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Human Uncertainty In The Technological Age

Written by: Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

A minefield which poses more questions than answers offered. Across the ages, we’ve endeavoured to advance, to challenge old ways, to create and innovate, visualise and materialise in the pursuit of an ever-evolving perception of progress. Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Director of Education, recently spoke of the importance of closing the skills gap. He emphasised that “An inspired, skilled generation of children and young people is critical for prosperity, progression, and the success of societies and economies”. How will that prosperity, progression and success be quantified and by whom will it truly be enjoyed, I ask?

Skills honed, with advancing knowledge and sharpening abilities, become the competencies which lead to heightened expertise and an anticipated better life for all. Our rhetoric shifts and terms are devised to harmonise and normalise emerging phenomena which aid our acceptance of new realities, heretofore considered unimaginable. The pace of change carries us on a wave at such speed that we fail to take time to assess, reassess, ask pertinent questions, find answers, embrace strategic foresight and recalibrate our direction as a species which must retain capacity to embrace worthwhile and enriching advancement while simultaneously remaining grounded in the sure-footedness of self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-reliance, empathy and compassion.


What plans are in the pipeline to meet the workplace demands of the future, effectively, while nurturing personal skills for wholesome living, outside of the workplace?


“We must ensure the right of young people to effective and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “That requires ramping up youth skills development while investing in Technical Vocational Education and Training, broadband connectivity, and digital skills.”


As an indicator of how Skills and Jobs are viewed on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda, 15 key facts around Training and Education in 2022 emerged:

Asking the Hard Questions – What Legacy are we Leaving our Young?


In light of the foregoing WEF agenda, let’s hold the following questions in mind as we delve deeper into the whole area of skilling, upskilling and deskilling in this post-Covid era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

  • For all our perceived advancement as a species, when we get past the hype around technology and its reported alignment with our success, present and future, is there an abundance denied mankind as a whole when viewed from the standpoint of equality of access to the wins of that advancement?

  • As an increasingly diverse workforce navigates emerging technologies and competes with fast advancing AI, is that workforce necessarily more empowered, effective and personally enriched than counterparts of yesteryear who worked in the absence of technology? Or, is effectiveness relative?

  • What constitutes the ‘skills gap’ and how does the modern day employer close the purpose gap among employees, thus retaining a competitive advantage in the human-led, technologically driven, workplace?

  • For all our tech savviness where are the metrics, aside from bottom-line profits of a few, which substantiate the much-lauded advancement for mankind due to technological advancement?

  • How do we optimistically roadmap advancement into an unknown, which as yet holds little proof of superior productivity, increased efficiency and high-performing economies?

(See article by Vinsel & Funk 2022)

  • Are we given to devising terms to cover a shifting encroachment on the value of the human and human endeavour in face of diminishing powers of personal self-reliance towards survival in a world of uncertainties?

  • In effect, is ‘employability’ fast emerging as the real casualty of the Tech era in what remains the human workplace?

Flawed Thinking: Questionable Foundations


In his work ‘Oversold and Underused’, Cuban (2009) critically analysed the use of Digital Technology in education, suggesting that it fails to deliver on its promises to enhance both pedagogical process and associated learning outcomes. Almost a decade later, this Stanford Professor Emeritus of Education holds strong in his opinion: ‘Since 2010, laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, smartphones, and a cornucopia of software have become ubiquitous. Yet has academic achievement improved as a consequence? Has teaching and learning changed? Has use of devices in schools led to better jobs? These are the basic questions that school Boards, policymakers, and administrators must ask. The answers to these questions are “no”, “no” and “probably not”‘


Today’s students are the workforce of tomorrow, a fact that must not be overlooked in our race to embrace all things digital. The timing, pace and extent of exposure to digital technology has implications for learning, concentration, initiative-taking, critical analysis and communication skills in the workplace. In bridging the worlds of education/training and outcomes evidenced most poignantly in the workplace, I would like to draw readers’ attention to two key papers, different but so highly inter-related in terms of input-output. Both endeavour to cause readers to pause, ask the hard questions and hopefully adjust practices to optimise real success.

In a study entitled: ‘Screen Schooled: two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber’, Clement & Miles (2018) argue that overuse of technology in education is detrimental to learning and overall health and wellbeing and produces students who lack focus, underperform in critical thinking skills and have diminished social skills due to reduced social interaction with peers and family. Do these findings ring true for you as a business owner, employer or C-Suite executive questioning engagement and productivity levels in your workplace? The prevalence of the myth that students benefit from digital learning, it has been argued, are attributable to three decades of marketing by technology companies, who profit largely from ‘research’ supporting the benefits of digital technology, despite a notable absence of peer-reviewed journals bolstering such claims. Senior scholars across several disciplines favour traditional approaches to learning e.g., pen and paper note-taking, and reading from printed material (in Butler, 2019). In referencing the OECD’s (2015) study ‘Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection’ which focussed on 15-year-old students who participated in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) a correlation emerges between increased use of Digital Technology in class and home, and negative effects on learning outcomes. Typing on a keyboard, for instance, impairs reading and writing and, in turn, learning and recall/memory.


Maryanne Wolf, author of ‘Reader Come Home’ urges the reader to understand what is nurtured or diminished in print -v- screen reading, with some thought-provoking questions: Will the next generation, adept in multitasking and quick access to multiple sources of knowledge, fail to fully develop their own “slower”, more demanding, deep reading processes, such as critical reasoning and perspective-taking, leaving them vulnerable to false information? Will the seemingly continuous distractions on digital mediums change the nature of attention in our youth, and thus disrupt their ability to concentrate and consolidate new information into memory? Finally, across every age will skimming become the “new norm” that short-circuits the time needed for inferential thinking, critical analysis, reflection and empathy – core elements of democracy?


We have arrived, I hear you say! What of the losses and the gains? What of the desired skills considered ‘effective’ by officialdom in preparing our youth for the workplace planned for them? Are we in fact more productive or less productive at the hands of technology?

“Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.” (Levintin, 2015, p. 96)

Evidence from the worlds of neuroscience and cognitive psychology shows the extent and effects on users of technology use and abuse. Levintin (2015) claims that the ability to undertake several tasks simultaneously is an illusion; human brains are ‘not wired to multitask well’ (Miller, 2012), instead 98% of us switch from one task to another rapidly, with a cognitive cost in terms of divided attention and resultant inefficiency and hampered productivity every time we do so.

The risks and unforeseen consequences of using Digital Technology for education, I suggest, is most poignantly evidenced in its aftermath in the workplace. Have you ever noticed how adolescents in college or the workplace are overconfident in their own abilities and present as knowing more than older, more experienced adults? Both adults and children fail to engage fully with Digital Technology-enabled learning, but adolescents’ brains are immature up to early 20’s. Kahneman (2012) wrote extensively on the brain’s System 1 and System 2; System 1 being the quick-thinking, emotional, wandering, easily distracted and impressionable brain while System 2 is the rational, analytic, concentrating, effort-demanding, ‘lazy’ brain. Digital Technology and its constant flow of novel stimuli on smartphones and tablets is the perfect vehicle for System 1, winning out over the more demanding and ‘lazy’ System 2. This analogy takes us back to the primacy of pen-and-paper note-taking towards enhanced learning outcomes over computer use in class or in a meeting.


Blinded by the Illusion of Success


Extensive research points to ‘islands of success in an ocean of failure’ in applying Digital Technology and education technologies in colleges and the home, which, by extension, inevitably transfer to performance in workplace settings. Smartphone, tablet and computer screen use after 5 pm is strongly associated with sleep disruption or deprivation and obesity among both young and adults. With a rising incidence of computer vision syndrome and ocular damage negatively impact learning. Computer use in class disrupts the learning process, with outcomes for users and others not using technology supporting the superiority of books and paper-based learning over e-books. Notes taken with pen-and-paper also result in enhanced learning and understanding, leading to superior outcomes to those touch-typing notes. Smartphone, iPad and laptop users experience distraction and other neurological dysfunctions linked to screen and application multi-tasking, manifesting itself in impaired learning, psychological problems and neural addiction problems such as IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder). So, optimism appears to be the driver that keeps us waiting and hoping for the success promised by technology.

Vinsel and Funk cite the mismatch between the hype and reality in terms of economic impact and efficiency. Their technology acceptance model points to perceived ease of use and anticipated usefulness as key factors to our acceptance of technology but in analysing productivity growth during its peak in the decade between 1994 and 2004 and its troughs since then, it’s reminiscent of the ‘70’s and 80’s. Vinsel and Funk query the hype around the real return of productivity as we anticipate the transformative impact of AI, drones, driverless cars i.e., the intangibles which distract us from our ongoing neglect of fundamentals such as meaningful employment, income, housing and equitable healthcare, the absence of which are the tangible and real causes of economic suffering.


This topic, the subject of extensive and ongoing research, is a minefield, and despite our perceived educational, business and economic prowess, the pertinent question remains unanswered: How could new technology make a positive impact on people’s lives?


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Teresa Hand-Campbell, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Teresa Hand-Campbell is the founder and Director of THC Consultancy Ltd., an Ireland-based company with a global reach. As Occupational Psychologist, Educationist, Business Executive Coach and certified Mediator, she educates, motivates and inspires her clients on their journey to achieving optimum potential.


Teresa specialises in all aspects of behaviour, relations, motivation and engagement at work, facilitating executive coaching, training, teamwork, career progression, recruitment drives, action mapping and strategic planning with organisations, large and small, across both private and public sectors. She has successfully coached over 400 Senior Executives and continues to lecture to Master's level in Leadership & Management in the Workplace. A WRAW Master Practitioner (Workplace Resilience And Wellbeing), Teresa is also a multi-science analyst using DISC and is a registered Test User (1 & 2) with the British Psychological Society.


A keynote speaker, Teresa delivers inspiring bespoke Talks and Training to audiences of all sizes around key topics of interest to the workplace.

A prolific writer, her most recent Case Study and bespoke Recommendations, entitled: ‘Building a Culture to Grow & Thrive’ was undertaken for Catalyst Clinical Research, a large, multi-award winning clinical development organisation with headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. Teresa’s motto: ‘Knowing ME: Understanding YOU’ rests on her belief that to know oneself is to ensure a true understanding of others we come in contact with.

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