How digital toxification resulting from tech advances has dehumanised human interaction

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Published: August 20, 2018 12:05:56 AM

Technology has revolutionised our lives. It has made transactions faster, easier and more effective. It has improved the scope and depth of communication between individuals and organisations.

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Technology has revolutionised our lives. It has made transactions faster, easier and more effective. It has improved the scope and depth of communication between individuals and organisations. But it’s a double-edged sword. It can be a great enabler, and with its indispensability, it can increase one’s dependency on it, generating what is termed ‘nomophobia’—the fear of being without a mobile phone. Researchers have identified ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) and ‘fear of being offline’ (FOBO) as irrational fears that are emerging amongst Gen Z (those born after 1995) due to digital toxification.

Let’s consider online shopping. Studies indicate that triggers of consumers’ online shopping behaviour do not always apply to impulse buying, but have important implications for impulse buying research. Online buying patterns, dependent as they are on technology, appear to influence the psychology of buying. Technology not just contributes to the psychology of buying behaviour, but also to developing unique personality traits, especially among high-intensity users, particularly the millennials (born between 1980s and early 2000s).

Researchers have propounded the concept of ‘polymedia’, where navigating the environment of multiple media channels becomes inextricably linked to the way interpersonal relationships are experienced. With polymedia, the concern shifts from the constraints imposed by each individual medium to an emphasis on the social, emotional and moral consequences of choosing different media. Thus, the role of ‘social marketing’ is important. Philip Kotler defined it as ‘the design, implementation and control of programmes that seek to increase the acceptability of a social idea or practice amongst an identified group of consumers, both regular and potential’.

Given the ease of use and reach of digital platforms, this has relevance as to how the millennials, for instance, strike a balance between socially-relevant and ethically-important issues through responsible behaviour vis-a-vis becoming victims of reckless indulgence. Dr Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon General, noted: “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness. In the workplace, new models of working, such as telecommuting and some on-demand ‘gig economy’ contracting arrangements, have created flexibility but often reduced the opportunities for in-person interaction and relationships”. He added organisations have the power to drive change at a societal level not only by strengthening connections among employees, partners and clients, but also by serving as an innovation hub that can inspire others.

According to Michael Sandel, professor of Justice at Harvard University and the author of ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets’, people disagree about the norms appropriate to many of the domains that markets have invaded. These include family life, friendship, sex, procreation, health, education, nature, art, citizenship, sports and the way we contend with the prospect of death. He contends we should ask where markets belong and where they do not. And we cannot answer this without deliberating about the meaning and purpose of goods, and the values that should govern them. He differentiates between a market economy and a market society: A market economy is a tool for organising productive activity, and a market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavour and where social relations are made over in the image of the market.

We thus find that digital toxification resulting from advances in technology has also dehumanised human interactions—focusing on transactions and tangible gains at the cost of the intangible assets of genuine human relationships. Should we not, therefore, debate and agree on norms that ensure technology does not have a free ride? The challenge is to balance the gains of technology with the innate values and norms that enrich the society for the benefit of future generations. Hopefully, marketers and policy initiators will keep this in mind as they look at what norms should become indispensable for promoting healthy lifestyles and wholesome development of the human mind.

(The author is professor of Communications and General Management, International Management Institute, New Delhi)

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