Why technology has only helped add stress to workers


We are the most technologically advanced generation in history, but paradoxically the busiest. Technology was to free us and get us more time for ourselves, and possibly for other people. The opposite happened.

Think of any technology you use, from the going up of the sun to the going down of the sun. It makes your life easier. But why are we so tired by the end of the day? If you grew up in a farm milking cows and weeding, it comes as a surprise that you get as tired while leaving office as you did on the farm.

Why did technology fail to “free us”? The only generation that got freedom from technology was the slaves. It should not surprise anyone that the end of slavery trade coincided with the flowering of the industrial revolution. That is why few economies collapsed after slaves were emancipated.

Technology is innocent. We are the problem. Technology changed, we did not change. We still must sleep, eat and perform all other biological functions. Technology cannot fasten or slow them down. Our failure to appreciate this simple fact has been the cause of our problems.

More curious is that any time freed by one technology is taken by another. A good example; Buying a car makes you travel faster. But you want to visit more people and run more errands. Having a mobile phone could make travelling unnecessary, but you want to call more people and chat more.

Having machines in your kitchen to cook or clean dishes tempts you to try more recipes. We seem wired to be busy. Even sleeping makes you tired, though modern youngsters seem to have strange ability to sleep.

The paradox of technology has been created by blurring of the border between work place, home and leisure. We work everywhere, even when travelling in between places. Add interconnection through the internet and work joins breathing which never stops. Check on your whatsup any time of the day or night, there is someone online. The definition of work has also changed. It is no longer about muscles but brain which never stops working.

In the past, life patterns were very predictable. You woke up, prepared for the day, went to work and left “work” in the office or wherever you worked. Now we carry the work in our heads.

The mixing up of work, leisure, and home has created a generation that is forever tired and stressed. That is why technology does not always make us more productive, against the promise. The older generation is perplexed by the work ethic of the digital natives who are forever on the phone.

The mix up has farther reduced productivity through ill health- both physical and emotional. Noted few Kenyans are themselves; they live in the shadow of fear or worry, irrespective of social economic status? Productivity is not a uniquely Kenyan issue.

The slowdown in productivity growth has affected almost all the advanced economies and this started in the early 1970s, notes Martin Baily and Nicholas Montalbano of The Brookings Institution. Data from US shows that productivity has slowed down despite all the advances in technology. They explain US productivity slowdown through mis-measurement, exhaustion of important innovations, lack of competition, and lack of managerial capability to adopt best practices, lack of worker skills, continued cyclical weakness, and regulation. One wishes such data was available for Kenya.

Where do we go from here?

Some observers think there is no need to worry, progress or economic growth has consequences. Stress, anxiety and unhappiness are some of the consequences. If you live in a developed country you will understand this better and why lots of Mzungus get addicted to Kenya.

Economic growth rides on productivity improvement and any slowdown should worry us. At the policy level, we think investing in technology and giving incentives from salary raise to bonus will raise productivity. We could even improve working conditions.

Entrepreneurs never sleep. They help us solve our problems and make money. Noted the popularity of team building, gyms, pubs and clubs? They are all trying to calm us and ‘de-stress’ us and hopefully make us more productive. Even chamas have a de-stressing effect as members meet to share their anxieties, sorrows and worries.

I may be wrong but the current generation is marrying earlier. Is marital company another route to reducing the consequences of progress and technology particularly stress?

The country is awash with projects from highways, office blocks, SGR and apartment blocks. Does anyone worry about the ‘soft’ part of our lives? We remain human with or without technology.

From our homes to offices or fields, technology follows us. Drones are coming to deliver pizza, letters, parcels and flowers on Valentine Day. It seems we prepare for school, exams, marriage, kids and even death through wills but never prepare for technology. We spend lots of money buying technology, but invest very little in learning how to interact with it symbiotically. It’s time to tame technology into total submission.

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