High Tech Destroying Human Touch?
I have just returned from a 4-day visit to Hong Kong where yet again I was starkly reminded of how technology is controlling a significant part of our daily lives, both professionally and personally.
As we sat at dinner in a Michelin star Chinese restaurant, with beautiful surroundings, classical music, exceptional service and delicious food, I noticed with frustration and sadness that at every table, except the one occupied by myself and my two friends, people were on their mobile phones, either texting or on social media.
This was not confined to age or gender, as I watched a family of four, all on iPhones, a young couple on a date (perhaps) – both on their iPhones, a table of business people with several people sending text messages or answering emails, while supposedly engaging with others at the table! Everyone was looking down, no one was making eye contact!
I pointed this out to my two guests who both responded with: “I think it’s rude.” I agreed, but it is so much more than rude.
It made me think of a holiday my partner and I had at a resort in Malaysia just three years earlier, where we watched a family of four with two children under 10, all on their iPads at breakfast; and a group of six young Generation Y’s all at dinner on their iPhones, no one speaking to each other!
Upon reflection, I asked myself, is technology destroying the following things:
- Our ability to listen to others; the most sought-after characteristic of today’s leaders by Generations X and Z is to be heard. They believe their bosses don’t listen to them or their ideas
- Our ability to actively listen to our partners, our children, our friends, our colleagues. How many ‘warning signs’ have we missed of depression, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, bullying? I know I have and it was devastating to realise that I missed the non-verbal clue simply because I wasn’t listening actively and paying attention
- Our ability to read body language including those non-verbal cues because we are looking down – at a screen – rather than at someone’s expressions or into their eyes
- Our willingness to be truly present, giving someone our undivided attention, because we think we may miss out on something on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Pokémon Go!!!
- Our willingness to truly engage with others, showing genuine interest in them and their stories, issues, goals and dreams
- Our ability to empathise with someone who is having a difficult time, simply because we hadn’t noticed.
Rates of depression and youth suicide have escalated, mental illness is increasing, domestic violence and random violence has increased. And still we are disengaging more and more asa society, spending more and more time using technology. There are now over 1 billion users on Facebook, something which did not exist 10 years ago.
Have we lost the desire to talk to each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to truly engage with each other? Why is technology more important than a conversation? Why is work more important than our personal relationships? Why are other people’s lives (on Facebook) so much more interesting and important than our own and of those we love and confess to care for deeply.
So put down that damn iPhone, iPad and turn off that laptop. Look into the eyes of those you love at home, your colleagues and subordinates at work, and ask: “How are you, what’s happening in your life and R U OK?” Then actively listen without interrupting, be 100% truly present, and engage with that person. Listen with your ears, eyes, mind and heart. Feel the conversation, because technology can NEVER replace the human touch! It will make someone’s day, and may even save a life!
Time for leaders to remember high tech can never replace high touch!