It’s a small world — this oft used metaphorical exclamation came true in the literal sense when electronic communication took the world by storm. Technology has shrunk the world by expanding the reach. Internet has been the single most significant development in information and communication flow. To our millennials, what people did before the Internet came into lives, is baffling. The modern technology has not only impacted lifestyles but has also brought in cataclysmic changes to business, communities and social lives of millions of people across the world.
Virtual substitute for life
Many multi-billion dollar enterprises emerged in the last two decades and many traditional (read: non-technology oriented) industries have been completely upended. It is important to keep in perspective that Google, as a company, is not even 20 years old and Facebook started its operations only in 2004. Though they are very young businesses, the impact they have made is phenomenal. Both companies have virtually taken over professional and social lives of people.
The advent of smart-phones, as the marketers claim, brought the world to the pockets. E-commerce and m-commerce fundamentally changed the buying habits of consumers that were formed over several decades. Twitter feeds ensure that news reaches the readers in seconds. Social media helps people keep in touch with friends and families. Tomes are written about the positive impact of technology for the advancement of mankind. The enormous productivity gain and the wealth creation since the advent of communication technology is impressive, to say the least. While on one hand, people say the Internet is pretty powerful, its detractors say it is purely pointless. Whatever the opinion, one cannot deny that it has become a complete substitute for life!
Blurring of professional and personal
But while it is fun for many, it does not bode well to be constantly checking for mails, especially work mails. Many modern day knowledge workers feel they are perpetually at work, because they are tethered to their smart-phones. They feel pressured to respond to mails from their supervisors and customers over weekends and even vacations.
The boundary line between work and personal life has blurred, with significant consequences to the individual, family, organisation and society at large. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. Working continuously without time for rest, relaxation, family and physical exercise can result in a burnout. Global organisations are recognising these issues and are placing restrictions on employees accessing mails and work-related matters after working hours or during holidays. Companies like Volkswagen, Puma and BMW have clear policies on this. German and French Governments are even enacting labour laws to govern these practices.
Organisations today have a social media strategy and their CEOs are in the forefront leading this initiative. They extensively use social media tools to engage both with their customers and employees. There are many corporate chieftains who are active on twitter and respond quickly to any customer grievances. This is obviously a welcome step and is representative of a responsive organisation. This is soon turning into a business, imperative in the 24/7 media cycle which calls for quick responses.
Should you, should you not?
So, the question is, do we need to be connected all the time to be successful in today’s business world? Is the fastest finger first an important success factor? The answer, for certain, is not at all. There will always be emergencies, which call for here and now responses, but if a business is all about fire-fighting, then you need to ask serious questions about the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of such an enterprise.
Stephen Covey beautifully illustrates this using the four quadrant approach. He says people will spend their time perennially in urgent and important issues if they have not upfront invested time in adequate planning (important, but not urgent quadrant).
The legendary investor Warren Buffett, CEO of Hathway Berkshire, a company with revenues of $195 billion and employee strength of over 300,000 is an extreme example of very limited technology usage. Warren Buffet is a voracious reader and devours six newspapers a day to keep himself abreast of developments across the world; but he is a quintessential hardcopy person. He uses computer more to play a game of bridge and has apparently sent only one email in his career! He does not carry the latest smart-phone and still uses an obsolete cell phone. When queried about this habit, he remarked that this approach gives him time to reflect and think before making major decisions, since he is not distracted by ever beeping cell phones or social media updates that require instant responses.
In my professional life, I have known of few senior executives who don’t carry smart-phones, or use their mobile phones only for voice calls and text messages. They have specific time allocated to check their mails and their responses are well thought through and comprehensive. These people are very successful executives, responsible for large business enterprises with thousands of people working under their leadership. Talk about a classic case of taking advantage of technology but not succumbing to it.
Moderation is the key
The Internet has brought the world closer indeed, but in the process, has alienated families. Before the earth becomes a monotonous, mundane planet, people have to figure out ways to be in touch when need be or disengage with technology when not required.
As Gautama Buddha said, ‘Follow the middle path and have a golden mean’. Use of technology is essential in the modern world of business and commerce, but only in moderation. Human beings are not designed to work continuously or be available on call all the time. We need to have a balanced and holistic life.
All of us deserve to take periodic breaks from the all-powerful and pervasive technology.
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