Social Media Is Not The Death Of Meaningful Communication

Meghan M. Biro

It’s no secret that I am a fan of social media. And clearly I’m not alone. With 313 million Twitter users, there are a whole lot of conversations happening in 140 characters. But I would like to refute the notion that social media is completely to blame for the death of meaningful communication. In fact, I think it has opened doors that wouldn’t be open without these networks. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are great examples of platforms connecting people. Some relationships online are shallow, some are not—kind of like real life.

When I say meaningful communication, I mean authentic, two-way conversations that involve active listening, empathy and support. In my opinion, it’s an important element of a well-rounded life. You hear a lot of speculation that communication is becoming a lost art as younger generations speak through text and chat and other media. The University of Florida published an infographic that illustrates how to effectively communicate with Millennials in the workplace. (I wish Gen Z was part of the research as they are entering into the scene and also grew up a in a digital world, but I digress.) As far as communication, their research indicates that 59% communicate via mobile apps and 14% is face-to-face. Yes, that’s different than Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, but meaningful communication is still vital to their existence.

I want to acknowledge that social media has radically changed how we communicate, but I’m also somewhat defensive that it’s not completely to blame for cultural shifts away from the development of relationships. Here are five reasons social media is a catalyst for meaningful communication.

1. You can meet people who you would have never met.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a conference like HRTech and see someone who I’ve never met in real life and we greet each other with hugs and enthusiasm. Why? Because we’ve been friends on Twitter for years and are thrilled to see each other. We’ve never worked for the same company, lived in the same state or know each other’s families, but we have a relationship. During my #WorkTrends Twitter chats, people share authentic insights week after week, dropping what I call “Wisdom Bombs” and we come to respect each other. And global relationships are a whole different dimension. I have friends around the world that I may never meet, but I consider them friends, colleagues and even mentors.

2. Relationships can develop faster.

I remember those good ol’ college days, when we were all making acquaintances left and right. It was great fun. With the exception of the person who we shared a tiny dorm room with (talk about an expedited relationship), friendships were built over time. You’d meet a cool girl one night and not see her for months until you bump into her on the quad. We’d go to and from classes, taking diligent notes and not even knowing the name of the guy who sits in front of us. Social media allows people to build a relationship at a rapid speed (if both parties are interested). There is even a Wiki for how to maintain an online relationship. And I’m not really talking about dating, but some concepts are interchangeable among varied kinds of relationships.

3. Reconnecting is easier than ever before.

We won’t go down the stalking-of-exes rabbit hole here, but there are definitely people we’ve all lost touch with over the years and Facebook brought them back into our lives. When my good friend moved away in eighth grade, I thought I’d never see her again. Well, I see her every day now (online) and I feel connected to her as an adult living on the other side of the country. I have another friend who has built amazing relationships with her step-siblings that didn’t even know about her growing up. Facebook provided a platform for slow, steady and authentic communication that lead to in-person meetings and now annual reunions. Without social media, they would likely remain strangers.

4. Communication is more concise.

While not all communication is meant to be short, Twitter has forced a cultural shift towards getting straight to the point. It’s actually changed how people think. There literally isn’t room for fluff and filler. We self-edit more than ever before and it impacts communication. Yes, sometimes it’s a little blunt. Other times it seems disjointed. However, there are meaningful conversations happening on Twitter this moment. Back and forth, discussing topics that matter. And it’s not between Kanye and T-Swift.

5. Group conversations are easy.

Have you ever had an ad hoc dinner party with people who live in New York, Florida and London? If you have, that’s awesome. But it’s not easy. But social media allows us all to get together and chat. Whether we talk about leadership, politics or fashion trends, we can all weigh in and learn from each other. Like I said, I do this every Wednesday and it’s the highlight of my week. When I see my friend in the Bay area greet and learn from my friend in Paris, it’s a social high for me.

You’ll find articles galore and research on how social media has created anti-social monsters who don’t know how to meet friends in real life. Parents are dropping kids off at college as we speak, worried that they will hide in their dorm behind their phones. But I am here to say that social media does allow for meaningful communication. Trust me.

For strategies that tap the power of social media to grow your business, see 5 Ways To Engage Your Customers On Social Media.

Image: Shutterstock


About Meghan M. Biro

Meghan Biro is talent management and HR tech brand strategist, analyst, digital catalyst, author and speaker. I am the founder and CEO of TalentCulture and host of the #WorkTrends live podcast and Twitter Chat. Over my career, I have worked with early-stage ventures and global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google, helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. I have been a guest on numerous radio shows and online forums, and has been a featured speaker at global conferences. I am the co-author of The Character-Based Leader: Instigating a Revolution of Leadership One Person at a Time, and a regular contributor at Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and several other media outlets. I also serve on advisory boards for leading HR and technology brands.

Insight Matter: Disrupt The Workforce With Digital Transformation (Part 1)

Ursula Ringham

The state of talent in the digital age is lacking – the demand is outstripping the supply. Businesses are investing in technology (e.g., mobile, social, and AI) to have a competitive edge, but they are missing the story about talent. Companies know if they don’t invest, they will be left behind, but STEM-educated talent is in high demand. Soft skills (adaption, collaboration, innovation, willingness to change, and customer focus) are also in high demand and short supply.

These are some of the takeaways from our conversation on the Growth Matters Network with Mary Brandel of Forbes Insights. Mary discusses a report from Forbes Insights called “Competing for Talent in the Digital Age.” Mary emphases that the surge in digital transformation is disrupting the workforce. You can watch the video replay or listen to the podcast.

Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are competing for talent. They often fall short to large companies because of their brand name and signing bonus. Additionally, startups have a sexy component that offers excitement and tech incentives. SMBs are in the middle and need to emphasize that they offer great career opportunities and tech advancements.

Digital has disrupted a lot of businesses and now it’s HRs turn to adapt. Workers are expecting to find the same conveniences in their work life as they do in their personal life. A great example Mary gives is moving from paper to online options. If workers have to fill out a paper vacation request form, they’ll assume the company is stuck in the dark ages. This is just one example of a basic task that workers expect to be able to do online.

Companies that have adapted to HR tech are able to automate processes, which only makes them more effective and efficient. HR will become more of a collaborative business partner instead of a branch of the company.

SMBs are facing disadvantages when they have manual HR processes. If you are working with paper and spreadsheets, you’re working in isolation and lacking data to view the workforce. To remedy this antiquated process, SMBs have the advantage to begin using cloud technology because they don’t have as much to undo.

Plus, when they use the cloud, they’ll save money and also be better able compete with large companies, which gives them the opportunity to grow and scale.

As small businesses start to grow and scale, new talent comes in more quickly, which means the HR process needs to be streamlined. The report “Competing for Talent in the Digital Age” looks at NewTech, a satellite communications manufacturer that had HR challenges. They were relying on legacy HR systems: word processing systems and spreadsheets. To accelerate their growth by increasing their workforce by 20%, they needed to make changes to compete for new talent. They used cloud capabilities to automate recruitment, which allowed them to search resumes and partner with third-party hiring agencies to expand their range of candidates.

NewTech saw success using this process because they found new talent to interview more quickly. If they hadn’t used the cloud technology, they wouldn’t have been able to make offers as quickly – they would have been manually reading every application instead.

Another success story from “Competing for Talent in the Digital Age” is Impacts Laboratory, an international pharmaceuticals firm. Its HR business process saw challenges in the gaps between workers and HR information. Additionally, there was a disconnect between the managers working with their employees. As SMBs begin to expand, gaps can occur very quickly. Impacts Laboratory began using a cloud-based talent management platform to bring data together and close the barriers between where workforce data was being stored. This allowed upper management to see the data, make goals, see where talent holes needed to be filled, and increase employee engagement.

Download the “Competing for Talent in the Digital Age” report. To watch more episodes like this, visit

This article originally appeared on Growth Matters Network.


About Ursula Ringham

Ursula Ringham isthe Director of Digital Marketing at SAP. She manages social media and digital marketing strategy for the small and midsize business community. She was recently recognized as one of 15 Women Who Rock Social Media at Top Tech Companies. Prior to SAP, Ursula worked at Adobe and Apple in their Developer Relations organizations. She managed strategic accounts, developer programs, edited a technical journal, managed content for an entire website, and wrote and taught course curriculum. In her spare time, Ursula writes thriller novels about the insidious side of Silicon Valley.

Regional Teams: A Key Player In Successful Global Digital HR Strategies

René Zigterman

Part 5 of “HR-Driven Digital Transformation” series

Culture is a powerful, unifying force for every business. Its sheer strength can influence everything from productivity growth and talent retention to open performance conversations and meaningful personal development. As a continuous experience that extends across every touch point at work, employees should feel like they’re never forgotten, their best interests are always considered, and their long-term goals are actively supported.

However, it seems that no workforce culture is strong enough to achieve such a strong employee-employer relationship. Throughout Gallup News’ decade-long research, very rarely has global employee engagement ticked past the 15% mark. Plus, it was recently revealed that only five percent of employees with 10 years or more in tenure are engaged.

By now, HR leaders and the executives they support are well-aware that employee engagement is a pervasive issue that needs to be tackled. So where’s the disconnect? For global companies, the answer is unlikely about whether the HR strategy is wrong. Instead, it’s a matter of how it’s rolled out to each individual region.

Global engagement depends heavily on regional perspectives

The development and acceptance of digitally driven habits have profoundly changed how businesses operate, when people engage with each other, and what consumers value and expect. As the adoption of mobile devices and Internet access continues to accelerate, digital services are now the bare minimum of what people at all stages of life expect as employees and consumers.

However, there’s a myth that the more digital our world becomes, the more people will behave similarly globally. The IDC research report HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors, noted that “the most dangerous way to approach the disruption caused by digital transformation is to apply the same processes and strategies that were relevant in the past.”

While IDC’s observation is good advice, I would like to take that thought a step further: applying the same methods used in other regions can be equally – if not more – dangerous too. I came to this realization recently after talking to a customer that manufactures its products worldwide with large entities in North America, Europe, and Asia. What I learned from that experience are the five fundamentals in a regional rollout of digital HR transformation. These apply to any business, large or small, looking to expand internationally:

  • Communicate precisely how the company envisions the future of the business, HR, and the region, and what local teams can do to support it
  • Identify region- and culture-specific bottlenecks that need to be addressed before taking action
  • Treat the talent needs of each geographic area – such as work/life balance, pay equality, benefits, and professional development – as unique requirements and create a customized plan to act
  • Engage each regional office to help modify the global HR strategy to address local cultural norms and legal and social regulations, while staying aligned with the overall business vision
  • Put HR transformation at the center of your evolving business with your regional talent leading the change

Digital HR success requires a balance of respect for the company’s global and regional DNA

A global HR strategy is essential for a successful transformation project because it provides the foundation for lower complexity and higher standardization. However, this is only the first step in a long journey. HR leadership must also modify the global strategy and lay a flexible, yet structured and process-driven foundation that can handle the unique needs of each region. It also needs the right tools to support the vision of the new role HR must play, one that respects local laws and habits and, with that, the society and employees located in each specific country.

Find out the five key trends and actions that can help businesses of all sizes address the challenges of digital transformation and the development of the HR organization. Read the IDC interactive report “HR Must Deliver on Transformation,” sponsored by SAP SuccessFactors. And don’t forget to check our blog series “HR-Driven Digital Transformation” to explore what these findings can mean for your company.


René Zigterman

About René Zigterman

Hindrik Jan (René) Zigterman is Vice President and Head of Business Development and Center of Excellence (Middle and Eastern Europe) at SAP SuccessFactors. He is responsible for driving sales programs to secure midterm growth and cross-pollinating new innovative demand management programs such as incubation programs for new products and segmentations. René started in 1995 at SAP AG as developer and product manager for SAP human capital management (HCM) solution. In 2000, he moved in to the Benelux sales organization with positions in HCM and ERP. In 2007, René assumed a regional function, where he is driving business development for the business suite and strategic programs.

More Than Noise: Digital Trends That Are Bigger Than You Think

By Maurizio Cattaneo, David Delaney, Volker Hildebrand, and Neal Ungerleider

In the tech world in 2017, several trends emerged as signals amid the noise, signifying much larger changes to come.

As we noted in last year’s More Than Noise list, things are changing—and the changes are occurring in ways that don’t necessarily fit into the prevailing narrative.

While many of 2017’s signals have a dark tint to them, perhaps reflecting the times we live in, we have sought out some rays of light to illuminate the way forward. The following signals differ considerably, but understanding them can help guide businesses in the right direction for 2018 and beyond.

When a team of psychologists, linguists, and software engineers created Woebot, an AI chatbot that helps people learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for managing mental health issues like anxiety and depression, they did something unusual, at least when it comes to chatbots: they submitted it for peer review.

Stanford University researchers recruited a sample group of 70 college-age participants on social media to take part in a randomized control study of Woebot. The researchers found that their creation was useful for improving anxiety and depression symptoms. A study of the user interaction with the bot was submitted for peer review and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health in June 2017.

While Woebot may not revolutionize the field of psychology, it could change the way we view AI development. Well-known figures such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates have expressed concerns that artificial intelligence is essentially ungovernable. Peer review, such as with the Stanford study, is one way to approach this challenge and figure out how to properly evaluate and find a place for these software programs.

The healthcare community could be onto something. We’ve already seen instances where AI chatbots have spun out of control, such as when internet trolls trained Microsoft’s Tay to become a hate-spewing misanthrope. Bots are only as good as their design; making sure they stay on message and don’t act in unexpected ways is crucial.

This is especially true in healthcare. When chatbots are offering therapeutic services, they must be properly designed, vetted, and tested to maintain patient safety.

It may be prudent to apply the same level of caution to a business setting. By treating chatbots as if they’re akin to medicine or drugs, we have a model for thorough vetting that, while not perfect, is generally effective and time tested.

It may seem like overkill to think of chatbots that manage pizza orders or help resolve parking tickets as potential health threats. But it’s already clear that AI can have unintended side effects that could extend far beyond Tay’s loathsome behavior.

For example, in July, Facebook shut down an experiment where it challenged two AIs to negotiate with each other over a trade. When the experiment began, the two chatbots quickly went rogue, developing linguistic shortcuts to reduce negotiating time and leaving their creators unable to understand what they were saying.

Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

The implications are chilling. Do we want AIs interacting in a secret language because designers didn’t fully understand what they were designing?

In this context, the healthcare community’s conservative approach doesn’t seem so farfetched. Woebot could ultimately become an example of the kind of oversight that’s needed for all AIs.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that chatbots have great potential in healthcare—not just for treating mental health issues but for helping patients understand symptoms, build treatment regimens, and more. They could also help unclog barriers to healthcare, which is plagued worldwide by high prices, long wait times, and other challenges. While they are not a substitute for actual humans, chatbots can be used by anyone with a computer or smartphone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, regardless of financial status.

Finding the right governance for AI development won’t happen overnight. But peer review, extensive internal quality analysis, and other processes will go a long way to ensuring bots function as expected. Otherwise, companies and their customers could pay a big price.

Elon Musk is an expert at dominating the news cycle with his sci-fi premonitions about space travel and high-speed hyperloops. However, he captured media attention in Australia in April 2017 for something much more down to earth: how to deal with blackouts and power outages.

In 2016, a massive blackout hit the state of South Australia following a storm. Although power was restored quickly in Adelaide, the capital, people in the wide stretches of arid desert that surround it spent days waiting for the power to return. That hit South Australia’s wine and livestock industries especially hard.

South Australia’s electrical grid currently gets more than half of its energy from wind and solar, with coal and gas plants acting as backups for when the sun hides or the wind doesn’t blow, according to ABC News Australia. But this network is vulnerable to sudden loss of generation—which is exactly what happened in the storm that caused the 2016 blackout, when tornadoes ripped through some key transmission lines. Getting the system back on stable footing has been an issue ever since.

Displaying his usual talent for showmanship, Musk stepped in and promised to build the world’s largest battery to store backup energy for the network—and he pledged to complete it within 100 days of signing the contract or the battery would be free. Pen met paper with South Australia and French utility Neoen in September. As of press time in November, construction was underway.

For South Australia, the Tesla deal offers an easy and secure way to store renewable energy. Tesla’s 129 MWh battery will be the most powerful battery system in the world by 60% once completed, according to Gizmodo. The battery, which is stationed at a wind farm, will cover temporary drops in wind power and kick in to help conventional gas and coal plants balance generation with demand across the network. South Australian citizens and politicians largely support the project, which Tesla claims will be able to power 30,000 homes.

Until Musk made his bold promise, batteries did not figure much in renewable energy networks, mostly because they just aren’t that good. They have limited charges, are difficult to build, and are difficult to manage. Utilities also worry about relying on the same lithium-ion battery technology as cellphone makers like Samsung, whose Galaxy Note 7 had to be recalled in 2016 after some defective batteries burst into flames, according to CNET.

However, when made right, the batteries are safe. It’s just that they’ve traditionally been too expensive for large-scale uses such as renewable power storage. But battery innovations such as Tesla’s could radically change how we power the economy. According to a study that appeared this year in Nature, the continued drop in the cost of battery storage has made renewable energy price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

This is a massive shift. Or, as David Roberts of news site Vox puts it, “Batteries are soon going to disrupt power markets at all scales.” Furthermore, if the cost of batteries continues to drop, supply chains could experience radical energy cost savings. This could disrupt energy utilities, manufacturing, transportation, and construction, to name just a few, and create many opportunities while changing established business models. (For more on how renewable energy will affect business, read the feature “Tick Tock” in this issue.)

Battery research and development has become big business. Thanks to electric cars and powerful smartphones, there has been incredible pressure to make more powerful batteries that last longer between charges.

The proof of this is in the R&D funding pudding. A Brookings Institution report notes that both the Chinese and U.S. governments offer generous subsidies for lithium-ion battery advancement. Automakers such as Daimler and BMW have established divisions marketing residential and commercial energy storage products. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and General Electric are all experimenting with various electric propulsion systems for aircraft—which means that hybrid airplanes are also a possibility.

Meanwhile, governments around the world are accelerating battery research investment by banning internal combustion vehicles. Britain, France, India, and Norway are seeking to go all electric as early as 2025 and by 2040 at the latest.

In the meantime, expect huge investment and new battery innovation from interested parties across industries that all share a stake in the outcome. This past September, for example, Volkswagen announced a €50 billion research investment in batteries to help bring 300 electric vehicle models to market by 2030.

At first, it sounds like a narrative device from a science fiction novel or a particularly bad urban legend.

Powerful cameras in several Chinese cities capture photographs of jaywalkers as they cross the street and, several minutes later, display their photograph, name, and home address on a large screen posted at the intersection. Several days later, a summons appears in the offender’s mailbox demanding payment of a fine or fulfillment of community service.

As Orwellian as it seems, this technology is very real for residents of Jinan and several other Chinese cities. According to a Xinhua interview with Li Yong of the Jinan traffic police, “Since the new technology has been adopted, the cases of jaywalking have been reduced from 200 to 20 each day at the major intersection of Jingshi and Shungeng roads.”

The sophisticated cameras and facial recognition systems already used in China—and their near–real-time public shaming—are an example of how machine learning, mobile phone surveillance, and internet activity tracking are being used to censor and control populations. Most worryingly, the prospect of real-time surveillance makes running surveillance states such as the former East Germany and current North Korea much more financially efficient.

According to a 2015 discussion paper by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German research center, by the 1980s almost 0.5% of the East German population was directly employed by the Stasi, the country’s state security service and secret police—1 for every 166 citizens. An additional 1.1% of the population (1 for every 66 citizens) were working as unofficial informers, which represented a massive economic drain. Automated, real-time, algorithm-driven monitoring could potentially drive the cost of controlling the population down substantially in police states—and elsewhere.

We could see a radical new era of censorship that is much more manipulative than anything that has come before. Previously, dissidents were identified when investigators manually combed through photos, read writings, or listened in on phone calls. Real-time algorithmic monitoring means that acts of perceived defiance can be identified and deleted in the moment and their perpetrators marked for swift judgment before they can make an impression on others.

Businesses need to be aware of the wider trend toward real-time, automated censorship and how it might be used in both commercial and governmental settings. These tools can easily be used in countries with unstable political dynamics and could become a real concern for businesses that operate across borders. Businesses must learn to educate and protect employees when technology can censor and punish in real time.

Indeed, the technologies used for this kind of repression could be easily adapted from those that have already been developed for businesses. For instance, both Facebook and Google use near–real-time facial identification algorithms that automatically identify people in images uploaded by users—which helps the companies build out their social graphs and target users with profitable advertisements. Automated algorithms also flag Facebook posts that potentially violate the company’s terms of service.

China is already using these technologies to control its own people in ways that are largely hidden to outsiders.

According to a report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the popular Chinese social network WeChat operates under a policy its authors call “One App, Two Systems.” Users with Chinese phone numbers are subjected to dynamic keyword censorship that changes depending on current events and whether a user is in a private chat or in a group. Depending on the political winds, users are blocked from accessing a range of websites that report critically on China through WeChat’s internal browser. Non-Chinese users, however, are not subject to any of these restrictions.

The censorship is also designed to be invisible. Messages are blocked without any user notification, and China has intermittently blocked WhatsApp and other foreign social networks. As a result, Chinese users are steered toward national social networks, which are more compliant with government pressure.

China’s policies play into a larger global trend: the nationalization of the internet. China, Russia, the European Union, and the United States have all adopted different approaches to censorship, user privacy, and surveillance. Although there are social networks such as WeChat or Russia’s VKontakte that are popular in primarily one country, nationalizing the internet challenges users of multinational services such as Facebook and YouTube. These different approaches, which impact everything from data safe harbor laws to legal consequences for posting inflammatory material, have implications for businesses working in multiple countries, as well.

For instance, Twitter is legally obligated to hide Nazi and neo-fascist imagery and some tweets in Germany and France—but not elsewhere. YouTube was officially banned in Turkey for two years because of videos a Turkish court deemed “insulting to the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” father of modern Turkey. In Russia, Google must keep Russian users’ personal data on servers located inside Russia to comply with government policy.

While China is a pioneer in the field of instant censorship, tech companies in the United States are matching China’s progress, which could potentially have a chilling effect on democracy. In 2016, Apple applied for a patent on technology that censors audio streams in real time—automating the previously manual process of censoring curse words in streaming audio.

In March, after U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News, “I think maybe I wouldn’t be [president] if it wasn’t for Twitter,” Twitter founder Evan “Ev” Williams did something highly unusual for the creator of a massive social network.

He apologized.

Speaking with David Streitfeld of The New York Times, Williams said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Entrepreneurs tend to be very proud of their innovations. Williams, however, offers a far more ambivalent response to his creation’s success. Much of the 2016 presidential election’s rancor was fueled by Twitter, and the instant gratification of Twitter attracts trolls, bullies, and bigots just as easily as it attracts politicians, celebrities, comedians, and sports fans.

Services such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are designed through a mix of look and feel, algorithmic wizardry, and psychological techniques to hang on to users for as long as possible—which helps the services sell more advertisements and make more money. Toxic political discourse and online harassment are unintended side effects of the economic-driven urge to keep users engaged no matter what.

Keeping users’ eyeballs on their screens requires endless hours of multivariate testing, user research, and algorithm refinement. For instance, Casey Newton of tech publication The Verge notes that Google Brain, Google’s AI division, plays a key part in generating YouTube’s video recommendations.

According to Jim McFadden, the technical lead for YouTube recommendations, “Before, if I watch this video from a comedian, our recommendations were pretty good at saying, here’s another one just like it,” he told Newton. “But the Google Brain model figures out other comedians who are similar but not exactly the same—even more adjacent relationships. It’s able to see patterns that are less obvious.”

A never-ending flow of content that is interesting without being repetitive is harder to resist. With users glued to online services, addiction and other behavioral problems occur to an unhealthy degree. According to a 2016 poll by nonprofit research company Common Sense Media, 50% of American teenagers believe they are addicted to their smartphones.

This pattern is extending into the workplace. Seventy-five percent of companies told research company Harris Poll in 2016 that two or more hours a day are lost in productivity because employees are distracted. The number one reason? Cellphones and texting, according to 55% of those companies surveyed. Another 41% pointed to the internet.

Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, argues that many product designers for online services try to exploit psychological vulnerabilities in a bid to keep users engaged for longer periods. Harris refers to an iPhone as “a slot machine in my pocket” and argues that user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers need to adopt something akin to a Hippocratic Oath to stop exploiting users’ psychological vulnerabilities.

In fact, there is an entire school of study devoted to “dark UX”—small design tweaks to increase profits. These can be as innocuous as a “Buy Now” button in a visually pleasing color or as controversial as when Facebook tweaked its algorithm in 2012 to show a randomly selected group of almost 700,000 users (who had not given their permission) newsfeeds that skewed more positive to some users and more negative to others to gauge the impact on their respective emotional states, according to an article in Wired.

As computers, smartphones, and televisions come ever closer to convergence, these issues matter increasingly to businesses. Some of the universal side effects of addiction are lost productivity at work and poor health. Businesses should offer training and help for employees who can’t stop checking their smartphones.

Mindfulness-centered mobile apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Forest offer one way to break the habit. Users can also choose to break internet addiction by going for a walk, turning their computers off, or using tools like StayFocusd or Freedom to block addictive websites or apps.

Most importantly, companies in the business of creating tech products need to design software and hardware that discourages addictive behavior. This means avoiding bad designs that emphasize engagement metrics over human health. A world of advertising preroll showing up on smart refrigerator touchscreens at 2 a.m. benefits no one.

According to a 2014 study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, approximately 6% of the world’s population suffers from internet addiction to one degree or another. As more users in emerging economies gain access to cheap data, smartphones, and laptops, that percentage will only increase. For businesses, getting a head start on stopping internet addiction will make employees happier and more productive. D!

About the Authors

Maurizio Cattaneo is Director, Delivery Execution, Energy, and Natural Resources, at SAP.

David Delaney is Global Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, SAP Health.

Volker Hildebrand is Global Vice President for SAP Hybris solutions.

Neal Ungerleider is a Los Angeles-based technology journalist and consultant.

Read more thought provoking articles in the latest issue of the Digitalist Magazine, Executive Quarterly.



The “Purpose” Of Data

Timo Elliott

I’ve always been passionate about the ability of data and analytics to transform the world.

It has always seemed to me to be the closest thing we have to modern-day magic, with its ability to conjure up benefits from thin air. Over the last quarter century, I’ve had the honor of working with thousands of “wizards” in organizations around the world, turning information into value in every aspect of our daily lives.

The projects have been as simple as Disney using real-time analytics to move staff from one store to another to keep lines to a minimum: shorter lines led to bigger profits (you’re more likely to buy that Winnie-the-Pooh bear if there’s only one person ahead of you), but also higher customer satisfaction and happier children.

Or they’ve been as complex as the Port of Hamburg: constrained by its urban location, it couldn’t expand to meet the growing volume of traffic. But better use of information meant it was able to dramatically increase throughput – while improving the life of city residents with reduced pollution (less truck idling) and fewer traffic jams (smart lighting that automatically adapts to bridge closures).

I’ve seen analytics used to figure out why cheese was curdling in Wisconsin; count the number of bubbles in Champagne; keep track of excessive fouls in Swiss soccer, track bear sightings in Canada; avoid flooding in Argentina; detect chewing-gum-blocked metro machines in Brussels; uncover networks of tax fraud in Australia; stop trains from being stranded in the middle of the Tuscan countryside; find air travelers exposed to radioactive substances; help abused pets find new homes; find the best people to respond to hurricanes and other disasters; and much, much more.

The reality is that there’s a lot of inefficiency in the world. Most of the time it’s invisible, or we take it for granted. But analytics can help us shine a light on what’s going on, expose the problems, and show us what we can do better – in almost every area of human endeavor.

Data is a powerful weapon. Analytics isn’t just an opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits – it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place.

So to paraphrase a famous world leader, next time you embark on a new project:

“Ask not what you can do with your data, ask what your data can do for the world.”

What are your favorite “magical” examples, where analytics helped create win/win/win situations?

Download our free eBook for more insight on How the Port of Hamburg Doubled Capacity with Digitization.

This article originally appeared on Digital Business & Business Analytics.


Timo Elliott

About Timo Elliott

Timo Elliott is an Innovation Evangelist for SAP and a passionate advocate of innovation, digital business, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He was the eighth employee of BusinessObjects and for the last 25 years he has worked closely with SAP customers around the world on new technology directions and their impact on real-world organizations. His articles have appeared in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, ZDNet, The Guardian, and Digitalist Magazine. He has worked in the UK, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Silicon Valley, and currently lives in Paris, France. He has a degree in Econometrics and a patent in mobile analytics.