Techno-Connectivity -- Boon & Bane...

harmonising the human & technological...

by Bill Cropper, Director - The Change Forum

Extracts from KeyNote Presentation to the Brisbane Leadership Lounge, June 2012


No-one disputes ICT or techno-connectivity, with its dazzling devices, has radically revolutionised the way we live and work. The benefits are self-evident, in terms of speed, personal productivity, convenience, efficiency, versatility, flexibility and sheer ingenuity. It’s also redefined how we experience work, even the nature of work itself, with far-reaching ramifications for how we relate, balance work and personal life, health, well-being and is perhaps even re-wiring neural networks that determine how we connect and socialise brain-wise.

Techno-connectivity has eliminated, automated, or robotised many jobs. It facilitates us to work faster, smarter, longer, harder and at-home. It has boosted personal productivity, enabling us to manage bigger workloads with fewer people.

Techno-connectivity’s primacy is apparent. But is it a benevolent rule? Is techno over-connectivity in danger of killing off human connectivity?

   Human Connectivity – more or less?

Human connectivity is a basic, primal urge we all feel to belong, be accepted, supported, in-synch with those around us. We’re born to connect. It’s hard-wired into every single synapse.


We all crave to feel close to others. It’s a badge of our basic humanity, a prime ingredient of healthy relationships and vital to our emotional and physical well-being.


Connective moments is what gives us the ‘satisfy’ experience in things like a good meeting, a good conversation, a good team, a good leader, a good culture or a good job.


Connecting is a precondition for anything else that happens in any interactions we have. It’s part of our own emotional guidance system.

Empathy makes human connectivity possible. It’s what our limbic system does. It scans the human terrain like an emotional radar, detecting ‘blips’ that help us tune in to others. There are numerous signals our radar picks up: from facial gestures, tone, to actual chemical emissions. Spindle cells and mirror neurons for instance are designed to read others at a chemical level.

You can see connective moments in action: people incline toward each other, nod more vigorously, tension leaves their bodies. They may mirror posture, expressions, voice-tone. There’s an aura of relaxed attentiveness. It’s a dance: a limbic tango.

Edward Hallowell, from Harvard Medical School, says connective moments are “human moments”.

“A human moment doesn’t have to be emotionally draining or personally revealing. A 5-minute conversation can be a perfectly meaningful human moment. To make the human moment work, you have to set aside what you’re doing and focus on the person you’re with. Usually when you do that, the other person will feel the energy and respond in kind.” Edward M. Hallowell “The Human Moment at Work” in Harvard Business Review Jan–Feb 1999

Chemicals released during connective moments restore, calm and heal. Stress hormones like cortisol decline. We emit oxytocin promoting trust and bonding; dopamine, an attention enhancer and serotonin that reduces fear and worry.

That people are more likely to do better work and work better together when they feel connected is really a ‘no-brainer’. Lack of human connectivity costs. It makes us more prone to catching toxic emotions that undermine work cultures, cripple teams and affect mental and physical health.

   Dialling up Disconnection?

Amidst the daily bustle and busyness, were often not present enough to notice human moments. Self-absorption and distraction dull our radar and dissipate human connection. Techno-connectivity provides many distractions that play interference with human connectivity.


Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence, sees his book as a critique of society's creeping disconnection in the digital connectivity age.


Our social and emotional learning come from connecting. Lack of it is emotionally stunting. Under-using our brain-circuitry for connecting can diminish our capacity to relate socially.


Many people in numerous social surveys say they’re too busy keeping up with social media, which ironically limits time to make room for real human connections.

Hallowell says a real human moment “has two prerequisites: people’s physical presence and their emotional and intellectual attention.”  Yet these ingredients are conspicuously absent from social media like Facebook that claims to deliver the human connectivity we clamour for.  In terms of what our brain needs for a connective moment, the actual chemistry is sadly lacking.

Techno-connectivity keeps us e-connected and linked-in like never before. But physical face-to-face conversation is the irreplaceable medium for human connectivity at work and elsewhere. There is no substitute for this kind of face-time.


Connective human moments are embodied. Our limbic system relies on physical proximity to do essential readings that release those restoring, calming chemicals we crave.


Techno-connectivity is disembodied. A Facebook chat seems superficially similar to a real conversation: sentiments are shared, feelings are triggered but without real presence, it’s like a comic book as opposed to a movie.

Techno-devices enable us to take the ‘meet’ out of meetings. Email allows us to send our thoughts to someone in the next work station or down the hall we once used to have to get up and go see. Over-reliance on email, video-links, virtuality and various other versions of techno-connectivity, no matter how vivid, may not only deprive us of real human connectivity, but also shrink our social skills and impair basic brain-wiring that enables us to connect with each other at a human level...

     Extreme Jobs – a perilous paradigm

Techno-connectivity is indispensable in so many disciplines. It’s enlarged and enriched many jobs, relieving us of tasks that were repetitive, arduous, time-consuming or boring. It provides access to vast stores of data on the spot, whether we’re a traffic cop, a clinician on a hospital ward or a geologist in the field. By the same token:


Many jobs have disappeared and techno-job replacement regimes keenly adopted by cost-conscious corporates, regardless of customer connectivity, staff stability or social contracts.


Techno-connectivity invites us to enter into a new work contract: dedicate more personal time to work or let those who will do the work.

Ironically, techno-connectivity can enhance work- life balance, shorten work-days, save us time to savour personal life more, but indications are it’s doing the opposite for many. It looks like being at work may be the new work-life balance...

     Socially Intelligent Work Design

Systems, structures, work processes and jobs we design can either connect or disconnect us. The primacy of techno-connectivity can lead to design of work and jobs that are harmful to health, addictive, counter-productive and sub-social.

A determining factor is how we harmonise human and techno-connectivity. Socially Intelligent Work Design is about designing work and jobs in a way that balances techno-connectivity business needs with the social and emotional needs of people to make the experience of work not just productive but also meaningful, fulfilling and connective.

 Continued...  Full Article in our FactFile: Techno-Connectivity: Boon & Bane - Read or Download here

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