Why the technological revolution has turned us into slaves - Greg Wright

Jason Stockwood believes business should be conducted with a human face Picture: Marisa Cashill
Jason Stockwood believes business should be conducted with a human face Picture: Marisa Cashill
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WE live in an era of information overload.

If you’re reading this on the train (assuming it has turned up) take a look at the people around you.

There’s a very good chance they are glued to their phone or some other handheld device, feverishly swiping and tapping in order to keep pace with the unforgiving rhythm of digital life.

Apart from dealing a near lethal blow to the priceless art of conversation, the technological revolution has turned us into slaves. We can never retreat into a private world of calm reflection. Everything, it seems, must be public and shared.

Whenever I speak to business leaders they invariably complain about the large number of young people who do not have the “soft” skills (that’s good manners, the ability to listen etc) required for the modern workplace.

These problems seem to have been exacerbated by the rise of social media. What employers in all sectors are looking for is somebody who knows how to use plain English, turns up on time and enjoys being part of a team.

If your life is anchored in the virtual world, these qualities can soon wither and die. I remember meeting a group of journalism students who loved using Twitter and Instagram but recoiled in horror at the prospect of actually meeting people face to face or chatting over the phone in order to build a rapport with an interviewee.

The Prince’s Trust has warned that a crisis is looming in Yorkshire because local employers are struggling to recruit young people with the right skills.

The Futures at Stake 2020 report concluded that more than half of employers in Yorkshire said they were struggling to recruit people with the qualities their organisation needs.

More than half of the 16 to 30 year olds who were quizzed as part of the survey said they left school with academic achievements but very few soft skills that were relevant for work.

And whose fault is that? There’s not much point in having 20,000 Instagram followers if you don’t know how to sustain a conversation or fail to understand the workplace dress code. Perhaps we collectively need to kick against the machine. Over time, I believe our obsession with mobile technology will be regarded as being just as harmful as smoking.

Reading the Prince’s Trust report brought back memories of a conversation I had with the Yorkshire-born businessman Jason Stockwood, a global corporate leader who believes we should hold the whip hand over technology.

In his book - Reboot: A Blueprint for Happy, Human Business in the Digital Age - he makes a passionate plea for business to be conducted with a human face.

“Technology needs to be a force for good, ” he said “It needs to be a tool rather than a taskmaster. “People are blindly accepting this AI (artificial intelligence) revolution which will do away with swathes of jobs and disrupt society. It’s in our gift to try and articulate what the new society should be as a result of that.”

“As a technologist, people might be surprised to hear that our kids weren’t allowed technology until they were five,’’ Mr Stockwood added. “In our business, even as a tech business, if you come to a meeting you can’t bring technology.”

Mr Stockwood’s opinions carry weight because he has been at the heart of the technological revolution for the last two decades, holding leadership roles at Lastminute.com, match.com, Skyscanner and Travelocity.

He still believed that face to face interactions are vital elements of any company’s life.

He added: “I leave my mobile phone near the door at home, so it doesn’t follow me around the house. There’s a lost generation of kids who are obsessed about creating an appearance that has no tangible relation to reality.

“There’s also a lost generation who are losing their core social skills and the ability to relate to individuals.”

Most bosses I know would endorse these sentiments. The long term economic damage caused by our obsession with social media will be immense.

We need to turn off our phones, and re-connect with our friends and colleagues.