The human system is actually pretty simple. Our default position, as neuroscience proves, is to concern ourselves pretty much at all times, awake or asleep, with our relationships and our social selves.
In short, who we love and who loves us. After food and shelter, humans want connection more than anything else.
Ironically, given this moment of ‘Techlash’ when we have suddenly switched from blind faith to anger and disillusion with Silicon Valley, we forget that all the clever tech titans did with their algorithms was mimic the dopamine rush we get from being inherently human: from being what’s call Pro-Social.
I don’t take the position that everything we are experiencing in terms of overload is the fault of technology. Tech just takes advantage of our never-ending appetite for connection. We invite it in our lives, just like we invited in cigarettes and sugar: The difference is that we need a new balanced algorithm diet, not a total exclusion.
We must all learn new habits and learn to modify our behaviours and recognise that technology right now is exacerbating these pro social ticks in ways which are not always healthy or productive.
I call the new model of self protection we can give ourselves in the digital era Social Health. Just like the twin pillars of health globally recognised, that is physical and mental health, social health means that every function around connection, digital and in-person, needs measurement, management and practice.
In the future, we will have social health appraisals, asking whether we have the right balance of being online in a virtual social media world, or forming real, face-to-face relationships; in the future our networked selves and our pathways to other people will be evaluated just like our arteries: are they blocked or flowing well? And in the future how we manage the ever-limited resource of time will be monitored not just like grains of sand in an egg-timer but in terms of how we actually get everything done when we are drowning in a digital sea.
The answer to our digital deluge is social health, and social health hinges on better human systems and better human management.
The more we connect – we check our phones every twelve minutes we are awake on average – the more we crave the dopamine hit of connection and yet the more our inboxes pile up, and guess what? Our human managers often remain inadequate, giving us impossible deadlines, subjecting us to bullying, piling on the pressure. The Stanford academic Jeffrey Pfeffer lays this out brilliantly in his book Dying for a Paycheck.
Stress is one measurement of poor health which is often physical, mental and social: In the US, 550 million working days a year are lost with an estimated cost to the economy of $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, lowered productivity and medical, legal and insurance costs.
But who is in the driving seat, the human or the machine? Clearly, it’s us. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
We must reframe Wellbeing and (corporate wellness programmes especially) to address the impact which rising digital seas are having on our social, physical and mental health.
Think of social health as everything to do with modern connectedness: If you are drowning in data, deadlines, feeds, constantly ‘snacking’ online, never pausing to think and do much of your daily life offscreen, you do, I suggest, have a social health problem.
If you have relationships with colleagues and co-workers, family members and friends which are conducted mainly through messaging apps, text, social media or email: Think again. Being a pro-social human is about being in the physical, not virtual world.
Here are six rules you should apply for core social health, whether at home or work. In case you are wondering why I choose six, I call my models of Social Health ‘Hexagon Thinking’ because six is the mathematically ‘perfect’ number and because the most productive creature on the planet lives and works in a six-sided structure: I’m talking of course about the humble honeybee.
1) Spend a sixth of your time – roughly 8 hours a week – connecting in person instead of online. Pick a person you normally ‘reply all’ to and ask them for coffee.
2) Treat your database like a “peoplebase” – think in small, human numbers: ask if you have a relationship with people, or just their data. Go small to get big results.
3) Create a ‘Social Six’ network of people around you who you can turn to, trust, and who can co-educate each other about news and views out in the ‘infosphere’ – it’s too much to handle on its own.
4) Identify the six essential sources of information you have to take in daily or weekly and make sure they have as much ‘nutrient-rich’ diversity in terms of quality and breadth – just as you have a mix of healthy fruit and vegetables in your daily diet.
5) Treat your calendar like your body: Only commit to meetings and projects which feel right, and worthy of your time.
6) Digital Diet: Agree your limits like you limit calories or carbs or reps in a workout: Just constantly flicking back on forth on apps is not about social health but social fidgeting.
Julia Hobsbawm OBE www.juliahobsbawm.com
Check out our new HUMAN AND THE MACHINE series of events and podcasts: http://www.thehumanandmachine.com/
You can read my new newsletter on modern connectedness and its discontents: https://tinyletter.com/JuliaHobsbawm/archive