How Tech is Hacking Your Career, Productivity, and Happiness

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How will technology impact the future of work — and how is it impacting our happiness today?

Those are just two of the topics I discuss in this episode with writer, futurist, and technology leader Alex Salkever.

He also is the co-author, with Vivek Wadhwa, of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future and Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning The Battle To Control Your Brain – And How To Fight Back.

In the former book, Salkever and Wadhwa examine how artificial intelligence (A.I.) and other emerging technologies will impact our work, our relationships, and our self-care — from transforming schooling and medicine to how we travel.

The thematic question they pose in the book is, “Will we end up a world like Mad Max … or a world like Star Trek.”

“A.I. will call into question, or at least cause us to think about, the very nature of what makes us human and what makes us different,” Salkever said. “I think often, when people talk about the future of work, they have this illusion that there are certain glorious things that humans can do better than everyone else, forever. ‘Oh, no, a robot can’t do that, or A.I. can’t do that,’ when, in fact, we as humans may actually prefer the A.I. do it.”

He explained this might be the case, “for things like counseling, where you want arms-length, or for decisions on diagnostics where, the patterns aren’t totally there yet, but it’s getting close.”

In the book, Salkever and Wadhwa pose three questions to ask when considering the cost vs. benefit of new technology:

  • Does it have the potential to benefit everyone equally?
  • What are the risks and rewards?
  • Does it foster autonomy and independence?

With the emergence of these technologies, Salkever and I also discussed the importance of fostering creativity, critical thinking and problem solving among our youth.

“Creativity, and really I’d say non-linear thinking, ways of making leaps of logic, or creativity leaps,” said Salkever. “That’s what will be the most important for educating our kids.”

In terms of how technology is impacting our happiness, we discussed the addictive nature of social media apps, such as Facebook, as well as the privacy concerns they pose.

Perhaps most important, Salkever and Wadhwa write of how technology meant to make us more productive (such as email or Slack) can actually be causing a constant flow of interruptions that keeps us from entering the deep work state in which we become productive and get in a state of flow.

They cite Cal Newport, who writes in his book, Deep Work, “To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work.”

They also refer to the work of Gloria Mark, UC Irvine Professor, whose research finds that workers, on average, are switching contexts due to interruptions every ten-and-a-half minutes. For example, employees check their smartphones an average of 150 times every day.

These constant interruptions prevent us from attaining the deep work state that is so critical to true productivity.

“In the future, I really hope that companies try to create “flow space” for people,” said Salkever. “I know that some are getting much more aggressive at it.”

He cited Microsoft, which in 2015 acquire VoloMetrix, and now offers the MyAnalytics solution, which analyzes your calendar, emails, chats, etc. to show you how many blocks of interrupted time you have in your workday during which you may be more likely to achieve deep state flow.

Whether it’s impacting our productivity, our privacy, or our overall states of mind, Salkever and Wadhwa suggest the following key questions as we consider whether certain technologies are beneficial to our lives and personal freedom:

  • Does it make us happier or sadder?
  • Do we need to use it as part of our lives or work?
  • Does it warp our sense of time or place in unhealthy ways?
  • Does it change our behavior?
  • Is our use of it hurting those around us?
  • If we stopped using it, would we really miss it?

You can view my full interview with Alex above, or download the podcast episode here.


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