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This Digital Life

Are We All Turning into Bluffer’s Guides?

I am what you would call a lo-fi person. Research in Motion has never been able to entice me into getting myself one of their interruption devices. The incessant “You’ve got mail” popup of Lotus Notes is bad enough; who needs more. One of the daily recurrences of life is jumping into a cab with a couple of senior colleagues to rush to a client meeting. Within minutes there’s an email in the inbox, and my colleagues are completely consumed with answering each one in the next 15 seconds. Often the replies are off-the-cuff and erroneous. Wouldn’t you rather spend the journey focusing on the upcoming meeting and having a rich 30 minutes of conversation? The malaise, however, starts at the top. Increasingly there’s a breed of CEOs who are measuring people by the speed of response rather than the quality of response. But is this the right way?

I was reading somewhere that on average a person spends 10 seconds per webpage. True, the digital world has made us all better informed, but does that really mean we are turning smarter? Perhaps not. More is not always better. Interestingly, more than 60 percent of young people in emerging markets such as India, China, and Brazil are worried that we are losing our ability to think deeply or focus on a single subject as a result of digital technology and multitasking. In China, as in some other countries, there are a growing number of programs to stop cyber-addiction among minors.

Digital technology is great up to a point, but scratch the surface and you will find an increasingly shallow generation: people who know a bit of everything but hardly anything in depth. We are, I am afraid, turning into a generation of bluffer’s guides*. A few months back I read an article by the well-known travel writer and essayist Pico Iyer in the New York Times. How does he recharge himself? “I just take walks and read and lose myself in the stillness, recalling that it’s only stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them,” he writes. In other words, it is only when we are equally comfortable with stepping in and stepping out of the digital world that will we find more meaning and joy.

Sourav Ray is chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG India.

Image credit: Creative Commons/AlicePopkorn@flickr.com

*A “cheat sheet” used to fake expertise in a subject.

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