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to find the truth. It feels like this misinformation, manipulation, and deceit through data has become the norm and quite often the epicenter of communication. I recently wrote an article on protecting customers from information overload.

So what should we do to negate the harmful effects of our digital lives, whilst still maintaining the upsides? None of us are likely to give up our phones anytime soon, and as there’s no digital methadone available, how can we ensure that technology is working for us and not against us? We need to start looking for more “middle ground” in our relationship with technology. I expect to see a movement to redefine this relationship in the future, with an emphasis on social impact. We will see an increasing trend towards healthier boundaries between “in real life” and people’s digital lives. I believe businesses have a unique opportunity to bring radical change in their business models now to ensure the digital wellbeing of their customers and employees in the future. You can learn from those already doing it:

  • Technology company Vivo launched #SwitchOff in India to encourage users to take a break from their devices, and spend time with friends and family instead. #SwitchOff highlighted issues like digital dependency and the resulting feelings of isolation, as well as the benefits of taking a digital detox
  • Sundayy, a social media platform, enables users to check updates once a week. Users write hidden 'reflections' from Monday through to Saturday. On Sunday, the notes are revealed and people can see what their friends have been up to
  • In Oman and the UAE, Pizza Hut challenged diners to switch off their data for one hour in exchange for free pizza

To learn more about the balancing act between real and virtual lives and how to detox, check out our suggestions for Escaping the Matrix. We reveal the four digital fail-safes that will become commonplace as we emerge from the pandemic and enter the next normal.

The increasing recognition of digital wellbeing is an opening for new providers and business models to emerge. The digital genie isn’t going back in the bottle anytime soon. Rebalancing our online and offline worlds is the hard task for the future — without some digital downtime, not only minds but entire futures will be fried. We are human, after all. (If you are up for some house music, you might enjoy listening to Human After All, by French electronica legend Daft Punk, as they examine our love/hate relationship with technology.)