Creating Technology for Social Change

Coping with Hyperconnectivity

Liveblog of the “Coping with hyperconnectivity” panel at NetExplo at UNESCO in Paris. The speaker is Delphine Ernotte Cunci, Deputy Chief Executive Office of France Telecom Group.

One argument about information in our times is that we are submerged by the sheer amount of digital information we receive — we are drowning in it. So we do our best to disconnect ourselves. Others argue that this intentional disconnection phenomenon hasn’t been studied enough to confirm. One thing is certain: technology influences our relationship with time. The internet changes our temporal space. Technology tends to promise to save us time, but it’s clear that the internet can also eat into the few spare minutes we once had.

Delphine uses Twitter, but not Facebook. She uses Twitter for her job.

Her company, Orange, sits on a lot of insightful data about this trend. It’s empirically true that we’re more hyperconnected these days. More than half of cellphones sold today are smartphones. They allow us to jump between tasks quickly. These tasks are oftne micro tasks, not long thought. We spend an average of 2 hours a day on our cellphones, and 2.5 hours watching TV (the two overlap). 80% of television viewers who have a tablet use the tablet simultaneously. 68% of smartphone owners use their phones while watching TV.

Is hyperconnection good or evil?
In the Women’s Forum for Economy and Society last year, Orange presented a survey called Time and Connection. It found that hyperconnection is compatible with well-being. 68% of French people think the more connected and active you are, the happier you’ll be. And 92% of internet users surveyed feel more relaxed when they’re connected than when they’re not connected.

People feel they’re able to do about 80% more at work with hyperconnectivity. We can multitask multiple tasks concurrently. But multiple screens produce a behavior of zapping between small tasks. You may have noticed this yourself when you finally do need to read a long file and find you no longer have the attention span for it.

Are we addicted, imprisoned by these habits? We don’t like to live in a vacuum, and we go to our phones and computers in spare moments. 39.5% of French people felt the lack of connection when you want it is a real concern that heightens anxiety. And people are suspicious of possible addictive qualities of technology. This impacts our relationship to time. Even if we can accomplish more things in a day with technology, we are left with the feeling that we do not have enough time to do all that we must do.

49% of French citizens slow down at some point in the day. Orange decided to launch a noncommercial project called the Time Project. They’re talking with philosophers and sociologists about the human perception of time. This will inform the mana of the project.

Then, Orange will provide customers with tools to better manage our connectivity. They’ve introduced a modem with sophisticated controls to allow parents (or ourselves) to black out internet use at certain hours of the day. Parents can remotely disable the connection during homework hours.

Companies also struggle with changes to our sense of time. People told Orange they were collectively overworked: too many emails, too many poorly organized meetings, too many important interactions. An initial proposal to forbid internal emails after 8pm backfired. It turned out that some women were using late night email to allow them to leave the office earlier to take care of their families. This experience taught Delphine that blanket policies would not work. Technology allows flexibility between our private and public lives, but it can also be abused. Employees can be left without time to rest if their overbearing bosses expect replies to emails at all hours of the day.

Younger generations are deeply connected to online social networking. Orange used to forbid employees to use Twitter and Facebook, even while recruiting 10,000 new employees. For a 25 year old employee, inability to access Twitter or Facebook at work was a completely unacceptable policy. Orange changed their policy this January, but internally, the social networks weren’t opened up for fear of the detritus effect on work. Orange finally convinced the managers to allow access, and the world did not end. Younger employees were happy, and older employees saw no change whatsoever.

But there’s a difference between an official email from your company and a tweet. Employees who tweet sensitive information are at risk, because they’re not necessarily authorized to disclose the information. Social networks make the barrier between companies and the public a far thinner membrane. There are slipups.

We cannot fight connection. It’s a sign of the times. But Delphine believes telecom operators have a responsibility to help customers control this hyperconnectivity. A balance of rules and flexibility could provide the netiquette we need to find balance. We can agree to rules, like no phones at restaurants, or no laptops in meetings.

Asked how she, manages connectivity, Delphine answers that she has begun to restrict how many emails she sends, and has to wait to tell people things in person. As a result, she says, she doesn’t fact email overload. She does send a lot of SMSes.