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.

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What is the role of Technology in Romantic Relationships?

One of the tragedies of the romantic relationships in the 21st century is the lack of quality and the lack of depth. Technology has played a pivotal role in bringing people closer together and also keeping people from connecting at deeper levels. We’ve seen the rise of Internet dating as means for people to find suitable partners to become friends, go on dates and to eventually get married. This has been further enhanced by adult dating websites, which allow people to skip courtship and go straight to sex.

We’ve also seen the erosion of boundaries between couples. Cellphones have placed people at the beck and call of their mates. And so you find many people who would otherwise have developed a very strong individualised personality within the relationship breaking down when they cannot get hold of their partner. A pastor from a church once cautioned me about the devastating impact cellphones and MXit was having on young married couples. What he found was that as teenagers, they develop their online friendships, sometimes having hundreds of “friends” on social networks. And when they get married, they want to maintain those friendships. Now here arises a real conflict because the husband or wife may have their own “friends” they are used to communicating with. This eventually leads to a severe breakdown in communication, a lack of trust, and is the opposite of what these people should ideally have at the beginning of a marriage.

Now it’s a fact that we do not live in a perfect world. And in the same way that technology is abused, its also having a very positive impact. Technology like Skype, the most popular VOIP application on the Internet, has allowed people to connect and even do video calls anywhere in the world. Social networking has had the same positive impact in that it has allowed people to maintain friendships and even develop romantic relationships over long distances. And I firmly believe we’ve now reached the stage where people are more realistic about the people they meet on the Internet.

The greatest challenge for 21st century relationships is moving from addiction-based technology1 relationships to real connections, real intimacy. And I’ll explore this more in my upcoming book, The Psychology of Technology.


Interview on Chai FM, Jewish community radio station

[NB! I often receive phone calls or emails from people thinking this website is Chai FM. Please contact them directly via their websitebecause I was only a guest on the radio station a few times.]

Today I received an invitation to do my first interview with this new Jewish community radio station next week 10, Tuesday, 23 December 2008. We will be discussing what technology is popular among children, why it’s so popular and coping strategies for Jewish parents and families in general. The big take away for me learning about diverse South African groups is how strong families are in some and weak in others.

While doing my own background research I came across this promo video for the brand new Chai 101.9 FM Johannesburg, South Africa, a 24 hour a day Jewish radio station!

“Chai Fm is a Jewish community radio station broadcasting to the greater Johannesburg area on 101.9fm. The station is talk format with 20% Jewish music. Programming is determined by community research and reflects the diverse views of the community. Based on “Tools for Life”, Chai Fm provides programming that is informative, educational, entertaining and relevant to the community.

The objectives of Chai FM are to: Unite the Jewish community, to build the connection between the community and the land of Israel, to reflect ourselves to ourselves and to provide programming that is relevant, informative, intelligent, honest, engaging, reflects a diversity of views and is entertaining.

Chai FM is for all the Jews of Johannesburg, irrespective of observance levels, age, gender, race or financial status.

“The station aims to provide a platform for debate and a diversity of opinion” says Kathy Kaler, a director of Chai FM. She adds: “It’s so easy to think that our communities are insular and we can forget we are each part of a greater “whole”.

Chai FM was granted a community broadcasting licence in June 2007 and will begin broadcasting in September 2008.

Source: Teruah blog.


Leadership in a Technology Driven World

Worldwide there is a crises in education and schools and perhaps even more so in Africa. All you have to do is open any newspaper and you will read stories like this letter from a very concerned parent in the Namibian. This keynote speech was delivered to over 240 Deputy Heads of Independent Schools at St John’s College in Johannesburg. There are a number of questions that I explored in this speech for the first time.

They include:

  1. Complexity > Clarity (Paradox of Choice, etc)?
  2. Confusion > Confidence (Leadership, Wisdom, etc)?
  3. Conflict > Collaboration (Web 2.0, Open Source, etc)?

Anyway enjoy the presentation from my Slideshare.net account 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