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25 January 2017

Is there a future without tech?

Written by: Sophie Bloxam, Account Director at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight, Technology

Young people – sorry millennials – have grown up with tech and expect it in every part of their current and future lives, so how could there be a future without tech? This is true, yet there seems to be a quiet Luddite’s rebellion against tech and the implications it can have on us as a society, with millennials becoming increasingly addicted.

A recent video by Simon Sinek about millennials in the workplace has gone viral as it spoke about some of the traits of millennials that many people can relate to, yet are surprised by. When he talked about tech and the way it affects young people, it struck a chord with me. He highlighted that millennials need instant gratification on social media and expect this in the workplace, leaving them disappointed when career progression takes time and patience. Working in communications I am surrounded by millennials, and while I see this trait to a degree, I think it depends on the person and the situation, and how certain tools are used to improve both communications and learning.

Many of the tools we use (Telegram, Basecamp, Wunderlist, Skype for Business, Workplace by Facebook and more) have millennials’ needs firmly in mind. For example, we use Workplace by Facebook for internal communications across the agency; to allow teams and individuals to message each other, share files and access across a range of platforms. It also allows people to give and receive instant feedback (or most commonly emojis and gifs) – something Sinek recognised that millennials expect. The entire team – particularly millennials – have quickly adapted to it, and we’re constantly updating guidelines for how to best use it, but we are also learning how to balance this with all the other tools we use help stay productive – and motivated – at work.

Sinek talked about addiction to smartphones, and while there is lots of evidence about this, it needs to be put into context, as it assumes that millennials are becoming slaves to their devices, which I really don’t think is the case. In communications, millennials feel the need to stay connected to what’s going on 24/7, and there’s a plethora of tools and platforms designed to empower them and personalise information they’re interested in. We all work hard, but I still think that people use tech to primarily improve their lives, not ruin it. However, my main concern on this topic is the need for everyone to take time to breathe and actually talk to each other – you can learn just as much, or even more.

I’m currently reading The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, which advises on how to manage all this data and most importantly to “live in the moment,” similarly to how Beyonce urges her fans to appreciate her concerts in real-time and stop watching her through a lens. Sinek emphasised that everyone should stop taking smartphones into meetings, even if they’re face down on the table – as its shows the people you’re meeting that they’re not important.

One of Sinek’s main points was about getting millennials’ attention. This is where I see a future where tech takes a back seat. I think it is millennials who find it hardest to give people ‘real’ time. Multitasking is something that arguably wastes time and costs money, so I urge everyone – not just millennials – to turn off your phone and find time to speak to colleagues – go for a walk outside or round the office (my MD @justinwestcott believes in 15 minute meetings to stay more productive). Relationships are what makes the world go round, and is ultimately what the communications industry is all about. I also suggest people take a regular digital detox from tech to help to “live in the moment.” I am guilty of always checking my smartphone and failed to disconnect much over Christmas, but I do try to do this on holiday for a few hours at a time.

So before we start turning off our smartphones, I think everyone needs to think about where the tech they use creates real value for them (e.g. my Amazon Echo will tell me if my train is on time to save me from waiting at the station), and whether the energy they spend using all their tech is actually a drain on their time. There are lots and lots of guides out there – some using tech and some not – and millennials must remember to put their head up, have regular breaks and live in the moment, it’s really not that bad.

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