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by Alex Kinmont

Technology is streamlining our daily routines.

We can order dinner online, saving us cooking time. We can work remotely, saving us travel time. We can shop online, saving us searching time. We let Google Maps re-route us around traffic before we see the first brake light and targeted ads tell us what to buy before we even know we want it.

The rise in technology has brought with it a rapid increase in the pace at which we live our lives.

If technology is making things run faster, then we’re saving time. So what exactly are we using that saved time for?

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Are we saving time just to waste time?

South Africans spend an average of 8.5 hours online every day, according to a 2019 study. That’s an hour and a half more than the global average.

The more attention we give online, the more profitable the online world becomes. An advert seen is money made, so the goal for companies and advertisers alike is to keep us online for as long as possible.

Our online attention has become transactional.

Developers don’t just hope that we will spend time online. Smartphones and social media are specifically designed to keep us hooked for as long as possible. Of those 8.5 hours online, South Africans spend almost three hours on social media (Whatsapp, Facebook and Youtube proving most popular).

Are we really to blame?

Steve Jobs never let his own children use the iPad which he first released in 2010. This was our warning sign.

Feedback is a major ingredient of online addiction and it’s biologically enforced, says author Adam Alter (Irresistible). Feedback is the flash of the red heart icon when you like a photo on Instagram. It’s also the bright notification which pops up for the person on the other end. It’s the swooping sound when you refresh your Facebook feed and the click of your keyboard when your phone’s not on silent.

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Are we saving time just to do too much?

The digital revolution and its onslaught of overstimulation is rendering us less and less capable of concentrating on a single thing at a time. The average attention span in a human has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the turn of the century. That’s less than a goldfish.

Have you ever felt the urge to punch your computer when it freezes?

This is where we see how impatient tech has made us. We are already so accustomed to technology and the swift lifestyle which comes with it that when it lags we tend to curse at it.

As tech grows, so do our expectations.

Whereas our ability to multitask has improved thanks to tech giving us the means to do more than one thing at a time, it comes with a cost to our ability to do just one task effectively.

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So what does this quickening mean for us professionally?

The World Health Organisation has recently announced that it will be adding ‘Burnout’ to its International Classification of Diseases. This will make burnout a globally-recognised medical condition from the year 2020. Burnout is defined by the WHO as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

In trying to keep up with new technologies, we may be overdoing it.  In constantly being connected, we never really get a break from the office anymore. We can access emails and our workload all from home, meaning we are never really completely free from our office.

On top of that, when do get a small break from our working hours, we’re spending it mindlessly on social media and the internet.

Are we ever really able to rest?

4IR can both worsen and alleviate our energy. It allows us to work continuously, yet it also allows us work faster and then rest.

So how do we go forward?

The answer therefore lies with people and their intentions. When advances in tech quicken our schedule, we must not forget that resting offline in our saved time is not wasting it.

Managers need to evaluate productivity in terms of quality of work done, and not time spent working. Employees need to recognise that time spent online is not as restful as time spent offline.

We need to disconnect daily – from our work, and from the internet.

Machines are going to take over tedious and time-consuming jobs, not so that we can fill our time with working more, but so that we can free up our time for more creative pursuits. The fourth industrial revolution will bring with it more options for spending our time.

What are you going to do with it?

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