Monday 8 March 2021

Born Digital by Robert Wigley @RobertWigleyBD BLOG TOUR #BornDigital @midaspr


Our attention has been hijacked by the tsunami of devices, games and social media which now dominate our lives. This new technology brings efficiency, cost-savings and instantaneous information. But when our attention is the currency being traded by big tech firms, what price are we willing to pay for convenience?

Addiction, anxiety, depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, empathy development, troubled relationships, fake news, propaganda and even threats to democracy are just some of the challenges new technology presents. Antitrust law has failed to prevent the emergence of a few dominant big tech platforms and regulation has not kept pace with surveillance capitalism. The internet was created on the assumption that all users are equal, but children and the vulnerable are not.

In Born Digital, Robert Wigley distils the mountains of available research on the subject and brings to bear his wealth of institutional experience to present a roadmap for society to radically and urgently reset its relationship with technology - for the sake of future generations.

Born Digital by Robert Wigley is published by Whitefox Publishing on 11 March 2021. I'm delighted to share an extract from the book with you today as part of this Blog Tour organised by Midas PR.


As I walk into the lounge, I see my son watching his favourite team playing
football on TV. But he also has the laptop open with a YouTube clip
running and messages from friends popping up constantly on one side
of the screen on Facebook Messenger. His mobile is in his hand, where
I can see he has new Snapchat notifications. My question about whether
he is hungry is ignored as he taps away rapidly to answer a message on
his phone, hardly looking away from the football on the TV. Note to
self – don’t immediately get cross when kids ignore you in this way. It is
how they communicate. Generation Z doesn’t experience interruptions
as disruptions. They are just one of many different forms of competing
incoming information.

Generation Z comprises professional multitaskers who, from an earlier
and earlier age, spend more and more time dropping in and out of different apps like manic bees grazing on multiple honeypots. The consequence
is that they are spending less time doing anything with focus or faceto-face with their families and friends. These changes are gradually and,
indeed, insidiously baked into the way their brains develop because of the
way the devices, apps and platforms to which they become attached are
designed. I believe this is taking a toll on the mental health of our children
in a way we should not ignore. It is likely that depression is now more recognised and more socially acceptable to admit and talk about than
when I was a teenager. But I rarely go a week without talking to another
parent whose child is suffering from anxiety, and very often more serious
issues, including, sadly, self-harming and suicidal tendencies. I talk here
of relatively high-achieving, physically healthy, good-looking kids with
apparently everything going for them and everything to go for. So what
on earth is happening?

Generation Z does not distinguish between the online and offline
worlds in the same way as millennials, because they have grown up with
technology. Millennials, for whom technology arrived part way through
their lives, see a distinct difference. To Generation Z, a ‘conversation’ is
most likely a text or messaging exchange. Adam Alter tells the story of
a psychologist reacting to one of his internet addiction patients: ‘This
person doesn’t differentiate various modes of communication the way I
do – the result is a landscape filled with disconnection and addiction.’1
Generation Z cannot be separated from their devices without consequences; as Alter points out, ‘This sort of overuse is so prevalent that
researchers have coined the term ‘nomophobia’ to describe the fear of
being without phone contact (an abbreviation of ‘no-mobile-phobia’).2
Turkle coins the term ‘disconnection anxiety’ to describe the real angst
that grows when youngsters are denied access to their smartphones. A
common term used by Generation Z themselves is FOMO – fear of
missing out. I have come to recognise one of Generation Z’s common
refrains – ‘Wait! What?’ – in my own sons, as they look up from finishing
a text or instant message (IM) to ask me to repeat what I have said when
their attention was not fully focused.

In his book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside
Our Heads, Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu, widely known for
championing equal access to the internet, and who writes and teaches
about private power, free speech and information warfare, describes us as homo distractus, suffering an ‘attentional crisis’.

 It is clear that what
he calls the ‘attention industry’, that which drives digital platforms and
digital content, has in just a few years come to dominate the waking
lives of not just our children, but all of us – in messaging, engaging
in social media, getting the news, watching film and video, listening to
music, gaming, e-sport, engaging in fitness and online shopping. The
question I want to address is whether the benefits of these new technologies outweigh the issues they have created for our mental and physical
wellbeing – or are we, as T. S. Eliot once said, ‘just distracted from
distraction by distraction’.

Wu argues that the tech industry has ‘come to exert a more ambiguous
though profound influence on how we live’. Whereas we were previously
able to set boundaries and keep ourselves safe from the encroachment of
consumption-driving companies, the majority of us now ‘carry devices on
our bodies that constantly find ways to commercialise the smallest particles of our time and attention’.

Robert Wigley backs young entrepreneurs in cutting-edge technology businesses and is the Chairman
of UK Finance. 

He spent a career in finance rising to be EMEA Chairman of Merrill Lynch and a member of the board of the Bank of England during the 2008 financial crisis. 
He was Chairman of the Green Investment Bank Commission and wrote the seminal report Winning in the Decade Ahead on the future of London as a Global Financial Centre, for Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London. 
He is an Officer of the Order of St John. 
He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and Companion of the Chartered Management Institute. 
He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland, a Visiting Fellow of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and an Honorary Fellow of Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. He sits on the UK's Economic Crime Strategic Board, co-chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary. 
Born Digital is his first book.

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