This is what Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, says in his book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”
The more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need we feel for humaneness deep within ourselves, kindled by close relationships and social interaction.
There rises a fear that, while the Fourth Industrial Revolution does deepen our individual and collective relationships with technology, this can have a negative impact on our social skills and our capacity for empathy, says Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
We can already see it happening. A 2010 research by a University of Michigan scientific team has shown that the tendency for empathy has dropped by 40% among students (compared to their colleagues 20 or 30 years ago), and this slump occurred mainly after the year 2000.
According to Sherry Turkle from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 44% of today’s teenagers never disconnect themselves from their electronic devices, even when practising sport, having dinner with their family or hanging out with friends.
As personal, eye-to-eye contacts get more and more pushed out to the sidelines by online “communication”, the fears are that a whole new generation of young people, engrossed in social networking sites, find it extremely difficult to actually listen to the person they are having a conversation with in real life, as well as to make and maintain eye contact or read body language.
Our relationships with technology, Schwab says, are a good example. Being always “connected” can deprive us of one major source of delight – the chance to grab some time off, to reflect, or to have a talk unaided by technology and social networking.
How does the “digital ocean” influence memory and decision-making?
Nichoals Carr, whose writing dwells on tecnology and culture, claims that the more time we spend drifting in the digital ocean, the shallower our cognitive skills become due to the simple fact that we have given up trying to control our attention.
“Internet is in itself an originally distracting system; it is a machine specially designed to divert our attention. When we lose concentration often, this scatters out thoughts, weakens our memory and leaves us feeling tense and strained.
The more complex the chain of thought we are trying to deal with, the more harmful any distraction is.”
As early as 1971 Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978, warned that “abundance of information leads to deficit of attention”.
The situation is even worse today, especially for people whose responsibility it is to make decisions, who seem to be overburdened with too many different tasks, drowned under a wave of information, operating at full speed all the time and constantly under stress.
“In our light-speed age, nothing can be as intriguing as slowing down”, says travelogue author Pico Iyer. “In the age of incessant distraction, nothing is as luxurious as concentration.
In the age of ceaseless motion, nothing is as necessary as just sitting down and staying quiet.”
Our brain, engaged by all electronoc devices which keep us connected 24/7, risks turning into a machine that never stops for a second, leaving us in a constant state of semi-hysteria.
Klaus Schwab shares that he has often spoken to persons in high administrative positions who complain that they no longer have the time to stop for a while and think, let alone indulge in the luxury of reading even a short article, without distractions loudly claiming their attention.
Decision makers from all over the global society seem to be more and more exhausted, snowed under multitudes of competing demands, which hurls them into a state of helplessness, then resignation, and sometimes utter despair.
In our new digital age, it is hard to retrace our steps and go back, but, according to the founder of the World Economic Forum, it is not impossible.