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When Digital Becomes Your Enemy

The global digital divide is well entrenched and for all of us folks on the digital side of the divide we tend to think our lives are enhanced by the digital functionality available to us everywhere and at all times.

We don't have time to stop and think about this because we're so busy buried in our digital lives.

I agree digital is a great enabler and the world has changed dramatically since the mid-1990s when the Internet started to become widely available to those of us with a PC and a dial-up modem.

I remember giving a presentation to the Learning & Development leadership of a large Telco around this time because I had been in San Francisco for a few months in 1996 and the Telco people thought that qualified me to give a talk on what the Internet actually meant for t's business.

I recall using the analogy of a person sitting at their desk and having a window in front of the desk that could literally and magically see the entire world and instantly discover all of the knowledge the human race had developed. Back then I hope it conveyed the concept of how the world would be forever changed when each of us had our window to everything the human race knows.

Coming back to early 2019, we're in complete awe of the digital world. So much in awe that some people actually sit at a dinner table glued to a mobile device oblivious to the conversation of their fellow diners.

Digital comes with a powerful corrupting capability and it's not something we all stop to think about.

Digital has an insatiable appetite for our time. It will take every second we give it and more. Have you thought about this? Do you feel you balance your digital and non-digital life?

Across the generations from the very young to the very old, digital has us in its spell.

We interact with such a vast library of content without any real limitations other than we do eventually need some sleep. Turn off the tablet as you realize how late it is and one of the first things you do the next morning is reach for that same mobile device.

Do you feel that we inherently control our lives?

With digital there are the regular sugar-hits when we land a great deal on a place to stay, catch the latest update from a friend, discover an interesting article, or have our groceries delivered. These are just a few of the small moments of pure utility that we’ve learned to confuse with power over our own lives.

In effect everything we do is tracked and sadly the tracking is often nefarious. That mobile digital device in your pocket, the PC on your office desk, the credit cards you use to procure the stuff you want, the car you drive, the Uber you hire, the airline that flies you to another city or country, the textual and streaming content you consume, the friends you follow and the Posts you publish.

We are all digital addicts, shackled to screens and captive to information that is now almost impossible to know whether it's real or fake. We devour content and are blinded to much of what is happening around and near to us. Even when family, friends and loved ones are clearly in need.

This phase of our digital evolution can't possibly be considered to be truly "life enhancing". Can it ?

Surely life-enhancing would mean digital is applied to empower us to lead more independent and fulfilling lives. It would mean we're progressively freed from the very mundane task of wrestling with uncooperative websites and Apps.

We're mired in a world of a myriad interfaces. All different, some with interfaces so obscure as to almost cause you to scream in frustration.

There's an incredible opportunity for a truly thought-leading company to create an environment where digital enhances the fundamental quality of our lives. Apple or Google or Amazon could apply their resources to this goal, although we'd probably all be much better off if Mozilla did this work. Digital + profit is a terrible combination. Just witness Facebook.

For all of us wallowing in our disparate digital lives, be sure to look up from that screen regularly and thoughtfully observe the conversations around you.

About the author:

For my work as a coach, I draw on 30 years in business, working with large corporates and pure startups, in Australia and all over the world including Asia. I've created companies, helped startups grow and I've helped people make the crucial decisions about their career direction.

Greg Twemlow is also the founder and director of SEVENmile Venture Lab, a for-purpose enterprise supporting the entrepreneurial community on Sydney’s northern beaches.