Distracting Digital Dust

Ross Paull |

"Their worlds are constructed of disconnected moments” - Clio Cresswell, University of Sydney, Mathematics Lecturer

Some of my best thoughts have come to me when I’ve snatched the opportunity for some inner brainstorming, mulling things over to connect the dots on a problem at hand.  Some ideas make me reach for a pen and paper. At the gym, I’ve often used post-it notes from the front desk to write down something that’s popped into my head. Call it ‘posting’, the old school analogue way.

Well, the headline quote comes from a math lecturer lamenting that her students are so busy looking at screens, posting and liking on social media, that they’ve lost the ability to link and connect ideas. Moreover, they don’t ask questions or turn up to lectures so the benefits of interaction are out the window. 

“Devices have accelerated the frequency with which we communicate, and that can be overwhelming”  - Trent Innes, MD of Xero Australia

Perhaps with all the stimuli, digital natives are just too exhausted and unable to find the time to just, you know, think. I’ve touched on this diminished capacity in last year’s blog titled ‘The dying art of disagreement’. It’s a consistent theme that’s created a noticeable gap in personal interaction and conflict resolution capabilities within todays pervasive, let’s call it, “digital culture”. This gap stifles communication, collaboration, and dispute handling.

The digitally remade brain has an enormous impact on our ability to negotiate because a key tenet of interests-based negotiation is the creative search for ideas (aka options) to satisfy the mutual interests of the respective parties. 

It was Einstein who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”, yet Cresswell’s students tend to hop on to Wiki and, in the fast flowing Digital River, ‘finding’ trumps ‘knowing’. In this case, ‘trumping’ is not a good thing if you catch my drift!

How can Digital Natives possibly maintain concentration and focus whilst simultaneously switching in and out of the real and virtual worlds?

It’s not all doom and gloom. For a number of years, I’ve been mentoring young entrepreneurs at the University of Sydney Business School and I’m in awe of the energy, enthusiasm and overall entrepreneurial spirit I’ve encountered. They’re highly charged to succeed. They just have a different way of communicating – although I do draw the line at students giving their pitch by squinting at their notes on a smart phone.

Speaking of smart phones, these handheld devices keep us constantly connected to the Internet, which is great, but it also ties us to algorithms that are weaponized for addiction and distraction.

It’s like a person with OCD living in a dusty home that can never be cleaned. As soon as they’ve (s)wiped, more digital dust lands. A hyperbolic metaphor, I know, but I shun social media so I’m biased. It’s not all dust. LinkedIn is very useful, especially when it prompts me to wish everyone a happy birthday and endorse acquaintances for skills that I’ve never witnessed in practice.

The thing is, this information overload reduces our ability to concentrate and it also prevents us from simply zoning out, which is what is happening at the gym when I’m absent-mindedly doing reps.

Undertaking mundane tasks that don’t require focused attention actually triggers a fertile mental state for creativity. Apparently, it has something to do with igniting the ‘default mode’ in your brain, and this is when our most original thinking takes place.

In this context, it would seem that the “smart phone” becomes an oxymoronic pairing, doesn’t it?

In managing the new realities of digital culture, some suggest screen down time while others, like me, swear by going retro with pad and pencil to enliven their inner brainstorming. Horses for courses I guess.

On being ready for change, Bill Gates was quoted as saying “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction”.

This change thing rings true when it comes to the demise of the telephone. Who has a landline anymore? Come to think of it, who spends time chatting on the phone? It seems to be a case of tapping and swiping instead of chatting and voicing. 

The cost of inaction makes it incumbent on every business organization to address and act on the wholesale cultural changes in communication practices that are taking place across-the-board and the implications for engaging with customers, employees and other stakeholders.

At Guided Resolution, we’ve modelled and tightly choreographed a structured digital communication portal that helps users maintain concentration and focus. It contains embedded principles that create an empowering process, which goes hand in glove with “digital culture”, today’s prevailing mindset.

Business enterprises can now take Bill Gate’s advice on responding to change, in a non-disruptive way, by playing to everyone’s digital strengths by using a communication and negotiation platform that slow things down and gives room to think.