The Curse of the “Alone Together”​ Phenomenon.

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Date.October 1, 2018 Category. Learning Views.264 Comments.0

Last night, my husband and I watched Oscar-Winning Documentarian, Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine. It is a fascinating but mostly unflattering look at the complex persona of Jobs. As a veteran of Chiat/Day I was very familiar with the stories of the complex nature of Jobs, which as Bob Belleville, Director of Engineering for Macintosh aptly stated could not be ignored, Whether cruel or kind, just or unjust, and regardless of his intentions, Jobs left those around him deeply changed.

Persona aside, what struck both of us was the underlying theme of the dichotomy between the intent of Apple products versus the end behavior the technology is fostering. Apple’s intent was to create products that were an extension of ourselves, that allowed us to express ourselves in new ways, connect with others, and gave us the freedom to create. But, while that is certainly how people use Apple products, we can also see how our behavior with our machines is morphing into something less appealing. This behavior is what Professor Sherry Turkle — who studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication at MIT — so aptly describes as, The alone together phenomenon, which is an all too familiar sight these days.

Pew Research confirms the alone together phenomenon is becoming a curse, creating real issues of stress, feelings of being overwhelmed, and the inability to form strong interpersonal relationships. In fact, from personal conversations and observation, I believe certain skills, particularly verbal and non verbal communication, are being diminished in direct proportion to the time spent alone with our tech. And, whether you like it or not, the ‘alone together’ phenomenon is increasingly a cross generational issue affecting everyone and all aspects of our everyday lives and work environments.

How Do We Re-balance Our Behavior?

We all love our devices. They are of great help to us and have enabled real cultural and social change. But, we also cannot deny that our tech-centric tendencies often drive our behavior more than our human-centric tendencies. And, that dramatic shift from human to tech now needs some rebalancing. While not explicitly stated, Jobs offers a solution to the underlying societal issues we now face due to our changing relationship and behavior with technology.

The potential solution is illuminated during the discussion of two strong influences in Steve Job’s life — Ram Dass’s 1971 book, Be Here Now and the Zen Monks. While Steve Jobs looked to these influencers for insight into enlightenment, it struck me they also give us insight into the fundamental issue we, as humans, face right now — our ability to put down our devices and be present for each other. Jobs was capable of being laser focused, present, and communicating with great clarity. Skills we are rapidly losing — or not even learning. How did Steve re-balance his mind? He did it through his capacity to, as Alex Gibney describes, Inspect and explore his mind and change the way it worked. And, for me, that statement pointed to a potential answer for our dilemma. But, how do the rest of us develop this capacity without having to take the journey to enlightenment?

Know Your Own Mind and Change The Way It Works.

We do so by understanding how our brains work, knowing our own minds, and changing our behavior by reconnecting and improving our so called soft skills — our critical human-centric life skills — verbal and nonverbal communication, collaboration, negotiating, critical and creative thinking, solution finding and decision-making. These skills provide us with the foundation to re-balance our behavior, and become more present and inter-personal human beings.

5 Actions To Help Re-Balance The Equation:

1) Admit to ourselves that our true skills do not lie in how well we can use technology, or how quickly we can access information, or how many likes and followers we can amass on our social media platforms.

2) Recognize our true skills lie in how well we behave with others, how well we bring out the best in others through mutual respect, trust, collaboration, and creatively solving the challenges we face in our everyday lives, business, our culture and the world at large.

3) Strive to move ourselves forward by reaching for the best version of ourselves and by helping others around us become better too through meaningful connection and mentorship.

4) Make personal development and lifewide learning a priority, both as individuals, and as leaders responsible for cultivating the next generation.

5) Be open to exploring new ways to move ourselves forward and create cultures and environments that combine our digital mindset with our humanity.

Let’s commit to the ideal Jobs often stated, It’s technology married with liberal arts, and the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.

Let’s inspect and explore our minds and improve (even change) the way we think, do, and lead. Let’s be the most informed, most empathetic, and respectful 21st Century human beings we can be, so we can all move forward. Deal?

Gaynor Strachan Chun is CEO of SM+ART: the science+art of brainpower, a company that combines the best of tech, applied neuroscience, media, creativity, and cultural narratives to help people grow, find the best version of themselves and put that best self into action in their everyday lives, at work, and in their communities. SM+ART’s first digital product is in its pilot stage. Go to http://www.mymntr.com to move yourself forward.

Gaynor Strachan Chun is Co-Founder of TCoY: The Culture of You. A company focused on helping youth, young adults, and the next generation of leaders develop the skills needs to better navigate life’s big transition and our changing culture and workplace. To do so, we create and curate, self-directed learning courses, interactive curriculum for education platforms and professional development labs/workshops for workplaces. TCoY is an inter-generational, inter-disciplinary, diverse team with extensive expertise in media, entertainment, youth studies, and graduate education.

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