FEAR AND CONTROL – Dialogue in a technological society

I have a teenage son who is showing signs of a typical teenage boy of grunts and ‘dunno’ replies to everything. It’s challenging as a parent and even more so for someone who tackles the art of listening and conversation in training almost everyday! I sit down and despair just as other parents do armed with the knowledge of ‘nothing’ when it comes to the next stage of parenting!

I reflect on this despair and look to my education, my experience, research and many authors; Deci, Schein, Turkle to name a few.

My recent read from Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015) is a fitting one given that it’s about how distracted we are from living because of technology. A very ‘teen’ issue! This lead to further thoughts on how we make excuses about the use of technology and how ‘good’ it is for us. Often these excuses are to make us feel better about the demonisation of technology. I refer to technology as a demon because it violates the very thing of what it is to be human. (Ellul)

So what is that? What exactly is it to be human?

Turkle alludes to ‘fundamental human values’ in her research on empathy or lack there of it.

“That means, lost practice in the empathic arts – learning to make eye contact, to listen, and to attend to others. Conversation is on the path toward the experience of intimacy, community, and communion. Reclaiming conversation is a step toward reclaiming our most fundamental human values.” (Turkle ( 2015) p. 7)

Turkle highlights the need to understand that the lack of empathy is becoming more and more evident with school aged children. Research shows that high school children have the empathy of an 8 year old child. This is leading to a generation of ‘indifference’ and no capacity to understand others. The loss of connection and what it is to be human. The older generations are not far behind.

So what’s driving this culture?

Efficiency! Control! Fear!

People are vastly becoming proficient at ‘manipulating’ their lives. An online world allows us to shape, shift and control ‘connection’ and redefines who we are as a person. Online is all about efficiency and editing who we are. There’s definitely no room for vulnerability.

A ‘real life’ conversation or connection with a person in ‘real time’, as Turkle puts it, is fraught with danger. There’s no capacity to control or ‘make things right’ before I communicate. ‘Real life’ is spontaneous and the thought of vulnerability is way too scary.

It’s too much of a risk! Therefore, I’d prefer efficiency and safety to human connection, spontaneity and being human.

This very notion of fear and control is replicated in business too. We focus so much on process, ticking boxes and numbers driving towards efficiencies that we forget the best ‘tool’ we have in a workplace is dialogue. Often, we are so busy caught up in the technological machine that there is no room for connection, spontaneity or being human.

I spoke with my other older son the other day who has recently started a cadetship in a business. He was asking me how he should type up an email to ask a colleague to do something. He didn’t want to come across too direct but still get the message across clearly. I asked him one thing; does this colleague work near you? ‘Oh yeah, his desk is just opposite mine!’. This is so typical of a workplace. We’re so busy clicking away on a keyboard we forget to engage in real time. I suggested to my son to go to Neil and have a chat with him to talk through what he wanted to do. The end result was that my son saved himself probably half a day of back-and-forth emails and a meeting to organise the very thing that it took him 20 minutes to do in a conversation with his colleague!

The checklist of efficiency isn’t always the answer. More often than not it is an illusion that it is the answer. Yet unbeknownst to us this very illusion drives us to fear and control.

The mere fact that we are trying to control these risks, these human vulnerabilities is denying ourselves of what it is to be human.

Further research shows that humans are resilient though, socially resilient! We have the capacity to move away from fear, anxiety and control through simple connections and conversations – dialogue with another. Turkle’s research showed that ‘face-to-face conversation leads to a greater self-esteem and an improved ability to deal with others’. (Turkle, p. 25)

My son certainly learned that connecting with Neil created a far greater efficiency in his workday. A very good workday in my mind. Not only did he achieve something well, but he also met one of his new colleagues. Not a bad outcome and lesson learned for a young worker.

The trajectory of controlling risk is denying humanity, however, social resilience is a pathway to humanity.

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