Office workers working at their desktops and looking at their computer screens, coding. Software jobs.

Over the last few days I have noticed a trend. It’s not anti-technology and it’s not anti-business but it feels as if people are slowly turning onto the fact that our obsessive pursuit of connectivity and technology devices may have a down side.

Yesterday, at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, for which we did the event PR (see this great piece), a great variety of solutions were on show that allow organizations to tap into and take advantage of the wealth of information and expertise that exists online, while liberating them from legacy communication and productivity tools like email.  They promise huge competitive advantages in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility and it’s a fascinating area for sure.

However, the first session I joined was called ‘The Dark Side of Enterprise 2.0′, and was hosted by Alcaltel-Lucent’s Greg Lowe and Kathleen Culver. The presentation talked about the downsides of our always-on, always-connected lifestyles and how we should consider the negative potential this has for general happiness and well-being, but also for creativity, productivity, efficiency, sense of involvement etc.  Many of the things, ironically, that social media set out to for improve!

Then last night, I get home and turn the TV on to watch some DVR’d World Cup games (the only possible way to watch TV these days is to DVR out the 20 minutes of ads per hour… obviously), and there is a report on digital addiction. Scientists are recommending that people use the off buttons on their many devices to get some downtime, some lone time, some respite from the relentless pressure to be always contactable and responsive.

Psychiatrist Dr. Ned Hallowell is quoted, saying “Turn off the device, log off from your computer, set aside time to think, set aside time to talk with people you love. It’s a matter of taking back control that we’ve inadvertently taken away.”

And this morning , a colleague forwards me ‘Why I returned my iPad’ by Peter Bregman, which talks about how the iPad was so usable and delicious that he sent it back to Apple because it brought digital intrusion too far into his life!

In our household we have now started to be more mindful of this ‘digital intrusion.’ We noticed our kids complaining that we weren’t listening to them, weren’t giving them our undivided attention.  And we weren’t… because it’s usually fully divided – between them, the blackberry and the laptop!  So now we try to put computers and mobile devices away when we are home with the kids and be less divided.  It’s not that easy to do because everyone still expects you to answer your phone straight away or respond to that IM, Tweet or Text in milliseconds… but hopefully they’ll get used to it.

Meanwhile at work, we need to find ways to filter out all the crap that comes flying at us through email and other social technologies so that we are able to focus long enough to be intelligent and productive. Quick fixes might be to shut down email, IM and Tweetdecks for parts of the day so that one can think, imagine, be creative and concentrate. Getting people to get up and walk across the room to actually speak to someone, rather than send an email, is another.  Have meetings away from the computer so that email isn’t catching your eye – in the Summer go and brainstorm in the park!

Basically it’s time to go back to basics a bit when communicating and interacting with people and dig out some of those interpersonal skills that have been gathering dust!


This post was first published by Martin Jones on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.