https://www2.dimensiondata.com/ summary in October 2017: “As we near the end of the year, it becomes time for taking stock and thinking about what the future will bring. Dimension Data’s technology experts have shared their thoughts on the forces that will re-shape digital business in 2018 – infrastructure, hybrid cloud, digital workplaces, customer experience, and cybersecurity.”
I think, in this context, of all of the phrases that have become much more prevalent, really from 2015/16 onwards, some are used more to indicate some piece of IT being more relevant to today’s workplace because it’s quite new and therefore being used increasingly and constantly. Others because they fit the zeitgeist.
For example, Fintech is an abbreviation of the phrase financial technology and its first recorded use was back in the 1980s by the editor of a business newsletter in the Sunday Times. He used it to describe a bot which had altered his mailbox. However, the phrase didn’t really come into widespread use until quite a few years later when the Financial Technology Monitor (http://signalhill.com/assets/insights/fintech_022003.pdf) decided to make things easier for themselves and adopt the term.
In 2003, a report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 77 million Americans used a computer at work (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/ciuaw.nr0.htm). In 2017 there are reportedly 1.61 billion global e-commerce users alone, and more than 5-% of the global population use a smartphone (https://wearesocial.com/special-reports/digital-in-2017-global-overview).
How many times today have you looked at your smartphone, computer, tablet, e-reader and that old relic called the TV?
Given all the ways that technology imposes demands on our time, we forget that digital tools are actually supposed to make our lives easier. And used correctly, they can. From my time writing and working with clients across all sectors, much of that in IT and at both strategic and end user levels, I have a more than reasonable understanding in the round of how people use technology, I’ve learned that if workplaces wish to reduce their digital invasion, it’s not only possible to fight fire with fire—it’s essential.
That is not to say that workplaces want to or should reduce the extent to which digital is embedded in every area of the business. They shouldn’t. Indeed, if they do they will go out of business. But as we so often now read, there is a balance between tech being useful, even necessary, and its being so intrusive and ever-present – and, crucially, ever-on – that it interferes with everything. The very management of it takes up all our time. Debatably, overall productivity is less than it may be because we spend so log simply managing tech.
“Turning off” is simply not a tenable solution in the digital age; with so much work, communication, and socialising taking place on screens, few of us can afford to be off-line for significant portions of the workday (or even evenings and weekends). A survey on behalf of a major IT global player showed that people in the U.S., Europe, and Asia spend more than five hours a day on the internet, and 64% worry when they don’t have access.
Digital overload may be the defining problem of today’s workplace. All day and night, on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, we’re bombarded with so many messages and alerts that even when we want to focus, it’s nearly impossible. And when we’re tempted to procrastinate, diversions are only a click away. As a freelancer I can testify to this. I deal with a global client base and work both on my own projects and contractually for a few agencies. This means that there is quite literally no more than 10 or 15 minutes goes by when I do not receive multiple messages. And between UK 11pm and 7am, I wake to perhaps 30 emails.
This culture of constant connection takes a toll both professionally and personally – a recent piece of mine demonstrated how digital – and, to be fair, simply work – caused me a huge personal problem. My CV mountain became insurmountable We waste time, attention, and energy on relatively unimportant information and interactions, staying busy but producing little of value. Many luminaries from any environment or sector you care to name have noted that personally or within work teams, incessantly watching content means we do not pay attention to, memorise, or manage our tasks as well as those who focus on one thing at a time. The result is reduced productivity and engagement, both in the office and at home.
An example: I have noticed that my short-term memory has become progressively poorer over several years. Why? Because I don’t need it, I am attached to Google 24/7. Why do I need to remember how to spell a word or that I’m meeting Doris for tea on Wednesday? I don’t. Is this a good thing? In truth, I don’t know.
In the (UK) Times, in October 2017, their piece “Artificial intelligence bots beat Captcha, the online test that identifies man or machine” reported that the ability to learn and generalise from a few examples is a hallmark of human intelligence – and in tests it had now been superceded by robots.
Most people agree on the solution: Control the digital overload rather than letting it control you. But how, exactly, does one do that? Perhaps we should systematically turn away from the information stream and focus on more energy-enhancing activities – I think they used to call it exercise. Or is the best way to fight digital distraction with the strategic use of digital tools. The latter would certainly seem to fit more with the fact that we can’t escape it altogether anyway. Taken together, their solutions offer a useful primer on how we can begin to tackle this huge and growing challenge.
Reference my global client base – and how many more billions are like me? – I start every day with my smartphone, checking it and replying to messages before getting out of bed. Within 30 minutes, the PC is on. At the office – a 25 feet walk from the bedroom – I have already started to receive e-mails and texts. By the time I make my first client call, I am multitasking but it’s all in a digital arena. It is quite common for me to be on Skype to a client and typing to another at the same time. If I manage to escape for an hour during the day, I take my tablet to the café and read my e-paper.
My partner’s 3-year old is entirely confident navigating her way around my Samsung S8+ and my 83-year old father never leaves home without his mobile. Thankfully neither writes CVs or I would have competition!
Equally, if I am seeking more CV writing work, I can trawl LinkedIn to find multiple sources. Without tech, I couldn’t do that. But does the fact that the recipients of my messages have, probably, hundreds of similar ones daily – because tech allows that – put me at a disadvantage? I think so.
The most obvious reflection of this technological overload vs. use situation, for a CV writer, is ATS – the Applicant Tracking System. Many clients I work with hate it. I can understand that – they wish a human would read everything. The point I make to them all is that ATS types / models are theoretically identical in what they do and very similar in doing it. But, because you’ll never know which ATS any one recruiter will use or how they programmed it, you have no assurance about the scan’s outcome. If any CV I write scores around 95% on an ATS scan, will that guarantee them an interview? No. Does it mean another ATS scan will be identical? No. Does it mean that any other ATS will come extremely close to that score since they are all essentially identical – apart from the human programmer? Possibly. And if you asked any recruiter, if we give them a low / average score will that put you on the pile? Emphatically yes.
A CV writer’s goal fulfilled but many clients’ worst nightmare – the soulless scan because the technology runs the process.
For the past few years, psychologists have been examining the recent dramatic changes in humans’ relationship to technology. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that multitasking isn’t always yeahs successful: Doing two things well at the same time is possible only when at least one task is automatic. I would have to agree – to an extent. I think it depends how automatic is automatic. For example, if the email, texts, Skype all land automatically, they are automatic. But is my ability to read them – strictly speaking not an automatic – and my ability to make a Skype call simultaneously all automatic – or, if not 100% so, compromised? I’m not sure.
Some may say one can’t check e-mail whilst participating in a conference call. I can – but how effectively? I guess the output of both is the metric. I have seen it reported that the mere presence of a phone makes people less productive and less trusting, and that students who are interrupted while studying take longer to learn the material and feel more stressed. My average written CV score on ATS is around 93% – 95%. Is this because technology allows me to process better? Or, bearing in mind technology enables me to multitask and process much more quickly, does it simply mean I’m very good (or lucky!)?
Why are we allowing ourselves to be so debilitated by technological distractions? Some people refer to the overuse of digital devices as an addiction. But since most of us don’t appear to gain much pleasure from the behaviour—a defining feature of addiction—is it good or bad? There are even terms for it, something I was unaware of until I started to do this piece. FOMO (fear of missing out), FOBO (fear of being offline), and nomophobia (fear of being out of mobile phone contact)—all forms of anxiety that border on obsession or compulsion. How often does the BBC report on faster broadband being a requirement because so many people work from home? Often. Recently my broadband stopped working – it transpired it was the network’s local outage. I was writing a CV. Bearing in mind my Google-driven short-term memory lapses, I thought my working world had crumbled.
Numerous studies support this diagnosis of the problem. How do we calm the anxiety and thereby avoid the distraction? My client involvement, broaching it with my nieces – whilst they’re on their phone of course – students who have been interviewed recently (Oct 2017) about their views on discarding technology – all suggest the answer must be some kind of detox; a turning away from technology at times to regain focus. But as the CV writer I am, I simply couldn’t do that; I couldn’t work. Literally. I receive client mails via Microsoft Outlook – if I have no internet access, I can’t receive or send from and to clients.
So, how – and do need to – wean ourselves off our digital devices? After many of these conversations and considering the subject, my suggestions would be:
Allow yourself to check all modes of e-communication, but then shut everything down and silence your phone. Set an alarm for 15 minutes, and when it rings give yourself one minute for a tech check-in. Repeat this process until you are comfortable increasing your offline time to several hours.
Take a recharging break frequently, especially if you’re multitasking with technology, which makes the brain overly active. Even a 10-minute walk in nature is enough to have a calming effect. You might also listen to music, look at art, exercise, or meditate. This CV writer eats a crumpet (or 2).
E-mail can be one of the biggest distractions. I’m diligent about replying to messages and that helps me find time for the rest of my work. But I know of many who can’t operate like that – by the way, I don’t think that makes me better, probably just indicates that I’m wired differently – for them, automating at least part of the job offers huge benefits. Outlook, Gmail, and most other major e-mail tools will allow you to set rules and filters to ensure that only the most essential messages reach us right away. And we can direct less urgent messages into other folders automatically and review those later.
Many emails, we probably don’t need to see immediately – newsletters, internal company notices, social media alerts, even meeting requests (if they show up in the calendar they can be reviewed there instead). Sometimes I think we feel that that these messages will disappear if we don’t read them right away – they aren’t. Depending on the setup we adopt, they’re in folders waiting to be read. Perhaps we’d be better designating an hour for that every day or week, depending on the content. If we did that, the very fact that they could be filed until then might in itself flag how many of them we ever actually normally read at all – I have found myself increasingly unsubscribing from things I’d long had but deleted when they landed.
Automation can’t eliminate digital distraction, but it can streamline the process of deciding what gets your attention. Email filters, newsreaders, post schedulers, and other tools can significantly streamline the process of deciding what gets our attention. That will help us feel less overwhelmed and better able to focus on our most important tasks, at work or at home, online or off.
Sorry, who are you? I’m your 8-year old son dad – you bumped into me in the hall in 2015. Now all you do all day is write CVs. That is until the robots write them all.