Technology and Work

Lawrence Zammit's article on The Times of Malta

We have had two events in the last four weeks which we have seen develop in what people refer to as “real time”. The first was the result of the referendum held in the UK on the country’s membership of the European Union and the second event was the attempted coup in Turkey.

In both situations we really saw history in the making given the coverage by the international media. One should also remember that during the night of the attempted coup in Turkey, President Erdogan managed to send a message to the Turkish people through a smartphone.

What am I driving at? It has to do with the importance of communication technology in our lives. We have long known that developments in information and communication technology are a constant occurrence. We feel their effects on a daily basis when we use our mobile phone or tablet or laptop. Social media are a critical element in the lives of many people. So it should come as no surprise at all to recognise the importance of ICT in our lives.

On the other hand, if we were to take a step back and seek to assess the impact of such developments on the business sector and on the world economy, then I am not so sure that we are fully prepared for all this.

We have grown accustomed to the fact that when there is a special event, media organisations seek to deliver the news in real time. We have grown accustomed also to the fact that technology helps people to keep in touch.

In both situations, there is a pro-active approach by the individual, that is the individual seeks to keep oneself informed through real time reporting, or the individual makes the conscious decision to get in touch with a friend or relative through the use of technology. In both situations an element of control is exercised by the individual.

What if this becomes the norm in our working life, in our business relationships, in the management of an economy? What if it becomes part of our psyche, to the point that one loses control of the way ICT impacts us?

Would the technology to deliver real time communication lead us to be constantly available to our customers and our work colleagues? If constant communication at work becomes the norm, would that mean the end of work-life balance? We laud the benefits of technology at work becomes it helps to make us more efficient. Do we fully appreciate the costs?

A MISCO survey on Technology and Work shows that 60% of respondents believe that mobile technology has made them more productive (it is 56% in the United States). On the other hand 75% claimed that technology has increased the amount of time spent working. 94.5% use their mobile device in the evenings to work outside working hours.

This data indicates that we are losing control of the very devices that we have created – a bit like the tail wagging the dog rather than the dog wagging the tail.

On a lighter note, one possible impact of the continued developments in technology is that we will eventually drop the letter “e” from “e-commerce”, or “e-mail”, because the only way to engage in commerce or mail will be through electronic means. Similarly the word “smart” will be dropped from “smartphone” as that would be the only phone that would be used.

Going back to a serious note, developments in technology are having an impact on both the work related aspects and the social aspects of our life. Thus it is not enough that technology is made available to all. Availability and use of internet to persons under a certain age reaches nearly 100%. What is essential is that persons are capable of exploiting fully the opportunities created by technology in their work but also know how to manage the risks involved.

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