Psychology of the Connected World
It’s true that the surrounding technologies are changing not our lives but also our behavior and attitudes. They or, rather, their creators learn not only to help us, but also to manipulate us in new ways. Our over-trust to technologies might be underneath the new notion of “post-truth” where nothing is ever provable.
The recently emerged era of the connected world has produced new concerns about our behavior and psychology in the new settings. The connectivity of the world around us is changing our lives at home and at work. It gives us more opportunities but also shapes our identities.
Does it still exist? We leave hundreds of digital footprints everyday when we visit a webpage or pay with a credit card. In the connected world, where IoT devices will gain the ability to see and record all our moves, all of our notions of privacy will vanish. It is believed, that such constant surveillance violates the social and psychological foundation of humans, destroying our sense of privacy at every dimension.
We are told that this “ubiquitous surveillance” is emerging from our own voluntary choices because it is out choice to buy smart devices and accept cookies and privacy disclosure agreements on websites. Yet, for example, standard smartphone operating systems don’t permit you to choose safeguards to prevent being surveilled, so our choices are prompted by technology, not our free will.
How will this lack of privacy affect us in the long run? The Helsinki Privacy Experiment explored such long-term psychological consequences of surveillance at home when participants had to live with all their activities, both online and offline, tracked. At first, their responded to the constant intrusion of a camera by changing their behavior — sometimes stopping their activities entirely or hiding them. Yet, after several months, 10 out of 12 participants simply got used to it.
Privacy, it turns out, may not be so valuable after all.
From the emergence of laptops, to the newest devices such as smart watches, the market offers a wide range of accessories that cement the idea of “always-on”. Once you had to look at your phone to stay in touch and up to date with everything, now it can be strapped around your wrist. We are so much attached to our “always-on/always-on-us” devices that we now live in two separate worlds: plugged and unplugged.
We believe that we live in a society where we expect to be able to reach everyone instantly. In this society there is no excuse not to be able to communicate at any time, because you are supposed to be constantly available. With wearable technology, it becomes even easier to do blurring of the lines between “real-life” and “virtual-life”. People stay connected to one another at any time through diverse microdata.
Constant connectivity can take a toll on physical and mental health. We can speak of addiction to smart devices, physical problems due to device-prompted positioning of our bodies, and constant stress. As a result of the blurred line between the online and offline life, many users feel the need to declare a “purge”, or a “holiday” from the connected world.
There exists a separate group of smart devices that are aimed at changing our habits and lifestyle, such as fitness bracelets that try to make us eat less and move more. Though giving valuable recommendations, such devices are still notoriously poor in terms of addressing the person’s motivation. When we use a smart device to have a healthier life, we should still enjoy it and not feel oppressed by the machines. Yet, some studies suggest that constant consulting with wearable devices can reduce our content with workouts.
Smart devices collect all kinds of data about us to provide physical and psychological monitoring. At the same time, not all the information we get can be beneficial for us: with too much knowledge of ourselves and our vices we are forced to self-discovery which may lead to lower self-esteem and even self-rejection.
With the IoT, teams can collaborate across very long distances saving corporate money and giving more independence and freedom to knowledge employees. Of course, many enterprises choose to reduce their office footprint in favor of “virtual teams.” At the same time, when team collaboration is mediated through software, it can be more difficult to understand the nuance behind communication and identify another’s intentions — potentially leading to disruptive misunderstandings and the sense of alienation
Really incessant work
“Always on” devices have led to an “always on” workplace, where people feel trapped to work on a 24-hour basis through their phones. Many people report discomfort when they do not check their work email at night or over the weekend. This reduces morale and makes off-time less restorative.
Working in a panopticon
The IoT provides immense capacity to track our movements throughout the workday. Potentially, this data can be useful — a good example is tracking trucks to ensure they are on time, but in practice it reduces autonomy and creates a sense of constant observation.
Greater safety and security
Especially in manufacturing and resource extraction, the Internet of Things can mitigate risks that were once believed to be intractable by integrating safety systems into a true network. Whilst the current model relies on the individual vigilance, in future workers will be able to think less actively about their safety and feel more at ease without a constant anticipation of life-threatening events.
Undeniably, technology is changing our psychology. Many of the changes are positive, but many are harmful. Yet, let’s not forget that technology is a means, not a goal, and it is our choice how to use it. The connectivity and the IoT can become tools for punishment of workforce and for self-diminishing and stress, or it can give autonomy and freedom of a bigger world at your fingertips.
Of course, it is always easier said than done. But now if your fitness app starts shouting that you’ve missed a day of workout and you are somewhere in the mountains on a 100-km cycling track — just turn it off. And don’t feel guilty about it.