Recently I’ve been watching a series on ABCiView called Humans. It’s a show created in the UK about a recent future where robots (they call them ‘synths’) are used for various manual labour situations in the home or work. Seeing these situations played out on the television screen makes me mind race with regards to how I would deal with certain situations if I had a ‘synth’ do my housework; take over my work; look after the childminding duties, and basically do everything else in between.
One of the things that stood out for me in the show was one part of the script where the female protagonist, a mother who is a barrister played by Katherine Parkinson (of the IT Crowd fame) says to her husband (a warehouse sales manager whose job was taken over by a more “cost-effective” synth)… “how did we let it get so out of hand?” She was referring to the fact that their busy work lives meant that they had completely disconnected from the lives of their children. In fact, their youngest was displaying symptoms of “acting like a synth” because it was one way to reconnect with emotions. She wasn’t getting it with her actual human parents and pretending to be a synth – who cannot harm humans and always act in a kind-natured way to humans and synths – made more sense to a child.
Although this is a television show, seeing it play out on screen, does make you think about our own actions. Sometimes we need to see our bad behaviours reflected back at us in order to understand and make change – or at least, make us aware so that we can modify these behaviours before we’re on the slippery slope of no return of total addiction – that we become like synths ourselves.
But have we reached this stage already?
If you haven’t seen the series, I highly recommend it (there are three series in all) and would entertain a conversation about it – rather than text or tweet – let’s meet IN PERSON over a coffee or even a virtual coffee….
So with that, I saw in my Twitter time line this Ted talk by Sherry Turkle who studies how technology is affecting our lives. She presented this talk back in 2012 – hard to imagine that it was seven years ago now and I think nothing much has changed – in fact, the situation may have gotten worse.
In the video, she mentions the lament of a manager who says, “no one is listening to me” as his colleagues are experts at texting and maintaining eye contact. She talks about how we can be together in group situations while not be together as each of us are on our separate devices. She reaches the conclusion that how devices are changing the way we relate to each other and how our need for choosing to control what we give our attention to – “connecting in sips” – is really compromising our capacity for true human connection which let’s face it, means there’s going to be boring bits and bits that aren’t relevant to us.
Watching this talk (I’ve ordered her book from the library too) and taking note of how she thinks we can overcome this through allowing us some time for solitude and self-reflection hit home to me. This was probably the underlying reason why I deleted social media apps off my phone – but I can never truly be rid of them permanently.
Like she says, I’m addicted but I’ve also come to a realisation that although I love that these tools have allowed me to connect with a great number of fantastic people across the world, my real life connections and the need to MEET with them is also just as wonderful. I’m heartened to see that when I do meet with my network in person – we don’t use the phones to record every single interaction or moment – in fact, in many situations, we put our phones away and just focus on getting to know each other in person.
Many years ago, when I was in the military, if we were briefed on matters of security, our phones were taken away and stored in a locked cabinet and I remembered this recently. Maybe we should do something like this in our work – take our phones away from us so that it can physically force us to talk to each other?
In the video, Sherry mentioned the need for SACRED SPACES at home or work where there are no devices allowed and where people can converse with each other – and LISTEN to each other.
Admittedly, I’m beginning to think that there should be such spaces at work – or periods where the person can choose themselves NOT to be contactable – so that they can spend some time in the day in “solitude” (whatever that looks like, whether it’s a walk, a nap, or doing some self-reflective writing or just staring out the window).
Yesterday, I also ran a webinar with the Adopt & Embrace Academy Community on the top skills needed for any workers who are in organisations undergoing some form of digital transformation (mobile workforce; upgrades to technologies; movement of data to the cloud) and we compared the different reports from the World Economic Forum Future of Skills reports as well as some others floating about on the internet. I asked the question whether these are “relevant” in their organisation today. That is, what do they actually “look like” in tangible terms for their workers. How would these look like if they had to be “performed” at a day-to-day level?
The idea was that I wanted to drill down from their high-level strategic initiatives and visions to translate these to what really matters to the people who are physically doing the work in their organisations.
In our conversation, one member mentioned the disappearance of “listening” off the 2022 list and although I didn’t mention it at the time, I thought it was odd too. Same day and later on in Twitter, Tom Peters mentions something similar too!
Interesting observation and one that was queried today when we @curiousath ran a webinar with the @AdoptAndEmbrace Academy community looking at this report. We wondered why listening (a crucial human communication factor) was dropped! https://t.co/zZtfqSnJsw
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) July 17, 2019
Here we are in 2019 where as humans, we fail to listen to each other but what IS listening are our devices. Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google….
Like the character in Humans, the thought flashed across my mind, “how did we let this get out of hand?” when we are giving away our most human traits to machines and in the process, we are becoming the bots, the synths, ourselves?
I don’t have an answer for any of this but it’s something that just doesn’t sit right in my gut anymore and I’m going to have to buckle down even further and stick true to my values where I seek out more human – REAL LIFE – connections and conversations with people which means going back to the basics and that is, simply putting some boundaries in place about how you use your devices in front of others.
That means actually TALKING to people; seeking them out to connect in person rather than email or message on social media; leaving a personal message on voice mail.
I cannot imagine a world where a synth will replace the connection and bond where it should have been someone else – a human – along with their “messiness, unpredictability, and the boring bits to boot” but deep down, I cannot help but think that these traits are going to go by the wayside as people opt for more controlled, personalised and sanitised situations and environments around them totally closing themselves off to situations, people and experiences that are considered too demanding for their attention.
Here’s a book review I recently did on Ian McKewan’s new book called Machines Like Me which is on a similar topic…