The Blend Podcast EP023 – Are We Too Connected?

 

Are we too connected?

Tue, 8/24 11:27AM • 27:41

SPEAKERS

Brendan Cox, Tom Payani

 

Intro/Outro  00:07

Welcome to the blend podcast with Tom and Brendan discussing all things eLearning digital marketing, design and entrepreneurship. The podcast is brought to you by Blend interactive content. Find us on LinkedIn or www.blend.training.

 

Brendan Cox  00:24

Hi Tom, how are you doing? So, what are we talking about today?

 

Tom Payani  00:30

We’re going to talk about this idea of: are we too connected nowadays? Or are we becoming more disconnected and isolated? Also, the role technology plays within that in terms of people being glued to their phone, the amount of screen time that people have every day, and documentaries such as the social dilemma where people are getting worried about how our data is becoming an asset?

 

We will talk about if we are losing our social skills. We want to talk about how we need to think ethically when we’re designing eLearning in this topic. So, there’s a lot going on here, but in general how technology, the internet, social networks have changed the way we interact with each other and is it a positive or negative? Has it made us more disconnected from each other?

 

When we were chatting about what we were going to talk about before, we were talking about how we designed eLearning. A big part of eLearning is gamification and rewards, such as points or coins etc. Before we started recording, we were talking about the idea that likes or points or other elements of gamification are useful in terms of engaging the user in terms of making the learning sticky.

 

That’s good in terms of keeping engagement high because instant gratification gives that dopamine hit, but do we want to encourage that type of learner behaviour, rather than something that connects people in a more authentic way?

 

Brendan Cox  02:19

Focusing on one thing, and making it super addictive, so it’s almost like an eLearning version of Candy Crush Saga isn’t a healthy way to go. I think that it needs to be a holistic approach where you’ve got incentives, you use the tools that we’ve got at our fingertips in terms of that stuff that’s been well designed that has a good user experience, user interface, the way it encourages and rewards the learner while they go. At the same time, not to the detriment of actual human contact like having classmates and feeling connected to a community of learners around you.

 

And that thing of social proof and the aspect of we want to make it balanced. And I think the best way of teaching someone is in the way that it’s using all the different senses and the different approaches, actually, a balanced learning approach always works really well. A balanced medium in which we deliver it is important.

 

Tom Payani  03:23

We are always trying to find that that line between making something addictive enough so that users engage in and is interesting. But we also don’t want people locked up in their bedrooms not talking to anyone because they’re just like playing the game.

 

Because this is a problem with video games in general, isn’t it? Like you said social proof. Maybe you do get rewards, but you get rewards through helping other users, contributing information you got.

 

We always come back to Duolingo, because it’s got such good UX, but this is a good one if you answered certain questions, you got rewarded for that in the game.

 

The next example is obviously not elearning – but upvotes and things like that for the more you use like on Quora or Reddit are examples, where if you answer questions or help the community – then you’re rewarded in the sense that your answer goes to the top.

 

So, it’s tying in rewards or these dopamine hits or this instant gratification, but you’re also contributing something to that particular community or any learning community.

 

Brendan Cox  04:38

So, I suppose the one of the big things is: whose responsibility is it for making sure that that is a balanced approach? Do you think it is ours?

 

Tom Payani  04:48

In eLearning yeah. Obviously, there’s constraints there. Because we have to work to a brief and there’s a scope that’s been agreed with the client. They might not care as much about that as we do when we’re designing it. But we have to make sure because it’s our ethics, isn’t it?

 

This is our ethics, our moral compass. So, we have to make sure at all times (if we can) we’re addressing this idea of how we be as positive as possible or create learning that we think is as constructive as possible?

 

Brendan Cox  05:29

Definitely, I think that the responsibility is ours in in the way that you see with things like where they’ve almost said, ‘Look, we’ve given you everything you want. It’s your responsibility, if you misuse it.’

 

The argument of, if you’ve made it, you should be regulating it and kicking people off if they misbehave or if the user gets addicted to it, it’s not our problem. But the reality is that we’re designing it, we’re building those mechanisms in, and that’s why it’s important we always look at what we’re adding to the eLearning.

 

Is it in the service of not just reaching the learning goals, but do we reach them in a way that’s good for the learner?

 

Tom Payani  06:10

You can’t create something then when people use it in a negative or toxic way, you just wash your hands of it and say, ‘Well, we didn’t say you should use it like this.’

 

You’ve created this platform or this training that allows people to behave in this way. It doesn’t mean you’re responsible for their actions, that’s different, but you’re responsible for the tech and there’s accountability there, there’s a responsibility to do the best you can to make it as constructive as possible.

 

When people like to blame Facebook for some racist saying something horrible Facebook are responsible for managing that. They need to ask, do we want our platform to have this type of behaviour on it?

 

Coming back to this idea of rewards and stuff, Facebook, Instagram, it’s about likes, it’s about follows. And I think this is a big issue. It’s a negative when self-esteem comes from how many likes you’ve got because it’s not real. These types of elements, almost gamification. It’s not gamification, but rewards, systems and stuff, can be really unhealthy.

 

When we’re creating learning, it’s in the back of our mind, I want to move away from that. I’m not one of these guys who thinks everybody should get a participation medal. I’m not saying that but I think it can be very easy to go down this route, especially with younger people, where you get likes or follows or things like this.

 

There’s a difference between that and a sport, where you get points for how well you are playing the sport. That’s something that’s more tangible and makes more sense to me because you’ve achieved certain physical tasks or mental tasks. You’ve scored a goal but you’re not a better person because you’ve scored a goal. It is just a goal.

 

It’s important to distinguish points or coins or goals, or whatever it is in like a sporting context, to liking someone’s picture or following someone.

 

Brendan Cox  08:25

Yeah, it is using that dopamine hit to reward actual improvements in behaviour, interaction and development, rather than doing it like Pavlov’s dog and just dinging a bell every two seconds to make someone want to constantly click on buttons.

 

Tom Payani  08:44

And then the problem with that is when you start getting these dopamine hits, this gratification from a like or a follow or whatever, when you’re in that moment, let’s say you’re at a music concert and you’re filming it, rather than being present in the concert because it’s more important to get views or likes rather than being in the moment.

 

I noticed when I was I was teaching, the social skills have definitely been affected in young people. There’s a change. When I was at school and the bell went there was lots of noise, everyone talking, chatting, going outside playing football, whatever.

 

I’ve been in classrooms now where the bell goes, absolute silence, apart from kids just getting their phones out. And using those 10-15 minutes to be on their phone. Are we too far gone with that? Are we past the tipping point?

 

Brendan Cox  09:55

Humans are basically designed to take the easy option because like all animals we are designed to conserve energy and that comes across in technology. We’re always looking for the new app, the new way to streamline something, the hack for this, the hack for that.

 

Because of that, if you’ve got constant stream of new things that are going to speed you up or distract you, it’s just in our DNA to want to go drawn towards that. With that behaviour over time, some people will realise they’re doing it, some people won’t.

 

The more extreme this behaviour gets, the more certain people start going, is this really right? You see people talking more about wireless, get community back together, more actual social things face to face, especially with COVID which was an extreme version of everyone being online, and no one getting to see anyone over the last year and a half. I think, at a certain point, something clicks in people’s head – am I on my phone too much?

 

It’s like a pendulum swinging out. It’s just like, and then over time, the pendulum swings back to the centre, and everything works when it’s balanced. I think we’re out of balance at the moment.

 

Tom Payani  11:17

Often there’s this question that comes up that says, is technology to blame? But technology’s not good or bad, is it? It’s how we use it. There’s many positive examples of what social media has done, reconnecting long lost family members etc.

 

So it’s a lazy argument to say Facebook’s evil. But like you said, I think when you talk about the pendulum swinging, I think it’s more complicated than that. Because maybe for our generation we have gone, ‘Hold on a minute, there’s too much screen time here. This isn’t right’.

 

Brendan Cox  12:01

Our generation basically didn’t have phones, and then we got phones, then we got addicted to phones. And now we’re starting to feel a bit bad about that. And our kids have basically been born with a phone in their hand. So, for them, it’s normal. Like you’re saying, technology is not intrinsically good or bad. It’s how you use it. But also, how you design it.

 

Tom Payani  12:24

Is it too far gone?

 

Brendan Cox  12:27

I don’t think so. I think we’ve got to design in balance. I think we have to go back and start putting in guards in terms of the way that you design something. So, it’s not just purely addictive. But then that’s tricky, because that involves changing the corporate approach to designing stuff, but maybe I’m being pessimistic.

 

Tom Payani  12:52

I can’t see that happening. Because the more a person is glued to a screen, the more time there are online which equates to more money. The more time you’re online, the more data is being collected.

 

Brendan Cox  13:10

We’re basically being optimised to want stuff so is there anything that we can do to try and counter it?

 

Tom Payani  13:40

Well, I think it’s an easy answer, because it’s a go to answer default answer, but it always starts at home with parents and at school and we put more emphasis and gave more attention to the healthy use of technology and we want technology to benefit our lives, which we haven’t really done yet that is a start.

 

So far it is, ‘Go on this, this will make your life easier.’ In the global education system or national curriculum it needs to be addressed in some way. You’ve got to hope that parents at home try and manage it as well. But then another difficulty with this is being a parent’s hard work, and to placate your kid, sticking them in front of an iPad is often an easy solution.

 

The other problem is if you are much stricter with your kids in terms of the use of technology but all of their mates are constantly on games and playing games with each other then this is going to create a conflict between the parent and the kid as well.

 

This whole concept of not wanting to be a social media because of reason, x and y, but often people organise things through it. That’s how they communicate. I don’t think it’s a shift of not using technology, I think it’s integrating it.

 

These big tech companies need to be a bit more ethically conscious and understand that maybe if they just earned a few less billion this year, this could have a massive positive effect on society, which is probably a bit idealistic.

 

I don’t trust big companies to change their ethics but the companies just follow the money so you’ve got hope if people change their behaviour as consumers. People are questioning things maybe a bit more than they used to; questioning certain structures and power systems and stuff like that. Culture can change, and people have the power to change culture. So if we question our use of technology, we need to understand that according to these companies, we’re just a commodity.

 

Our data is what is valuable to them. And we’re willingly handing over this data by being on our phones by using this technology. Maybe we should redefine our own relationship with technology. And change comes in the same way. I don’t know, maybe another good example is vegetarianism or veganism, Beyond Meat are like super popular now, and they make a lot of money. You know, when I was growing up, I hardly knew any vegetarians. Now, it’s not weird so change can happen.

 

The bottom line is what is most important to them, so they will just follow consumer behaviour, but the real change is going to have to come from the individual.

 

Brendan Cox  19:26

One of the positives of being connected and access to information is that people’s awareness of say vegetarianism is changing and people are becoming more informed. What the industry does to animals, what that type of food does to your body, that kind of information has helped a number of people change their behaviour. And then that changes the corporate approach.

 

Tom Payani  20:11

Definitely. The whole thing’s a double edged sword, getting access to information and sharing this information with each other, whether it’s Reddit, or YouTube or wherever, you can find out about anything now.

 

Brendan Cox  20:27

The same applies to what actually has happened with COVID. Everyone on lockdown is going to raise awareness. It’s going to be an ongoing discussion about the psychological impact of isolation and non social interactivity. That discussion is going to bring to light a lot of information, that people are then going to change their mind about the way that they behave, which then impacts the way that the companies behave again.

 

Tom Payani  21:02

The problem you’re always going to have is we have access to information. But then we’re moving now towards this concept of misinformation. If I want to find out about veganism or whatever, any new thing I’m thinking about possibly changing my behaviour in, I can find that information online.

 

But then the next step after that is okay, what information can I trust? This comes back again, to governments and big tech, being connected to each other. You listen to people like Russell Brand, he talks about it a lot, these power structures are all the same people. And it’s creating these polemic debates where you’re this or this.

 

Can I even trust this information that’s available to me anyway? You just have to try your best to figure it out and educate yourself as much as you can and understand that often, there are shades of grey. When you go on Twitter, or, or these types of platforms, everything is just so black and white.

 

If you don’t believe this, then you must be this.

 

Brendan Cox  22:27

You’re shown information in an echo chamber. If you show him a slight inclination towards vegetarianism suddenly, everything becomes polarised in that sense and leads you down a certain path. I think when we talk about being connected, it comes back to that thing of some of the coolest things I’ve seen get done, like my friends in London, who basically realised their kids are all on their devices all the time so they started a Parent Teachers Association thing that started addressing the stuff that doesn’t get addressed normally.

 

What about devices? How do we get our kids more active? How do we get them all in one place? Yesterday I went climbing and as soon as school finished, you could see the parents bringing a group of kids. There wasn’t a device in sight.

 

There is an element of getting that perspective and balance back in. It comes from talking to other people, and try getting back that social community element that brings the balance of lots of people around the table talking and giving their opinions without a filter.

 

Tom Payani  23:56

Change is always going to come from the bottom, you know, it’s going to come from individuals changing their decisions, but technology can be used to help that. You’ve got this Parent Teacher Association, or a climbing club or whatever it is. That can be organised through Facebook, or some sort of social media.

 

Technology is amoral. It can be used for good or bad. For me, the worst thing is this idea of surveillance capitalism. I heard this term when I was researching for this podcast, and it is a form of our economic system, that mines human experience. Logging our data trails, and collating by data and our decision making online.

 

Then they can produce project predictions about what we want, and then sell that data to the appropriate companies. I think as long as we are aware of this, there’s no reason why we can’t use technology in a way that’s constructive if we have a level of awareness of really what these big companies are trying to do with our data.

 

Brendan Cox  25:08

Yeah, it’s an experiment. And the data gives them more accuracy in their approach to what they’re doing. It’s definitely something that started when Freud came over to America. It’s the idea that they rebranded propaganda, because propaganda has negative connotations in marketing. The idea that if you can give people help, like a distraction that keeps them keeps them busy you can sell them all sorts of things.

 

Tom Payani  25:50

The Adam Curtis documentary called The Century of the Self talks about this. It’s amazing. You can watch it online on YouTube. I think we have a responsibility when we’re creating our own work. And I think that’s why we wanted to do this podcast in the first place to think about, ‘Okay, how can we create learning that we think at least, either minimises negative behaviour, or tries to create more positive habits in the way people learn, or use their devices, if it’s through what we produce’.

 

Brendan Cox  26:46

Yeah. And I think it comes down to one question, and you can use it for eLearning and you can use it for yourself and your own behaviour in general – is this is this behaviour good for the learner? And then when in normal situations, is this is this behaviour good for my kid? Is this behaviour good for me?

 

Tom Payani  27:06

I think you’re right. I think that’s a good starting point. I think that’s a nice way to wrap it up.

 

Intro/Outro  27:12

Thanks for listening to the Blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google and Apple. You can find Blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or www.blend.training. Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

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