For those of you who’d like to learn more about what happened at our The Always-On Con event in London last week, read on for the details.

Last week’s ‘The Always-On Con’ event brought to light that the average human’s attention span is becoming comparable to that of … oh look, a squirrel! The suggestion was that our attention is shrinking as our dependency on technology grows.

Despite the question of whether our attention spans are shrinking not having a conclusive answer, there is no denying we live in an era of social technologies. The Internet has lured 3.58 billion users worldwide, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp handle 60-billion messages a day, and China is protecting its texting pedestrians with their very own ‘phone lane’. The popularity of an always-on culture has spread like wildfire into the hearts of offices, homes, schools, and in some cases, into the hands of crying toddlers.

As Anastasia Dedyukhina remarked at the event, attention is the ‘new currency’ in an always-on society. It not only lines the pockets of technology giants, but the more people and technology fight for our attention, the more it feeds our own ‘dopamine junkie’ habits. This prompts us to further invest our time, and money, in online activities – sometimes unconsciously. Websites and apps are designed to keep us on their platforms for as long as possible, and as a result, our brains are being impacted by the way we use technology.

Dedyukhina explained that our investment in technology has reached a stage where we have stopped trusting ourselves. We outsource our memory to devices, we Google map routes we’ve travelled a hundred times before and we check facts at the dinner table because we, as a society, have granted curiosity a life span of only ten minutes. And since memory is connected to both focus and creativity, we are at a risk of becoming both less attentive and creative. Technology is also guilty of offering us too much choice online, encouraging us to digitally procrastinate all to easily.

Julia Hobsbawm built upon Anastasia’s ideas, agreeing that hyper-connectivity is pervasive and that owning the fact we cannot trust what is true anymore is one way of dealing with the information overload. She suggested a ‘mixed economy of strategy’, including setting healthier expectations for others, and ourselves, as well as relearning how to socialise offline.

In her book ‘Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload’, Julia notes that ‘despite the infinite variety of messages that communication gives us, the ways we use words, pictures and other media are actually finite’ and ultimately, they offer inadequate communication in comparison to tangible experiences. She discussed this idea further at The Always-On Con debate, introducing her ‘hierarchy of communication’ model and expressing a need to move away from transactional communication in a bid to regain intimacy in a world full of broadcasted noise.

Building on the need for change, Bruce Daisley identified that the current productivity paradox is in itself basis enough for a reassessment of the current status quo. Despite having the world at our fingertips, UK productivity hasn’t increased in 10 years. Instead, people are working longer hours, complaining of exhaustion and suffering from an increasing level of anxiety. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who believes that ‘being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success’ and that working 130 hours week is not only possible but necessary, advocates this behaviour – some of us are not so convinced.

Luckily, Daisley recommended we take a leaf out of Charles Dickens’ book instead. The author created 15 novels and over 200 short stories, all whilst refusing to work an afternoon. The important takeaway from this is that “when we stop and rest properly, we’re not paying a tax on creativity,” Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writes “we’re investing in it.”

Encouraging regular rest is the equal responsibility of both the individual and the employer. This is especially true in an age where more and more individuals convince themselves that answering emails at the weekend is a sign of loyalty to their place of work (Dedyukhina). Daisley noted on the night that emails are the principle issue in the modern workplace. He described our excessive inbox cleansing as a subconscious means of bringing gamification into our work – behaviour that has made us both shallow and increasingly stressed. The sheer volume of emails that require no action from the recipient amplifies this stress, since the ever-growing number of unread messages makes us believe our workload is more than it actually is.

Although trivial, Daisley recommends removing the unread email indicator altogether, or as a more extreme measure, deleting your emails as they come in. The first recommendation of freeing your inbox from the little mocking number means we can begin to focus on the work at hand, rather than stressing about the unread messages waiting for us on tab one of our internet browser. From this small action alone, emails become a source of information that can be accessed when needed, not when prompted. The second line of thought stems from the belief that if something is really important it will always come back. You’re not going to miss the important stuff but your junk mail will end up exactly where it’s meant to be – in the junk folder. Give it a go and see if it makes a difference to your working day.

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When we say we were sold a dream, we’re referring to the promise of what a future of hyper-connectivity would deliver – a future of greater happiness, better social connectivity and productivity for the workforce. Instead, we’ve been absorbed into a minefield of data and left to concoct our own coping mechanisms in a bid to enjoy living in the offline world again. We’ve been blind-sided and robbed off our lunches, weekends and downtime.

The point of the live debate wasn’t to draw any definitive conclusion and, as such, none were on the night. However, it was agreed by the panel that there is enough evidence to prompt a reassessment of the current status quo. We say it’s about time.

The debate continues on Twitter: @WFI_Europe

Our panellists are on Twitter too:

 

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