Recently I joined a gathering at some friends’ house and observed their four-year-old daughter playing with her mother’s tablet. Caught up, she was giving her full attention to a special cartoon for children – very nicely animated and requiring a lot of interaction from its little audience.
“Clearly a member of the new generation of digital natives,” I thought while watching her dancing to the music, singing along to the tune, and repeating vocabulary in English, Italian, and Spanish like the show’s protagonists. Her parents told me that a lot of children at the local kindergarten use mobile devices, and that it’s thought that the kids will benefit from it once entering school.
Their little daughter is a very lively and chatty little person and the kind of child who has answers to all questions – trust me… When occupied with her mobile device, though, she is completely disconnected from her surroundings and almost seems like a completely different child.
Now, one could argue that this is how children absorb their environment. However, I am starting to wonder whether the children of today are missing certain important social aspects of our world. Of course, every age group is skeptical toward succeeding generations’ new technological changes and innovations. Would you have imagined 10 years ago that a swipe on a display would represent a partnership or purchasing decision or turn the page in a book?
However, having observed this (r)evolution for a while now, I have been wondering: Don’t we expect our fellow human beings – our coworkers, service providers, etc. – to focus on communication more than ever? Don’t we picture this as THE ultimate unique selling argument when talking about digitalization and its impact on the future workplace? Don’t we try to multiply our common knowledge by sharing our individual learnings? And is this really supported by isolating parts of our social life, of growing up, and of our own development, given that we can do more and more things completely independent of time, place, and social partners? Interestingly, studies state that soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving will be more important than ever in a digitized world.
As said, I am fully aware of all the improvements and (r)evolution brought by technological innovation and experience its benefits daily. At work, I am free to decide where I take my calls, when I answer my emails, and when I spend my time at the office because of the flexibility innovative devices and new technologies bring me. In my leisure time, I enjoy checking out virtual recommendations for restaurants, hotels, and entertainment and using apps to ease daily life.
Don’t get me wrong: We are living in a digitized (and digitalized) world, and I would not want to dial back. Still, sometimes I wish we would keep ownership of how we use, choose, and share today’s technological offerings and options. Does it make us happier if we post a picture before enjoying a delicious meal, is every experience only real when shared on social media, and how many of our 300 virtual “friends” would we call at 3 in the morning?
We in Generation X are the parents, grandparents, teachers, employers, and deciders who connect the dots between enjoying the achievements and living in relaxed denial when it comes to total subjection to technology. So, let’s make sure we pass on that friends, emotions, “likes,” and experiences are not only virtual currency but also integral and tangible essences of every human interaction.
And thinking about my friend’s daughter, the next present I will give her is a box of colored chalk and my time to help her decorate the neighbor’s (indeed boring) gateway. He could really use a bright, colorful experience!
If we want to retain humanity’s value in an increasingly automated world, we need to start recognizing and nurturing Human Skills for the Digital Future.