Are you being a ‘person of tomorrow’, today?
‘[The] new world will be more human and humane…Its technology will be aimed at the enhancing, rather than the exploitation, of persons and nature. It will release creativity as individuals sense their power, their capacities, their freedom.’
- Carl R. Rogers, A Way of Being, 1980
Nobody wants to be labelled Luddite, especially now. However, it requires courage to question, challenge or seek to avoid an always-on digital culture.
This post explores our role as users, in making technology work for us.
Technology has allowed millions to continue to work, and to learn, even without the need to “go to” work or school. As some parts of the world go back into COVID lockdowns, it remains vital to be intelligent in the way we use technology.
Psychological research on the impact of technology on performance and wellbeing in the workforce lags far behind the rise and use of technology. The long-term psychological effects and efficacy of virtual ways of working and virtual learning are very unclear.
During a period of hypergrowth in the digital economy, the race to exploit cyber-tools and occupy cyberspace could be exposing us to new and very serious vulnerabilities in many domains of our lives. Our extreme dependence on digital technology could be creating as many challenges as purported benefits for human health, overall wellbeing, and collective prosperity.
The vulnerabilities tend to arise from extreme or inappropriate use of platforms such as Linked In, Facebook, Microsoft Office, and Zoom, that, in principle, have benign overarching purposes. The evangelists for digitalization (e.g. Ray Kurzweil) are drawing us into a hyper-digital future. That requires us to be enlightened users. Intense, near constant use of digital platforms is now considered normal human behaviour. Does this then also mean that we are becoming subservient to these platforms?
Questioning the primacy of technology or its efficacy in meeting professional needs can attract derision, criticism, and perceptions of technophobia and, worse, feelings of one’s own impending obsolescence. Resistance or challenge feels futile. The takeover of every aspect of work and life by techno-utopian entrepreneurs is therefore well under way.
I am an advocate of organizational agility, and for the augmentation or improvement of working lives through digitalization. I am an advocate and user of digital assessment and diagnostic tools. Indeed, my use of a “blog” such as this to express thoughts feels like healthy augmentation. This does not mean that I support exclusively living and working in ways that are entirely digital, feel disembodied, and therefore are incomplete.
There is no single nation, official body, person, or other entity anywhere in the world that has the power or authority to slow down the digital revolution. The central role technology has played in our lives during a global pandemic means we are way beyond the point of no return in our collective mass migration deep into cyberspace.
I do recognize that we should all be deeply grateful for the ability to stay connected, to work remotely, to continue to function, and to entertain ourselves online, even during periods of lockdown. I am also very aware that a minority of the population gain disproportionately from our herd behaviour, as in all prior industrial revolutions.
Technology platforms are not ‘public works’ in the same sense that bridges, roads or tunnels, and other forms of critical infrastructure are public works. Owners, software ‘engineers’ and architects of digital tools and platforms operate with the creative freedom of artists, rather than with the kind of public protections, codes of ethics, and regulatory measures we see in other science-led sectors, such as civil engineering, or medicine. There are shared technical standards (and even that is politically contentious), but what are the universal ethical standards that govern digital technology?
Unlike in prior industrial revolutions, governments are acting much more like adopters and consumers of generic technologies themselves, rather than co-creators, architects, regulators, or moderators of the digital economy as part of any clear strategy, public policy, or public mandate. Individuals are responsible for their own safety and destinies in their digital lives.
Being aware of these facts of digital life points to a need for each of us to manage our use of technology with vigilance, and self-care. It is common for my clients to report that technology has liberated them to work in new and more agile ways, while also (often subconsciously) revealing signs of alienation, anxiety, fatigue, frustration and burnout.
Managing this tension is part of learning how to be what Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester at the International Futures Forum have described as being ‘persons of tomorrow’. Through their research they have outlined basic human competences associated with ‘psychological literacy’, such as ‘being together’, ‘humility’, ‘faith in the future’ and ‘cultural literacy’. They build on prior explorations of the strengths which enable healthy functioning in a technology-driven world, such as the psychotherapist Carl Rogers' quite prescient 1980 essay, 'The World of Tomorrow, and the Person of Tomorrow'.
It strikes me that tomorrow is here.
To what extent do you feel equipped to be effective as a ‘person of tomorrow’, today?
How do you feel about the emergence of the digital economy and how it is affecting your career? How effectively do you use technology, especially during current periods of lockdown?
See also -
Kurzweil, Ray (2005). The Singularity is Near. New York, NY: Viking Books.
O’Hara, M. & Leicester, G. (2012). Dancing at the Edge: Competence, culture and organization in the 21st century. Charmouth, UK: Triarchy Press.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Available at https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf.
My books are available on Amazon:
Strive: Unlocking agility and unleashing talent in a digital world
Change Agility: Leadership, transformation and the pursuit of purpose