Towle: Securing Sachs

Limiting online addiction could be the key to professional success.

by Sydney Towle | 11/12/19 2:05am

In 2014, Youtuber Gary Turk released a video entitled “Look Up,” a spoken word film intended for the technological generation. The video quickly went viral due to a hard-hitting message about technology and loss of human connection, but has since waned in importance. Dartmouth has recently had its own “Look Up” campaign, founded by Susan Reynolds, a Dartmouth ’84. Deemed “LookUp.Live,” the campaign has a goal of “creating innovative solutions for tech-life balance.”  

We all know that social media and online addiction is problematic for a variety of reasons, such as a decreased attention span and increased mental health issues. However, many people overlook the effects that this addiction can have on our future careers and opportunities for employment. As college students, we are all wary of the prospect of interviews and entering a workplace environment. Especially at Dartmouth, an Ivy League institution, students are presented with a variety of internships and jobs to compete for. The competitive edge is granted to those who not only possess academic rigor, but also have the key social skills that many employers look for. These assets will be less prominent in students with an online addiction due to inhibited social skills, a more rigid cognitive capacity and a worse sense of trust and identity. 

One irony of “social” media is that while we increasingly interact using these platforms, we lose the interpersonal skills necessary for face-to-face interactions. In the workplace and in interviews, it is imperative to our success that we are able to listen attentively, respond and interact with the people with whom we are conversing. A comprehensive study on interviews found that social skills have one of the strongest correlations to interview success, surpassing both prior experience and grade point average. 

By delegating our attention to our phones, rather than the people around us, we erode these skills. When we interact with the people around us, our brains activate interpersonal neural synchronization. This process allows us to translate not only words, but feelings and beliefs. Being able to express ourselves in an effective manner comes through in an interview setting and can help us come across as a more ideal candidate. Moreover, being able to attentively listen to an interviewer or boss is necessary for producing the result that they are seeking. Studies have shown that the average attention span has decreased by about one-third over the past 15 years. Distraction prevents us from giving a quality response and can easily appear as boredom or disinterest, which isn’t attractive to any employer.

Along the same line, our shorter attention spans stem from the volume of information that we are presented with when we go online. In a five-minute scroll through Instagram, one could see over 100 posts, ads, comments and interactions. As our brains become accustomed to consuming as much material as possible in so little time, we lose our ability to just think. Daydreaming is an essential process. It allows us to think deeply and creatively about the abyss of information floating through our brains. When our brain has the opportunity to wander, it forms new neural pathways and connections, which is what helps us problem-solve and find ingenious solutions to a variety of problems. 

Creative thinking is essential for peak performance at almost every job, and is especially important to a world with increasingly complex challenges. According to one study on creativity and job performance, “creative employees are more likely to discover customers’ hidden needs, to develop a good rapport with customers, and to solve their service problems creatively and effectively, ultimately creating a superior experience.” If one can demonstrate an ability to think creatively in interviews, internships and jobs, he or she has a much higher chance of both retaining and furthering employment goals. With a creative flow inhibited by online addiction, however, many students will find their ability to prove themselves in a professional setting to be more difficult. 

Trust and a secure sense of identity ground our relationships and interactions. These qualities can easily be degraded in an online world, where we constantly have to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. In a study regarding employee trust and workplace performance, it was found that higher employee trust led to increasing financial performance, labor productivity and product/service quality. When people trust those that they are working for, they are more likely to want to establish good relations with their managers and coworkers through a better performance standard. Performing better then leads to personal benefits such as a pay increase, promotion, or continuation of an internship or trial position.

In an environment where occupational opportunities abound, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. With similar GPAs, extracurricular activities, and levels of experience, students can easily feel lost in the crowd. Yet by demonstrating exceptional social skills, students can be perceived as more ideal candidates by potential employers. Once opportunities are secured, these skills only further occupational growth. The key to fostering these skills is the same as any — practice. That practice comes from resisting the constant pull of technology at our fingertips, because our interpersonal connections and our job prospects are on the line.

We must make an active effort to look up from our online presence to not only become better people, but to become better professionals.