More Technology Makes Lazy Humans

Here’s my first interview in 2013 with the Weekend Post newspaper’s John Harvey.

Children playing with cellphonesLOVE it or hate it, social media is here to stay and will continue to revolutionise the way we communicate.

Initially the preserve of well-to-do college students (as was the case with Microsoft and Apple before them), platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become part and parcel of practically everyone’s daily lives, save a few cynical die-hards clinging to the past.

The ability to relay news – personal or otherwise – at the touch of a button gives the user complete control over cyberspace and in the manner he or she wishes to convey the specific item.

There are so many advantages to social media that most major corporations have made it an integral part of their marketing strategies.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook may have lost points on the New York Stock Exchange last year, but it would take a brave man to bet against him dominating the markets as he has done computers and cellphones across the globe.

Yet while there is little disputing their cultural and economic relevance, for leading South African online behaviour expert Ramon Thomas Facebook and Twitter are increasingly facilitating the “regression” of people’s emotional maturity,

Thomas, whose expertise in web-based trends has earned him appearances on Carte Blanche, CNBC Africa, 3Talk, e.tv news and Special Assignment, contends “the lines between the real and virtual world” have become so blurred that people are no longer making an effort in actual human relationships.

“That is very dangerous, because people are starting to care less about each other as they have less actual interaction, preferring instead to retreat to their ‘safe’ worlds of Facebook or Twitter,” he told Weekend Post earlier this week.

Thomas’s assertions are drawn from his work with students, school children and their parents. He is in high demand around the country as a motivational speaker, particularly Johannesburg and Cape Town.

One of his more interesting findings is that dating websites are fast becoming obsolete as cellphones have “a lot more power because the user knows they are interacting with someone they know”.

“You will only give a BBM [Blackberry Messenger] pin to someone you know. It’s almost the same with WhatsApp. Basically people are starting to interact a lot more offline, and so that is killing the dating sites.

“However this does not mean they are actually interacting. All it shows is that they are overdependent on these platforms for virtual interaction.”

Thomas recalled an incident in Cape Town recently where a man was attending a comedy show with a group of friends, and the girls in the group tweeted every joke the comedian told.

“At interval the man tried to make a point that the object was to listen to the comedian and enjoy the experience. He did this by telling his own joke, but instead of understanding what he was getting at the girls then tweeted what he had said.”

Thomas believes that the psychological impact of social media technologies is twofold, in that it actively encourages flagrant voyeurism while simultaneously causing people to not put as much effort into their relationships as they used to.

“I know cases where girls don’t even break up with their boyfriends in person, but simply post that they no longer want to be with them.

“I often think of Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World in which people have multiple casual sexual partners. The internet is very much like that, where people have all these virtual relationships even though they don’t really care about the other person they are interacting with.”

What is most disturbing, he says, is that people seem to be regressing in terms of their emotional maturity.

“There is a big difference between child-like and childish. On social networks there is a lot of childish behaviour, even from people well into their thirties and forties. It seems that they wish to regress to a place that allows them to gossip like teenagers.

“The internet realm is also a totally immersive experience for them. You need only look at a game like SIMS where you can dictate what the characters do, basically a soap opera in a virtual world. Some users can’t even live without games like these, and that is very worrying because they would rather live through computer images than engage with real people.”

Thomas says while there is no doubt that the internet and social media have made life easier, it is essential that a balance is struck between virtual and real.

“The important thing is to set yourself boundaries and recognise that you have the power to switch off the apps when you decide.

“I explain it like this when I present my seminars to the schools: would you rather go the beach and jump in the sea, or stay at home and dip your feet in the pool. That is the difference between the real and virtual worlds, and it is important to get the balance right.”

Certainly Thomas does raise a number of excellent points that unfortunately avid social networkers rarely pause to consider.

Any visit to the local shopping mall will reveal that the connectedness that one used to encounter among laughing friends or between couples as they enjoy a bite to eat has been divided by a type of technological barrier as those around the table tweet everything while saying nothing to one another.

Development of literacy skills also seems to have taken a nose-dive as people of all ages resort to acronyms to describe emotions (Lol for laugh out loud, for example) or communicate in “146 characters or less”.

Thomas says in his research he has found that people who only a few years ago would easily consume a few books a month cannot even finish a chapter anymore because they are so used to short bursts of information on social networks.

The burning question, of course, is whether social media is intended for breezy entertainment and gossip, or transference of credible information. Certainly it is a handy tool for the traditional media, but too frequently it has been found wanting as a trustworthy source.

The number of occasions that people have mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela on Twitter, for example, indicates just how a serious occurrence can be reduced to rubble on the gossip wire – one of the childish indulgences of which Thomas speaks.

At the end of the day the man’s advice to strike a balance is wisest. Only the future knows whether the internet will be our making or our doom as a species.

 

Technology Taking Over Family Time

Family Time cartoonMail & Guardian’s The Teacher has featured me twice to date. The freelance journalist contacted me in July while I was in Durban and emailed me a long list of questions. Initially I was very upset because it felt like doing homework. After some consideration and talking to the Editor, I decided to complete the questions below.

This is the complete interview links to relevant content. The original edited featured appeared in their October 2012 edition. The Teacher is circulated directly to schools across South Africa.

  1. How much time does the average child spend using technology?

A Kaiser Family Foundation reports from 2010 indicate children 8-18 spend 7.5 hours online per day. When you combine television and Smartphone growth increases, especially always-on BlackBerry or iPhone users, I estimate its closer to 10-12 hours per day or close to 50% of their time connected.

Technology increases dramatically when children are alone, either commuting to and from school, at night in their bedrooms. After a lecture at Curro School in Durbanville, Cape Town, a Vodacom employee once told me peak usage for MXit was between 11pm-2am during week days.

  1. What is ‘technology addiction’ in kids?

Addiction is the dependency on an external source of stimulus. Technology addiction is exemplified with he attachment experienced with Smartphones and cellphones in general. Teenagers identify themselves with their phones by decorating them in different covers and colours. Personalised ring tones was introduced about 10 years ago allowing people to further customise their experience with their hand-held “computers”.

  1. How can parents control the amount of time their kids spend on technology?

Parents must lead by example. After 8pm parent must start with switching off television and wifi Internet connections. When situations are already out of control, it becomes increasingly difficult to set boundaries. So confiscating smartphones after 8pm may be something you are forced to do. Children need more than 9 hours sleep according to experts. So for children in high school, a maximum of 8 hours of online access is a guideline and half that for primary school age groups.

  1. Is creating a balance important?

Balance is the key to managing stress. Elma Titus, a Cape Town-based trichologist confided in me a few years ago that more and more of her patients were teenagers loosing their hair. The result of high stress, mixed with information overload from various media constantly sends signals to the brain.  As the most sophisticated biological computer system, in extreme cases, you can experience a burnout or nervous breakdown. Balance is not easy when no boundaries exist, so start with that.

  1. How much is too much time spent on technology?

Some will say that we’re connected 24-7 because of television news channels like CNN or MTV. The simple solution is to learn to switch off your devices and make that a habit. In the same way we don’t leave a tap running because there’s a limit to the water reservoirs,  it’s time to switch off our gadgets to save electricity. Focus and concentration directly tied to natural sleeping patterns. There’s no consensus on the impact of always-on society at current because that only became a reality after broadband was introduced after 2000.

  1. When should parents be concerned that their child is spending too much time on technology?

Parent’s must be concerned when their children begin to exhibit anti social behaviour.  Playing computer games, chatting on Smartphones or aimlessly browsing the Internet for hours on end. After midnight the risks of exposure to online dangers increases dramatically. The reason it increases is the nervous system is stretched and unable to make good decisions because of a lack of rest and ability to concentrate. Simply put, when a child refuses to switch to let go of their technology during an agreed family time e.g. dinner time or Sunday lunch time, there’s a potential addiction or dependency that has developed.

  1. Kids today would rather opt for being entertained by technology, gaming, cellphones, internet, movies as opposed to going outside and having fun. What can be done about this ?

Nothing can be done to reverse this because there are no laws governing personal use of technology unless it’s driving and using cellphones for example. Children are opting for this form of entertainment because there is a complete lack of boundaries from the parents by example and from society at large. Adults are even bigger abusers of technology as they justify their dependency because of work or business.

  1. Virtual exercise is also replacing traditional forms of outdoor activities, is this a good or bad thing and why?

I’m assuming you refer to Nintendo WII or Microsoft Kinnect video game console devices. This is a natural evolution based on three decades of computer games. Please email me a clarification because I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “virtual exercises”

  1. What advice can you give parents who are losing family quality time to technology?

Even though it’ll be difficult, designate one day a week as a family day, and technology-free day. The key is to lead by example and also avoid using technology. The best way to avoid technology is to schedule outdoor or sporting activities.

  1. What does the future of technology look like with regard to its impact on kids?

There is a movement in called Transhumanism, which is the ultimate denial of our humanity. These scientist, and some very, very clever people want humans to merge with technology, so they by extension become immortal. The world of The Matrix movies is closer than we believe because of the coming Singularity. The Singularity is a point in the future estimated between 2030 and 2050 where artificial intelligence machines will be indistinguishable from humans, and more intelligent by an order of magnitude.

  1. Who is to blame for technology addiction in kids?

Parents are to blame for putting no limits on the children’s use of technology. Parent’s limit the access to alcohol and drugs from a young age until their children grow into adults at age 18 or 21 in some cultures. How can they not apply the same rules or ethical behaviour with online technologies and especially Smartphones?

  1. Are parents introducing their kids to technology from too young i.e. from as young as 5 own cellphones and ipads. Or is this necessary taking into consideration we live in a digital era?

Yes, parents are introducing children to technology like iPads at a younger and younger age. This is not necessary because computer technology in the form of microchips are built into almost every deceive from cars to your kitchen fridge. The primary years of a child is best suited for unstructured creative play.

 

15 Minutes with Ramon Thomas

This interview was compiled for a weekly feature in the Daily Dispatch newspaper in East London:

Online behaviour expert Ramon Thomas talks to the Dispatch about technology and how it affects you. Profiles will appear at www.dispatch.co.za

Q: YOU describe yourself as being an online behaviour expert. What does that entail?
A: My field of research is the overlap between psychology, human behaviour and technology, especially the Internet.
It includes how we use the technology and how it changes our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual states.
New research from a book, iBrain, shows greater use of different parts of the brain, improved multi-tasking and the ability to process more information, faster, in the new generation called digital natives – basically people born post 1990.

Q: You’ve done a lot of research into online dating. Can you share some of your findings with us?
A: Recent reports claim online dating is growing by more than 300 percent in South Africa. Female users are growing at twice the rate of male users from what I’ve seen since 2005. The demographics have also changed to be more representative of the South Africa population as more black users turn to the Internet to find love.

Continue reading “15 Minutes with Ramon Thomas”

 

My Taoism interview with Kate Turkington

A few weeks ago I did my first interview with Kate Turkington on Talk Radio 702 and Cape Talk. My good friend Reuel Leach recorded it for me and emailed me the mp3 file of this interview for download soon afterwards. Whatever you know about Taoism is probably limited to the many myths about Eastern religion and philosophy. This interview was during a very stressful period in my life. And its always been my goal to let go of things, especially goals. In this interview I reference the excellent modern translation of the Tao Te Ching by Ron Hogan.

Any questions about Taoism? Feel free to post them below.

 

Algoa Sun interview with Ramon Thomas

The following interview was published on page 8 of the 31 July 2008 issue of the Algoa Sun, a community newspaper in Port Elizabeth. The title for the article was fascinating choice by the editor, The Ethics of IT Dating. I will add a scanned copy of the interview with their own intro to this post later today…

Question: You say that children below the age of 13 should not have cell-phones for health reasons do you not think that in todays world all kids should have access to an adult in case something does go wrong?

Yes, kids should have access to adults. However, the access that is required has always been there. Before cellphones parents had a relationship and understanding with the schools they go to as to when and how they are dropped off and collected after school, from sporting events or when traveling with the school. When visiting friends, arrangements were made with the parents of the friends to look after your children as if they were your own. This is a fear-based myth that cellphones is the only or safest way to make kids safe. The more you buy into a fear mindset, the more you create a dependency on technology or anything outside yourself. So in a very warped way technology has made people more insecure than ever before.

Question: Do you have kids? If so, are they allowed MXit and Facebook?

No I do not have any children because I am not married. I would only allow my own children access for for a limited time per day or on weekends. I recently bumped into a guy who was at school with me, and he has one son in high school and one in primary school. He treats them like this: they only get access for 1 hour on Saturdays between 5-6pm. This is radical, yes, but he succeeded as father by setting the ground rules from day 1.

Question: Do you believe parents should be more “internet and cell-phone aware”?

Parents need to understand that the technology is growing and improving at a vast rate. The best way they can maintain some sense of confidence about the technology is to cultivate an open discussion on a regular (weekly) basis with their children about technology. This is much easier than you may think, simply because technology is so high on the values of children. What I mean is you cannot stop them talking about it when you ask the right questions.

Question: Do you believe the internet is a good way to meet people and start dating?

I have used Internet dating successfully because I have been so persistent and made a tremendous effort to educate myself about the best ways to write my online dating profile. After hundreds articles, books and interviews, and comparisons with other forms of dating and the psychology of attraction, I do not believe its the best way to meet people. You will always have some uncertainly about that elusive obvious called “chemistry” with the opposite sex. So overall your chances are very slim to find a compatible match and sustain the relationship. I consider my last relationship, which lasted about 18 months; as well as best friend of mine, who married a woman he met on www.datingbuzz.com, the exceptions.
Continue reading “Algoa Sun interview with Ramon Thomas”

 

Link To Your World podcast interview

Recently I was approached to do an interview about the rise of the individual with Link To Your World. Some of the points I discussed was how I moved from working in the corporate sector to starting my own business. And I also discussed the power of social networking and social influence to position you as an expert in your industry.

You can download or listen to the podcast interview with Mike Orshan here.

 

Taalgenoot interview on the impact of Technololgy on Human Relationships

online dating1. How does communication technology change the interaction of people (for example: from as young as 11 years children start to MXit and spend as much as 3 hours per day in their own virtual world.. But on Facebook long lost friends can keep in contact. Kindly give positive and negative comment)

Technology allows people to stay in touch with friends or family in remote places that could be very difficult or expensive otherwise. One of the first stories I discovered about MXit, was that of a grandmother in South Africa who was communicating with her grandsons in the UK. She was using MXit, and they were using MSN Messenger on a PC. Skype also allows people to make free voice calls over the Internet at no cost to anyone in the world using Skype.

The problem with technology as a communication medium is that increasingly people do not take responsibility for their actions. So for example people are cancelling appointments or meetings using SMS. Teenagers and adults are breaking up relationships and asking for a divorce using SMS. So technology allows people to avoid any negative reaction from other people. And the really bad part of this behaviour is that you never get to learn, through feedback, a valuable lesson in human relationships.

2. What can parents do to keep tabs on their children’s technology use (such as MXit and Facebook)

With MXit parents can install it on their own phones and add their children as a contacts. This way they can see when their children go online and when they go offline. Be warned that many children will refuse or delete their parents as a contact. When they delete your contact, after accepting you. You will see them as offline all the time, which defeats the purpose of monitoring them. If you have a good relationship with your children this will work.

With Facebook, simply register with Facebook, and search for their profiles. Again be warned you cannot see their profile unless they have accepted you as a Facebook friend. And most teenagers will not do this because it’s just not cool. If you have an open relationship ask them to show you how Facebook works, including a detailed explanation of their profiles.

3. What does communication technology do to the one to one and group communication skills of teens and young people. (eg. to introverts MXit is a way to express themselves but they lack the ability to build relationships etc.)

It can both increase their social contact and decrease their social skills. On MXit, the chat rooms are anonymous because people use nicknames. You may be able to say something in a chat room you could never say in person. So you never learn how to be assertive. And if you are already shy you may after a lot of time practising improve your ability to communicate. The challenge is that when you communicate online, either MXit, or Facebook, you cannot read body language or voice tone, and this reduces the amount of information you have available. So it’s a short term solution for a introverted child to use technology to communicate with people. They should, with help from their parents and teachers, learn how to communicate face to face. Debating clubs and public speaking classes is very good for this

4. Does technology changes the psyche? (Do people become more directed towards technology than their fellow-men?)

There is a growing amount of research that proves that multitasking is a myth. Also with technology many people are learning how to intelligently avoid real work in companies. When people in an office is surfing the Web (including Facebook) it can seem like they are working and yet they are not doing anything work related at all. It’s likely that South Africa is loosing hundreds of millions of Rand due to unproductive employees. And the responsibility lies with the companies to educate their employees on good online etiquette. More specifically I’m becoming very pessimistic about the impact of technology because so much of it is a form of escapism from reality: everything from playstations, to chat room, or online social networks. Nothing beats the real thing!

5. How do you personally use communication technology (Facebook) and how much time do you spend on it

I use or at least try out all new technology as it emerges. I am also a regular blogger and contribute to many online forums. The most important technology for me is email, cellphones and Skype. My primary focus is using technology to communicate with large numbers of people in a personalised way. What I mean is I can use a bulk email software to email 1,000 people using their first name like “Hi Karen” and this gets a much higher response rate. In terms of time I spend to much time using the Internet because its at the core of my business. I spend about 8-10 hours online 6 days a week. I also switch my cellphone off after 8pm and have been working toward ONE Technology FREE day per week, usually Saturdays.

6. Which communication technology is used the most by the different generations?

  • Preteens and teens – MXit and other instant messaging platforms
  • 20 and 30 year olds – Facebook and email, yes
  • 40 – 60 year olds – Cellphone and email, yes
 

Self-promotion interview with Damaria Senne

You may be interested in this is an interview I did with journalist and blogger Damaria Senne about self promotion and building your own profile. A friend of mine once suggested that I offer this as a service to clients. So if you want to obliterate your competition and position yourself as an expert in your field or your industry, contact me directly.

 

Why do high-end professionals find it difficult to meet or interact with women?

This morning I was a guest for the first time on CNBC Africa, a new 24 hour business and finance channel for African business. It’s broadcast on channel 54 on DStv. Anyway the interview was short but to prepare I answered several questions for the producer of the Business AM show hosted by Peter Ndoro and Leigh Roberts.

It really comes down the fact that brokers like most people in the knowledge economy almost exclusively focus on left brain thinking and activities. This is where logical thinking and problem solving skills come together. And what makes one broker better then the next. Now when it comes to meeting and interacting with women the opposite of logical thinking applies. For example when you meet an attractive women the last thing you want to do is giver her a compliment on her physical appearance ? this is the logical thing to do but it’s wrong! Instead what you should do is tease her about something, which will immediately differentiate you from the 99% of men who have approached her on any given day.

 

First part of interview with Damaria Senne

Damaria Senne journalist, children's authorDamaria Senne, a journalist at ITWeb, recently asked me to do a lengthy and very detailed interview about online and mobile trends and the impact on children for her parenting blog. You can read part 1 of the interview here.

Some of the important things I mentioned are as follows ** 2014 updates **

  1. There is a big gap between what parents think children do online, and what they really do, especially because mobile phones seem harmless.
  2. MXit was the fastest growing social network, mobile app in 2007 but it pales in comparison to Facebook or Whatsapp, which are both much easier to use.
  3. Trend 1 – Accelerated development: Dr Suagta Mitra confirmed my prediction with his TED Prize speech on self organised learning environments for children. It is the most important application of technology to learning, especially in the primary stages of life for parents to understand.
  4. Trend 2 – Lack of Social Skills: The severity of this cannot be underestimated. Teenagers seems helpless without their mobile phones, and most dare not initiate contact with a stranger let alone a someone from opposite sex.
  5. Trend 3 – User generated content: This continues to explore. Even though content is king, the quality drops in proportion to the amount produced. There’s also a plethora of apps that generated variations or produce remixes of your content from Twitter, etc.
  6. Privacy is still the #1 issue. The lack of understand is reinforced by the ignorance of users, customers and everyone who keeps buying into the hype of the latest, the newest, the next upgrade. Recommended watching: Privacy is dead – Get over it by Steven Rambam/