What is the Internet Doing To Us?

Happy New Year! In this episode, I compare expert views about the internet made in 2010 and compare them to today’s realities. Stay tuned for a very provocative retrospective. Click here to download free resources cited in the podcast. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platform. (i.e. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, et cetera)

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Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

Happy New Year! 2020 is upon us and with it, lots and lots and lots of prediction about the new year and the next decade. But what about old predictions, especially those made a decade ago? Well, I did a bit of research on the views and expert opinions of how the internet was affecting society back in 2010. For the sake of my personal curiosity, I will share what people thought about the internet back then and compare it to what has happened since. Stay tuned for a very interesting retrospective.

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Back in June 2010, Nicholas Carr, wrote a very controversial article for the Wall Street Journal called, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” Mr. Carr cites the results from several cognitive researchers that he says presents a “deeply troubling” picture “at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought.” Mr. Carr wrote that, “People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read traditional linear text. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, alerts and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.” Nicholas Carr was interviewed by PBS News Hour back then and had this to say

Arguing the other side, at about the same time, was Clay Shirky, author of the book, “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.” Basically, his assertion was that the internet was making us smarter because it empowered us to do good stuff on a large scale. He gave an example of this at the Web 2.0 Expo, just over a decade ago and there he said this. (Take a clip from the first 3 minutes).

So, here we are a decade later. Did the internet make us smarter or dumber? I’ll share with you some facts based on research, after this.

Click here to download free resources about DuckDuckGo and Facebook.

Huffpost has an intriguing article called, “This Is How The Internet Is Rewiring Your Brain” that was originally posted in 2013 and later updated in 2017. From what I can tell, it is still spot on. Here are a few quotes from that article.

Fact #1: The Internet may give you an addict’s brain. MRI research has shown that the brains of Internet users who have trouble controlling their craving to be constantly plugged-in exhibit changes similar to those seen in people addicted to drugs and alcohol. A 2011 study showed that unplugging from technology for one day gave some users physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, The Telegraph reported.

Fact #2: You may feel more lonely and jealous. Social media may make it easier to connect with others, but recent research by German scientists suggests that constantly viewing images of others’ vacation photos, personal achievements, etc. can trigger strong feelings of envy, even sadness. Researchers have even described the phenomenon as “Facebook depression.”

Fact #3: Internet use may heighten suicide risk in certain teens. After conducting a review of previous research on studies on teens’ Internet use, researchers at the University of Oxford in England concluded that online time is linked to an increased risk of suicide and self-harm among vulnerable adolescents. Their paper was published online on Oct. 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“We are not saying that all young people who go on the Internet increase their risk of suicide or self-harm,” one of the researchers, Dr. Paul Montgomery, professor of psycho-social intervention at the university, said in a written statement. “We are talking about vulnerable young people who are going online specifically to find out more about harming themselves or because they are considering suicide already. The question is whether the online content triggers a response so that they self-harm or take their own lives and we have found that there is a link.”

Fact #4: Memory problems may be more likely. Even a rather typical session of social media browsing can lead to information overload and make it harder to file away information in your memory, according to Dr. Erik Fransén, professor of computer science at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology. A 2009 study from Stanford University suggests that the brains of people who are constantly bombarded with several streams of electronic information — from instant messaging to blogs — may find it difficult to pay attention and switch from one job to another efficiently.

Fact #5: But it’s not all bad — in moderation, the Internet can actually boost brain function. A 2008 study suggests that use of Internet search engines can stimulate neural activation patterns and potentially enhance brain function in older adults.

“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Gary Small, professor of neuroscience and human behavior at UCLA, said in a written statement. “Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.”

So, what are my thoughts? I think the internet a decade ago and the today has the potential for great good and even greater evil, like all things, it is best when used in moderation. One concern that I have now that was not mainstream a decade ago, is the sense of privacy loss. I predict that over the next decade there will be a massive off the grid movement where people build communities akin to Amish communities for their personal lives and relegate tech to their work lives. This will be done in an effort to regain a sense of personal privacy and a sense of humanity. I think also that there will be a movement to ban open cellphone use in restaurants and certain public areas; pretty much the same way smoking has been banned as a health hazard.

But, that’s just my prediction for the next decade. What’s yours?

 

The Unspoken Concern of Automation in the Workplace

When the topic of automation is brought up in relation to the job market, the arguments tend to repeat themselves. One view is from the doomsayers who suggest robots are going to steal all the jobs away with the contrarian position being somewhere between a robotopia (where machines do all the work and humanity is sustained on a Universal Basic Income) and an Iron Man scenario where tech and humanity operate simpatico. I think to some extent all workers will become Tony Stark with our iPhone or variant wearable technology augmenting our intelligence. If that seems far-fetched, consider the last time you dialed a phone instead of commanding Siri or tapping the name of a desired party. (God help us all if we wander off lost on a roadtrip without the aid of GPS.) As the new status quo of office robots and automation encroaches, it strikes me as odd that no one seems to be voicing the next great worker concern. If automation can eliminate certain tasks for a certain worker by X percent then, should that worker have his compensation reduced accordingly?

I do not have a background in benefits and compensation analysis but, I think that such is an argument that will be made in the near future. Lately, I have been thinking about this from various angles. Pardon my ramblings as I share my thoughts.

IS IT FAIR?

From the employer’s perspective, I consider the amount of money spent on technology designed to make my workforce more efficient. If the tech does as intended and reduces the daily grind by so much, is a reduction in future salary fair? Conversely, if workers are doing less of one type of work, does that mean they will be doing more of another? If so, would it be unfair to reduce their salaries? How would one qualify a percentage of work in order to make a right assessment?

DOES IT AFFECT THE VALUE OF THE EMPLOYEE?

If there are tasks that can be safely delegated to robots then, it stands to reason that the work automation cannot conquer is of higher value. Does that higher value offset the percentage of work done by robots? I wish I knew. What I do speculate though is that the more work is automated, the value of the worker decreases if they do not acquire new skills. This is why I think the most competitive companies are those with the most robust training organizations. In addition to improving your existing labor force, it also improves retention. A quick aside…

According to a recent survey by the career platform The Muse, 58% of its largely millennial user base said they plan to change jobs this year. What they are searching for is learning and growth opportunities, as well as work-life balance, according to Muse co-founder and CEO Kathryn Minshew.

IF AUTOMATION REDUCES SALARIES, WHAT THEN?

I think if automation reduces salaries across the board, there will be an even more significant upswing in gig workers. Said gig workers will become a key option to companies who do not have a robust training program and cannot remain competitive waiting for the upskilling of their workforce. As an example, consider India which is predicted to have a highly significant non-employee workforce for its companies over the next few years. In fact, to quote The Economic Times

The use of non-employee talent, or employees not on the rolls of organisations, is expected to grow dramatically in India over the next three years, according to the findings of a survey by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

At the same time, full-time employees’ share of the total workforce is expected to drop 3.3 percentage points in India and 4.1 percentage points globally over the next three years, stated ‘The 2019 Pathways to Digital Enablement Survey’.

“There are two things increasingly happening in work. First is work is increasingly being pulled out of the organisation and being done elsewhere and then being brought in. The second is the growing plurality of means of getting work done,” Willis Towers Watson managing director Ravin Jesuthasan said. “Today, business leaders have a lot of choices on how they get work done. Automation is just one of the different options for them. The various other options could include sending work to talent marketplace, tapping gig workers, using volunteers, etc.,” he added.

The non-employee workforce in India that is seen growing in the next three years includes free agent workers (15%), parttime reduced hour (32%), worker on loan from other organisation (3%) and free agents on talent platforms (230%), the survey said.

I think that HUGE percentage of free agents being utilized by talent platforms is in response to the demands of worker flexibility and the booming gig economy. As such, I would not be surprised if more talent platforms debuted around HR freelance jobs or some other niche.

Another possibility resulting from automation reducing salaries, is the likely trend of companies tying year-end bonuses and worker performance evaluations to future potential. Traditional models postulate that if you did a good job last year then you will do a good job next year so a raise will reward you and give incentive to remain. But if automation is reducing the need for certain skills and reducing compensation to boot then, wouldn’t it make more sense to rate performance based on future potential? IBM thinks so. Using artificial intelligence (AI), Watson Analytics looks at an employee’s experiences and projects to infer the potential skills and qualities each person might have to serve IBM in the future. Watson also scours IBM’s internal training system to see if an employee has gained new skills. Managers then take Watson’s assessment rating into account as they make bonus, pay and promotion decisions. One more quote from the Economic times…

“Traditional models said if you were a strong performer in your current job that was the singular way that you got a promotion,” said Nickle LaMoreaux, vice president for compensation and benefits at IBM. “Well, we certainly still care about performance,” she said. But that now includes hypothetical future performance, too. IBM claims Watson has a 96 percent accuracy rate, as compared to IBM’s internal analysis with HR experts. The company spot-checks employee performance against its predictions.

Historically, employers used past accomplishments as the sole metric for compensation decisions, premised on the idea that the past is prologue. The method worked when job tasks stayed relatively static over time, but “the half-life of skills is getting shorter and shorter,” said LaMoreaux. What employees could do yesterday matters less than what they can potentially do tomorrow

Okay, just in case I lost you in my verbosity, let me sum things up like this…

  • If automation does X percent of the work, should workers be paid X percent less? I don’t know. I predict it will be a hot debate topic in the near future and within companies worldwide.
  • Workers who do not learn new skills will be less valuable in the workplace. As a result, job-hopping will continue and gig working will increase because people want to retain and/or increase their value.
  • The most competitive companies have robust training programs and will leverage them to retain their staff.
  • Companies will increase their reliance on gig workers in response to demands for worker flexibility and to remain competitive.
  • Worker raises will be tied to the future potential inherent in new skills learned. Welcome to the new normal!

Of course, I could be way off base. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

The Future of Airport Security is in Your Mouth

Have you been to the airport lately? If so, you probably noticed the facial recognition technology in effect at the major airports, especially when traveling internationally. Is this a good thing? Some say yes and others, like me, say no. Tune in to hear my reservations and where I think the future of airport security is heading. #Bioimetrics No more #privacy Please rate this podcast on your favorite podcast platform.

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Christmas Toys For Sale (Privacy Not Included)

Christmas time is here! And in addition to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with song and merriment, there is also the sharing of gifts with those you love and / or at least, tolerate. One thing you might not be aware of though, depending on the gift you are giving, you may be inviting danger to the gift recipient; things like identity theft and home invasions. What do I mean by that? Tune in and find out.

Resourced cited in the podcast:

New security warning for in-home smart cameras l ABC News – YouTube 
Consumer Alert: Hackers using toys to spy on your children? – YouTube 
Mozilla – *privacy not included 

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