Digitisation and relational intelligence: ‘To be everywhere is to be nowhere’. Seneca
During a recent webinar on the use of dialogue in supervision, with our wonderful US students, I found myself highlighting what is happening to us, given the massive increase in digitization over the last decade or so. Nicholas Carr writes:
‘I see a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the instantly available. As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance”, we risk turning into “pancake people—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.” ’
Enchantment with our mesmerizing ‘toys’ and their undoubted usefulness, masks the rather dire side effects of daily engagement with phones, screens and social media. ‘Dire’ that is, for supervisors, coaches, mentors and leaders – or anyone for whom relationship and conversation are key ingredients in their working life.
The new normal for many of us, is ‘continuous partial attention’ – a condition that is easily observed. We are too often everywhere but here, right here in this moment, fully here in this conversation. How often do you notice that someone is literally having a phone call on the one hand while trying to have a conversation with someone standing right there beside them? Or do you notice that you are getting better at half listening while internally focusing on something other than the conversation you are having?? We multifunction more now and we’re getting better at it; neuroscience tells us that our brains are re-wiring accordingly. This is happening all the time. It is happening to me. The result is that it is becoming harder to inhabit the ground we stand on and so our thinking, speaking and relating are impaired.
‘The distractions in our lives have been proliferating for a long time, but never has there been a medium that, like the Net, has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently’….the Net is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention…frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious…we willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.’
CSA supervision students, coaches, mentors, leaders and managers, all belong to the ‘people professions’; our potency comes partly from knowing who we are and from how well grounded, centered and present we are. Centuries ago, Plato’s “Know thyself’ became a guide to philosophers and citizens who wished to cultivate balance and wisdom. Now however,
‘we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest’.
Well-developed personal capacities provide the living platform for professional relationships. Even the newest coach knows this. What many of us are less aware of, is how our addictive technology is quietly eroding these foundational skills. I know that I need to pay greater attention to presence, to relationship, than I have ever done. That’s because, like many of you, I am involved in the ‘repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive’ net.. When W H Davies wrote: “What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’, he had no idea how ‘full of care’ 21st century life would become! No idea how much we would be trapped by endless interruption, information overload and the perceived need for instant response.
I find that deliberately getting more time alone helps. Mindfulness practice, helps a lot. Doing nothing – really nothing – helps. So does play.
What is it that enables you to ‘stand and stare’ – and to be here, not elsewhere?
We have known for decades that solitude necessary for empathy and therefore necessary for creating professional and business relationships that really work. Relationship with our clients begins with solitude where we can reflect on the relationship with our selves, on how we self-talk, how we perceive the world around us and on how we imagine or create internally.
We know too that ‘change happens in the crucible of relationship’ (Prof Bill Critchley). And yet, recent research suggests that many of us use tech/social media to ‘dial down human contact’ – we’d ‘rather text than talk’. The landline and real talking, come way down the list of most people’s preferred means of communication. Some of our clients have quite poor relational skills; their contracts with us often include goals to strengthen relational intelligence. So we, and they, could usefully explore how use of the net and gadgets, actually inhibits conscious, flexible, mature relating in the workplace.
The eco-system in which we are all immersed is one of constant interruption and disconnection. I strongly suggest that we care for ourselves and for our clients, by attending to what is happening to us socially, spiritually and neurologically. We need consciously to protect and re-balance core personal/professional capacities. Our clients will also benefit from reflecting with us on the mind numbing effects of gazing at the intoxicating screens that fill offices, homes and pockets.
And if poetry does it for you, you might like this:
All quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from ‘Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’ by Sherry Turkle and ‘The Shallows – How the Internet is Changing the Way we Think, Read and Remember’ by Nicholas Carr.
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Edna Murdoch CSA Course Director January 2017.