Is It Time To Unplug From Digital World and Why?

#Unplug, Fast Company, digital worldThis week Fast Company has been running a special focus called #Unplug.  This has been an interesting discussion and it seems a good topic for the weekly Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz.  While there has been discussion about how our brains are changing due to our involvement with the digital world, there are still questions about the level of stress we impose on ourselves and the sociological impact which leads directly to how things are done in the business world.

Quick neuroscience lesson

We are all aware of the pressure to complete multiple tasks as efficiently as possible. We may not be aware of what goes into accomplishing this feat. It is understood that the frontal lobe of your brain (right behind your forehead) is responsible for organizing, decision-making, planning, problem-solving, impulse control, working memory, judgement and a few other functions. If you repeat a behaviour, your brain creates a new neural path. It is possible to encourage poor impulse control by attending to every ping your device gives off. Or consider handicapping your decision-making abilities by spending 10-20 seconds on a site and expecting to have gleaned the most salient points.

Social skill development

We are all familiar with trolls who leave comments berating the author, the subject of the post or both. We also know that doing that face to face has serious repercussions and would be the height of boorish behaviour. Yes, most of us are not trolls. However, that doesn’t necessarily leave us off any hooks.

There are patterns of communication online that involve sharing one’s message telegraphically. Plus, the lack of face to face conversation allows people to say just about anything. As we see the workforce change generationally, skills such as small talk, conflict resolution and debate (the civil kind, not the beat-your-opposite-into-submission verbal interchange) are affected. This affects customer service, developing business relationships and getting work done in a collegial environment. There are times when a conversation, not a text message, accomplishes what both parties are working on.

Which leads us to…

We are creating a world that has both positives and negatives for brain development, social interactions and, for the point of the KaizenBiz chat, business practices. The same devices that are introducing more distractibility and shorter attention spans are also allowing people to collaborate without being physically in the same place  as well as in emerging markets to connect with their customers more directly. As you are reading this post, you are probably thinking of a multitude of ways the digital world benefits you personally and professionally.

But when do we call it quits, how long and why?

It isn’t so much giving up the devices altogether (although Baratunde Thurston shut himself off for 25 days) and that may be a nearly an impossibility in the business world. The intriguing thing about the #Unplug focus on Fast Company is the questions about unintended consequences.

  • We are positively reinforcing ourselves to stay connected at all hours of the day every day and rewiring our brain to crave that stimulation
  • We might be Unplug History" href="" target="_blank">weakening our creativity
  • We are fighting our own biology
  • We might be inadvertently choosing to damage our health and our job performance
  • We might create an inordinate amount of stress for ourselves because we learn to be intolerant of boredom, patience or delayed gratification

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that the digital world is inherently a source of danger or evil. I am a proponent of social networking and the ability to integrate my work life and my personal life. But like the focus on Fast Company, it makes sense to apply some critical thinking to our work and lifestyle choices. Perhaps it makes sense to design consciously how we participate in the digital world.

Why do we accept that we must keep connected to our smartphones, tablets and other devices?

How do you evaluate the pros and cons of staying connected vs unplugging?

How could collaboration change if we unplugged ourselves for a designated time each week?

Great question borrowed from Fast Company…what do you miss about life before the digital age?