Digital Natives: Connected to Devices but Disconnected from Life

Many digital natives and Millennials relate to life through phones and devices, causing a range of social and economic problems for themselves and society. This episode of CxOTalk explores the issues with one of the world's foremost digital sociologists.


Oct 04, 2019

Many digital natives and Millennials relate to life through phones and devices, causing a range of social and economic problems for themselves and society. This episode of CxOTalk explores the issues with one of the world's foremost digital sociologists.  She explains the problem and offers suggestions to close and bridge the digital divide.

Dr. Julie Albright is a lecturer and research scientist at USC. Her most recent book is Left to Their Own Devices: How Digital Natives Are Reshaping the American Dream.

Dr. Albright's unique approach has made her a sought-after keynote speaker on innovation and the social and psychological impacts of technology by companies like IBM, SAP, Oncor, Oracle and major energy conferences including Distributech, CS Week, DARPA, Data Center Dynamics and many others. She is a noted thought leader and media expert on the transformation of society and business by digital technologies, and the changing workforce. Dr. Albright has appeared on multiple national media interviews for the Today Show, CNN, NBC Nightly News, CBS, Dr. Phil, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time, Newsweek and many others.


This transcript was lightly edited for readability.


Michael Krigsman: Mobile devices have taken over our world. There is a deeply negative aspect to this fundamental trend. That's our topic today on CXOTalk. Julie Albright, she is a professor at the University of Southern California, USC, and she's written this amazing, excellent book called Left to Their Own Devices, which I'm holding up, and you can see the cover. Julie Albright, how are you? Welcome to CXOTalk.

Dr. Julie Albright: Thanks for having me.

Michael Krigsman: Julie, tell us about your work, tell about your book, and tell us what you're up to.

Dr. Julie Albright: I'm a digital sociologist, so I look at the intersection of technology and society. I've spent my career thinking about what that means.

I also have two counseling degrees as well as a sociology degree, so I kind of look at the big social trends. Then I put on my counseling hat and I think about, what are the impacts on the ground for people, for relationships, for the workforce, et cetera?

Michael Krigsman: This book that you wrote, Left to Their Own Devices, how does that bring together these multiple threads that you've just described?

Dr. Julie Albright: I see the constellation in the stars. I see patterns. What I started to see was, there were studies coming out from disparate fields where I started seeing that these were all related. I call this the notion of coming untethered. It's the idea that young people are unhooking from many traditional things that other generations did routinely, things like getting married, buying a home, buying a car, having children, things of that nature, joining things like political parties or going to church. At the same time, they're hyper-attached to digital technologies. This idea of coming untethered is really reshaping society and has vast implications.

What does ‘Untethered’ Mean in this Context?

Michael Krigsman: What's the connection between becoming untethered? When you say untethered, you mean disconnected from the typical life experiences. We should begin there, that definition of untethered.

Dr. Julie Albright: The idea is, sociologists call these social structures, things like marriage or the church, being in groups, things like that. The longest studies that we have from sociology show that being sort of woven into the social fabric lends itself to wellness, psychological stability, physical wellness, things like that. As people sort of uproot and pull away from these things that are stabilizing structures, we're starting to see some instability happening as a result.

We're sort of in this transitional period where, as people pull away from these traditional things that nothing has really come to take their place. Instagram is sort of like building your house on sand. It's not the same thing as being part of a church, a family, or things like that in terms of the psychological benefits. In fact, it's the opposite. These things sort of undermine people's sense of self and sense of wellbeing.

What is the Problem with Digital and Mobile Devices?

Michael Krigsman: Why is this happening? I guess the central question is, what is the connection between that and being tethered to digital devices?

Dr. Julie Albright: I think of it as a context that's happening. One is the evolution and mainstreaming of this digital era that we find ourselves in. The idea that when you go back to really the era when consumers were involved in technology, they were involved with desktops, right? You'd work at a desk with your computer and, when you walked away, you walked away.

With the advent of mobile phones, the iPhone and whatnot that we're Internet abled, or the advent of what we call mobility, you've now taken this with you. Then with social media and whatnot, there are drivers that are starting to drive almost addictive behavior to where you're online almost constantly.

On the other side of the equation is the economy. Kids that are millennials, young people now, grew up in a risk society where they saw a high divorce rate, for example, in their parents. They saw the housing crisis and financial crisis happening, a recessionary economy where maybe people lost their homes or lost their jobs, their parents. They saw this happening around them. Things that might have appeared as stable to prior generations to these young millennials, for example, they might have seen these things as not as stable, and so they're sort of pulling away and trying new things.

Then, on the other side of the coin, social media, dating apps provide a plethora of choices for lifestyles, dating, things like that. It's really sort of opened up the lens of what people can think they can do and be in their lives. It's sort of reshaping if you will, the American dream.

Michael Krigsman: Julie, aren't those positive things, the opportunity to not be attached to material things to the extent that older people were, the ability to be mobile, to change jobs, to have access to information? These are typically, we think of as, positive attributes.

Dr. Julie Albright: Nothing is going to be all good or all bad. Again, I want to emphasize that coming untethered isn't simply about devices. It's about unhooking from all these stabilizing social structures and then hyper-attached to devices, social media, and things like that, which is sort of undermining people.

Of course, there are great things. People can join this gig economy and get work. I mean, particularly for people that might be out of the workforce, for example, they can go drive for Uber or they can rent a room on Airbnb. That really does keep some people afloat.

It's not all good or all bad. It's more complex than that. The idea is that there is this large set of social trends afoot that most people aren't recognizing are all part of this larger picture of coming untethered.

What happens to Social Connections in a Social and Mobile Digital Age?

Michael Krigsman: The idea is, as one becomes hyper-tethered, to use your word, or, rather, hyper-attached to devices, you lose the attachment and, therefore, lose the tethering, become untethered to traditional social structures.

Dr. Julie Albright: That's right. I think an illustration of this, I met this funny fireman on an airplane. As I'm moving through life, I talk to people about what have they seen in terms of this coming untethered in their world. He had been retired. He'd been with the fire department for a long time.

He talked about different changes. For example, a lot of young people, childhood, for example, and young people, it's all being driven indoors. People used to play outside and do all these things. We see people that don't have the stamina or the physical strength that, for example, this guy had. He talked about some of those changes where young recruits into the fire department aren't as strong or don't have as much physical stamina as he and his buddies had.

The main thing, he said, "Julie, the biggest change is social." He said he came back to the firehouse, and he said, "We used to sit around the table, talk, and get to know each other. We'd play cards or have dinner together." He says, "I came back to the fire station and nobody was around the table. Everybody was in their own rooms on their own devices." He says, "Julie, it's not the devices. It's the table."

It's this idea that we're missing those social connections. Even here at USC, recently, I did a panel our Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, who is amazing. He said he gets a question now every week that he didn't get five years ago. That question is, how do I make friends? The idea being that, as people become more used to mediating conversations through their devices and they're used to being online and looking at those devices, which are kind of mesmerizing, there are deficits that are starting to show up, both physical and social, in a sense.

Why are Devices so Pervasive and Mesmerizing?

Michael Krigsman: What is it about devices that are so mesmerizing that, as you say, it's so pervasive now?

Dr. Julie Albright: It's so pervasive. Teens, literally, when they've been polled, say they're online almost constantly. In fact, the average teen, by the way, sends over 30 to 35 texts a night after going to bed, so we see a global sleep deprivation happening as an inadvertent result of being on these devices. People, the majority of millennials sleep with their cell phones, even.

What's happened is they're starting to bake into these apps—like Instagram, Facebook, and things—qualities which are, in a sense, addictive. It's sort of like – very much like the slot machines in Las Vegas where you pull the arm or you push the button, ding-ding-ding-ding. Sometimes you win; sometimes you don't, right?

Psychologists call that random reinforcement. What we know about that is, it's the strongest behavioral reinforcer there is.

Think about, for example, Instagram. There's a scrolling thing much like that one arm bandit that you see in Vegas. Sometimes the content is interesting; sometimes it's boring. It's that exact same thing.

All of these are made to keep you coming back for more and they bake in these psychological drivers into the apps. That's what keeps people tied to them and checking them all the time. People even check their phones now when someone else's phone—you might have seen this—buzzes or dings. They check. Is that mine? Oh, it's not my phone. We're all sort of getting conditioned to be on these devices all the time. It's hard to take a break from them, in fact.

Being Tethered to Devices Threatens our Well-Being

Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody; we're speaking with Dr. Julie Albright. She's a professor at USC. We're talking about devices and the impact on individuals, society, and business. Julie, Facebook, Twitter, other social media platforms are explicitly designing their user experience to create the same kind of mesmerizing effect as slot machine designers in Las Vegas.

Dr. Julie Albright: Right, and the other thing that's sort of undermining, in a sense, it's enthralling, but it's also undermining people's sort of sense of wellbeing. On these platforms, when you think about Instagram or Facebook, or any of these, people are presenting, and especially young people who, by the way, are more likely to be doing these things. This is generationally uneven. Older people are less likely to connect to the Internet, for example, on a mobile device.

What they're doing is they're presenting a very highly curated, highly photoshopped, stylized, fantastical version of themselves online where it's almost like a false-self that's out there. Also, on the other hand, they're comparing themselves to other people's fantastical lives. I call this the virtual mirror effect. It's more like, instead of reflecting back an actual view of self and others, it's reflecting back a warped sense.

People, young people particularly, are comparing themselves to these fabulous lives and they can never measure up. It's a little bit, again, undermining of their self-esteem. It creates anxiety and depression because they say, "Well, why isn't my life fantastic like that?" Not realizing that they're seeing a very thin slice and a very highly curated presentation of other people online. They're trying to live up to something that those people don't even live up to. It's complicated, but because they're so immersed in this, this is how they're constructing their identity and their sense of self now is through these digital interactions.

Michael Krigsman: How pervasive is this? Also, demographically, how does it break out, and age?

The New Digital Divide Based on Devices and Data

Dr. Julie Albright: When you look at this, this is something that is more likely to happen amongst what we call digital natives, those that grew up in an environment where there always was an Internet. We have sort of millennials in that group and younger than that.

Now, in fact, if you go on YouTube and even look up "baby with iPad," you're going to see that there are infants now who have better digital skills, who can run an iPad, pinching, opening, playing games, and watching YouTube videos before they have the ability to speak. We know that children's, infants' brains are shaped by what they take in. Brains are malleable. They call this brain plasticity in neuro-psych. It's the idea that we're reshaping these children's brains because we're introducing digital content and devices at such an early age.

The last time I tried that search, I got over 60,000 results. Again, these kids can't speak yet, but they know how to use a digital device. I think that's a very interesting thing that's happening.

Older people are less likely to be involved on social media, connecting, as I said, to the Internet on a device. We used to think there was something called a digital divide, that this was sort of divided by social class, that wealthier families were more likely to have devices and that lower-income folks were sort of being left behind. That was a worry that people said that, oh, we're going to leave an entire group behind.

Now, it turns out that even lower class folks, in terms of income, are more likely to be on devices and are more likely to have all these devices going on at once, for example, both maybe a phone and a TV. I think what's most instructive here is, if you look at the kids of these tech giants at Silicon Valley, they're going to schools, by the way, private schools that don't have devices during the day. We're almost coming up with a new sense of a digital divide where these more highly educated parents and income parents are sending their kids away from the devices and lower-income families are almost using it more as a digital babysitter. That's something that we could think about what that means.

Michael Krigsman: That's very fascinating. Wealthier parents are sending their kids to schools where the devices are not present in order to force this disconnection or separation from devices.

Dr. Julie Albright: That's right, and they're doing things that are linked to wellness, happiness, contentment, things like movement and dance. They're doing things like playing outdoors. They're doing things like creating crafts, arts, musical instruments, and things like that. Those are the kinds of things that are shaping, again, those neuropathways, the brains of these young children, in a different way than those that are just on devices all the time.

I mean if you think about the device experience, the body and tactility are almost just not a part of it. Touching a glass screen is not the same as playing outdoors in nature, for example, dancing, or things like that. That idea of giving kids these experiences that are shaping how they think, how they view the world and giving them control to create and move about in a different way is, again, I think, creating a new kind of digital divide that really no one is talking about yet.

Implications of the New Digital Divide

Michael Krigsman: This new digital divide and digital world - elaborate more on the implications.

Dr. Julie Albright: When you have all your interactions mediated, for example, I was just talking to an executive at a very large company that all of you know. He has read my book and said, "I think these topics are as important as the ones that are coming up around climate change." He says, "Julie, I am seeing things now every day." He says, "I drive my kid to school and I drive by the bus stop." He goes, "You know what I saw? Every single kid was on a device. No one is talking to each other." He said, "I don't even think they know each other."

This idea, we're starting to see it here in the colleges, in the universities where students, again, are asking, how do I make friends? I had my students make a business call to a fellow. I said, "Hey, this guy is great. Give him a call. Work out a semester project together." Great.

The next week, I came back. "Well, how did the call go?"

"Not very good."

"What happened?"

"There was an awkward silence."

"What awkward silence?"

They called this guy up, got on the phone with him, and said nothing. That says it all. It's not that these kids and young people are stupid. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is, they're lacking in experience with socializing without a device.

I see a lot of families that have kids at the tables now. You might have seen this yourself at restaurants where the kid is on an iPad, on a phone, or has headphones on. They're not getting the level of experience in these face-to-face social interactions and they're showing up now at the college level, but also as young workforce people, young workers, with some of these social interaction deficits simply because they haven't had as much experience with it.

They're used to a mediated conversation. They can curate what they're saying. They're using emojis as prosthetic emotions and they just simply don't have the experience in carrying on a conversation, for example. Making a phone call, for example. They want that mediated experience.

Michael Krigsman: Has this all been created by our hidden robot overlords?

Dr. Julie Albright: [Laughter] I don't think that a Mark Zuckerberg – and I write about this in the book. I don't think that any of this was really intended. When you intend to connect everybody, as it were, unintended consequences are going to emerge.

When I first started looking at this, it was a very niche thing that people were chatting on the Internet and whatnot. I followed it along. I actually wrote my dissertation on online dating and how people were presenting themselves online or misrepresenting themselves online, which is a huge theme now. Discerning fake from real, for example, is going to be one of the key problems of our era.

This idea that, as you connect everybody, unintended effects start to come out. Network effects start to come out that we never saw before. These guys that created these networks, they weren't designing them to undermine young people's mental health, but that's what's ending up happening, inadvertently, with being so connected to these networks.

Michael Krigsman: How did this pattern of apps that are mimicking slot machines designed to grab your attention, how did that develop? You don't think that, from the start, that was intentional but it evolved over time?

Dr. Julie Albright: Yeah, it evolved over time. If you think about Facebook, which is a massive global social network, that evolved out of Mark Zuckerberg's idea at Harvard MIT. They have these face books, which are faces of people that live in the housing, in the dorms, as it were. That's how they get to know each other.

He basically put that online. At first, it was just meant for college students. You had to have a .edu email address—I don't know if your viewers remember this. They might—to access Facebook. I got to access it because I was here at USC.

After a while, they started opening it up to the public. Now businesses are on there and everyone else. These things didn't just come out of the box the way they are, but they evolved over time.

We are also social beings. We're curious about each other. We want to see what other people are doing. These are innate, evolved features, if you will, of being human, and so they've sort of translated that sociability and those aspects into these online forums. But, in some ways, again, as I said, there are unintended consequences of those as things like Photoshop, for example, that used to be used in magazines for models now is in the hands of every person with a quick touch of an app.

They can beautify their skin, look fabulous, or put on some kind of filter to look better in photos. That's really a gamechanger. These things evolve; iterated, let's say, over time.

How can Companies Recognize these Cultural Shifts Among Employees?

Michael Krigsman: We have a few questions from Twitter. They're kind of stacking up. Sal Rasa asks; he says, "How do you help people inside companies recognize these cultural shifts so that they focus not just on the technology with respect to their employees?"

Dr. Julie Albright: To me, the key thing is, first of all, recognizing this pattern of coming untethered and that you have these employees coming in. We have the highest rates, for example, in the college-age students of anxiety and depression, things like that, that we've seen in 30 years. A lot of young people, millennials, say they don't have any friends. Although we're more connected than ever, we're also less connected than ever.

One thing I've suggested and, again, this isn't the workplace's job, but if you've got employees melting down and ghosting, you know, not showing up or quitting all of a sudden, that's not good for the business. It may be that the workplace is one of the last bastions where young people can be anchored, tethered, or supported.

Think about some of the unintended consequences or benefits, you could say, of the church, fellowship, support. You're in trouble; people are there for you. There's a social aspect of it. People would get together for coffee after a sermon or something.

How can the workplace bring some of these aspects of these other organizations and structures that people, young people particularly, are pulling away from? How can the workplace bring some of these things in to ground employees and to help them to be healthier physically and mentally? Again, that's not the workplace's job, but I think that the workplace may be one of the last bastions for young people to anchor into. We might have to rethink its role.

Wealthy Parents vs. Lower-Income Parents and Education Strategy

Michael Krigsman: Going back to Twitter, Zachary Jeans raises a very, very interesting issue. He says, "Tech companies are partnering with low-income schools to get more devices into the hands of students."

Dr. Julie Albright: [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: But, at the same time, wealthy parents, as you said, are sending their kids to schools that use fewer devices, that stop that chain of hyper-attachment to devices. What about that?"

Dr. Julie Albright: I call that the new digital divide. I think that we're starting to see emerging some of the undermining effects on young people's self-esteem, again as they compare themselves to these fantastical images of others online and don't measure up. It makes them feel bad and things like that.

I think that we're starting to see those unintended consequences emerging. I don't think there's enough talk about that. I think that we're stuck in the original definition of the digital divide that we have to bring these people on board.

Yes, you do want digital skills and whatnot, but I think that limiting that time, having time around the family dinner table, for example. Again, I'm not trying to be in 1952. What I'm looking at is the changes over time.

What changed and how did we get to this mental and physical health crisis that we're in? That's what I'm looking at. What changed to bring young people to this moment? That's what I'm trying to sort of unpack here.

Yeah, I think that's a huge issue, the idea that kids aren't playing outside. You go into a lot of these neighborhoods; you're not going to see any kid on the street. Things like Scouts used to give kids, you know, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, opportunities to be out in nature, for example, which is very healing. By the way, there are doctors in Europe now that are actually prescribing nature for people to lower anxiety, for example.

These kinds of experiences that were routine for, let's say, baby boomers growing up, young people just simply aren't having them. The idea of creating these moments for people is important but, yeah, that's a great point and I think that we just need to realize that there are some public health issues that go hand-in-hand with too much device connectivity.

Michael Krigsman: Pretty extraordinary, the degree, the tentacles that, through society, through our lives, that this issue has. I find that incredible.

Dr. Julie Albright: That's the thing. I started to see these issues and it's not simply the devices. It's the combination, the combination effect, of pulling away from these stabilizing structures of before, as I mentioned, things like being married or being part of a neighborhood and things like that, and hyper-attaching to digital technologies. It's this combination of things.

It's not simply being attached to the device. It's what's missing or what other behaviors aren't being done while that's happening, so what's being done instead of.

Instead of going outside in nature, which has a healing and restful, peaceful effect, and also is good for your physical self as well, you're indoors playing a video game or playing on a device, texting, or on social media. These are the kinds of things that we need to start thinking about now, the behaviors that have been displaced by device connectivity. That's where the secret or the key lies to get us back to health again, I think.

Michael Krigsman: That clearly lies with families to at least a certain and probably large extent. We have a comment on Twitter from Arsalan Khan who points out that pediatricians recommend or are recommending that kids should not use devices until the age of 14. However, for many parents, this is difficult and extremely unrealistic advice to follow. How do we handle this issue?

Dr. Julie Albright: I think that's a great comment. Thank you for saying that. I think it is very difficult. For example, one of my friends, when we were discussing this in fact, said, "Think back." He was saying when he was a kid. If you got in trouble, what did the parents say? "Go to your room," right? You can't go outside. Now, that's where the kids want to be, in their room.

They did a study where they asked the kids in Britain, what did you do over the summer, over your summer break? Sixty-five percent of them said they spent the time in their room alone on a device.

This idea that this becomes the new normal and I think that we have to have organizations, we have to have families that are starting to wake up to the fact that it's not all fun and games and that there are some unintended consequences here that need to be dealt with. There's a great group called Brick, for example, where you come together. You know a brick is like a dead phone, right? You turn off your phones and you sing together for an hour or two.

These kinds of things and what I'm suggesting here is that maybe parents need to realize and have playdates where there aren't devices involved or video games involved, things like that. Maybe outings or hikes in nature or things like that that don't involve device play, but it's hard.

I get it. Parents are working. It's easy to give the kid a digital babysitter and quiet them down with a device. I think if we can understand that there are some health consequences of doing that, maybe they'll think twice. Again, I'm not [saying to] throw away the devices, but we certainly need to figure out a balance.

I think that's what it is. We came racing out of the box with the iPhone, Internet-enabled phones, and now there's been enough time where we can step back and take a critical distance at this thing, take a look, and say, "Hey. Where are we at and is this where we want to be?" If not, how do we sort of re-balance or bring that pendulum back to center, where we have a balance between our physicality and our evolved needs as an embodied human and being on a device.

How can we Close the Digital Divide and Restore Balance to our Lives?

Michael Krigsman: Is achieving this balance in any way, shape, or form realistic?

Dr. Julie Albright: For some people, it's going to be very difficult. Young people, particularly, their lives, their social lives orbit around being online. Again, I think the key is, and I think that's what your Twitter person just said, the difficulty is, again, let's say a family said, "Hey, son. Go play outside." What's he going to do? All the other kids are inside, right?

It's hard to sort of break the patterns that are emerging. Again, I think we've sort of fallen almost in a dream state. We're sort of sleepwalking through life in this area where we just do it. It's fun. It's there. It's with us all the time, and we just almost don't think about it.

We have to be more cognizant, more aware of our behaviors and why we might want to create that balance. It's not easy to do and I think, again, we need groups like the group at Brick or family, like neighborhoods or at a school to, one, recognize that there's an issue here and, two, create opportunities for us to be together, socialize, and be physical and outside. We need groups to come together to create those moments for people, I think.

Michael Krigsman: For groups to come together in this way requires some type of coordinated activity. Where does that activity begin and who is responsible, if anybody, for creating and initiating those kinds of activities?

Dr. Julie Albright: Again, if you think about the workplace, maybe there is a way to come together if you're going to do some offsite. Maybe you do it in the mountains where you can do some hikes together or there's swimming. Maybe there are ways to bring these moments together as an intentional rebalancing act for employees.

We're seeing physical issues, again sleep deprivation issues, mental issues. Frankly, people are telling me a lot of their stories. One guy said he'd gone on a trip with his family. The daughter, the teenage daughter dropped her phone into the Venice Canal and it was the end of the world, of course.

But a couple days later, she goes, "You know what, dad? I'm actually kind of relieved to have a couple of days off without constantly being on a device." He said, "We had the best trip and we were all together."

At first, it's almost like when you pull away from an addiction. You're going to have some kind of withdrawal sense of the thing. But after a bit, there may be that sense of relief. Again, we do have to have some coordinated efforts towards moments without those devices.

Michael Krigsman: Let's talk about employers.

Dr. Julie Albright: Yeah.

Michael Krigsman: What's the impact on employers of this and what should employers do?

Dr. Julie Albright: There's a lot of impact on employers. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter on the untethered worker. There are many implications for the workforce.

One, I think, that's really key for people running businesses, managers and executives to understand is that there's a changing value set and behavioral shift that is driven by or exacerbated by digital device connectivity. For example, the idea of time compression.

For example, a friend of mine was revisiting old movies with his son who is just going into college. They were watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. What seemed gripping, very futuristic, and amazing when he was a young man, his son and he are watching. He turns to his son and he says, "Well, what do you think, son?" thinking this is great. The son says, "Well, it's been 11 minutes and they're still apes."

What seemed fast-paced, fascinating, and amazing at the time now seems plotting, pedantic, and slow. Translating that into the workforce, I call this time compression. Young people coming in are expecting to zoom to the top much quicker than previous generations. This idea of paying your dues.

I had students here at school ask a senior vice president of a major telecom company, "Well, how do I start out at your level?" This idea that they expect almost instant promotions and things like that, and they want a very clear path to move up. Young people now are expecting a promotion within the first year.

This idea of time scale or the pacing of life has shifted and that's something for older managers to understand around younger employees that are coming in. Having a path up and clear-cut steps on how to get there is going to be important. Otherwise, there is a perception that there are millions of jobs out there on things like Monster, LinkedIn, and all over and employees will just disappear, so that idea.

Employees are expecting device connectivity. They want to be able to connect to social media and whatnot while they're at work. They're expecting to be able to work remotely. Why can't I work in Starbucks or things like that?

There's been a lot of discussions about that. IBM is saying, "Hey, you all come back in here and work shoulder-to-shoulder or you're going to be fired." Then there are other companies like Automattic that owns WordPress and they're saying, "Hey, nobody is coming into the office, so we're going to sell our beautiful office space and go all-in on remote."

Somewhere in there, there's probably a happy medium. The point being around the value set change, young workers want this kind of flexibility in time, in place to work remotely when they want and things like that. Can workplaces create perhaps a hybrid model where they can have some of that and some of the shoulder-to-shoulder to accommodate this changing value and behavioral set around devices?

Michael Krigsman: Of course, I speak with many chief information officers and, over these last number of years, one of their primary mandates has been to ensure this BYOD, bring your own device, and seamless kind of connectivity so that companies are attractive, can create attractive workplaces, for these employees who demand this kind of flexibility.

Dr. Julie Albright: That's right. The other side effect, again, one of the unintended consequences is that young people are increasingly growing up in a world where their experiences are simulated. As I said, attendance or participation in, say, things like Scouting, Boy Scouts for example, is diminishing to a huge degree. Things like that where kids aren't getting the hands-on experiences that they used to get.

These guys, for example, that I'm around a lot that are, for example, building data centers around the world. We have all this increased data. We have to have data centers to process and store all these things. They're having trouble finding guys that can do construction work, that can do these hands-on things.

Home Depot, for example, has created videos. You can see these on YouTube. How to use a tape measure. It's a little minute video on YouTube. These young people, many of them are simply not getting these analog experiences.

Experiences that you may take for granted, they may not have ever had. Making phone calls, for example, as I mentioned before. When the iPhone came out, 90% of the time it was used for phone calls and 10% for apps. Now that's switched. Ninety percent of the time it's used for apps and only 10% for phone calls. The workplace is going to have to train people on things like how to break the ice on a cold call with a client. Things that you might do routinely in life, these people, younger people, simply haven't had the level of experience with these analog activities that are so crucial to the workforce.

Michael Krigsman: Just the other day, I was chatting with a senior executive from one of the largest tech companies. She mentors some young people. She was describing exactly this problem. She's saying, "Hey, you need to go out." She mentors female young execs. "You need to go out and network." Sometimes the mentees just don't know how to do that at all.

Dr. Julie Albright: Here at the university, one of the house moms talked about the gals in the sorority. She said they quickly run out of things to say. They've sort of lost the art of conversation.

I said, "Well, what do they do?" Well, they pick up their phone and start texting someone else. You'll see that, that sort of thing.

To me, these aren't built-ins. Maybe someone is more extraverted or introverted, but this is a skillset, for example, carrying on a conversation or breaking the ice on a phone call, for example. These are skills that you might, again, have taken for granted. Your younger workers are perhaps not going to have the experience level, so you might have to step back.

That's what I did here at the university. I had my brother who is the top sales manager in the world for his company, I had him Skype in and do a little primmer, how to break the ice with a cold call client. He gave them some great tips for doing that and he's the best in the world at that.

The point being, there are skills that you can learn. I'm not saying that these people are inept, can't learn, or will never be able to learn. The point being is that ourselves, as managers, myself as a professor with my students, we have to go step back to sort of a 101 level on certain skills that maybe prior generations would have just come in with routinely, and teach these skills and, as you mentioned, mentor these skills into young leadership so that they can be successful and feel confident about themselves.

Michael Krigsman: Julie, we have about one minute left. You travel around the world. You're giving talks, speaking with all of these people and so, in one minute, can you give us the solution to this problem? Arsalan Khan, on Twitter, has just jumped in. He uses the term "device detoxification." Give us the solution for device detoxification and what we should do to change the world in that way, in one minute, please.

Dr. Julie Albright: Things like physicality are important. Spending time in nature is important. These are all the things that we're pulling away from as we move our lives indoors and people are increasingly, around the world, living in urban settings where we're moving further and further away from physical activity, from nature. We need to make spaces in our lives for these things so that we can reconnect with our bodies, ourselves, our spirituality, that sense of just a lifted mood and spirit. Hopefully, we can find ways in the workplace, at home, and at schools to do that.

Michael Krigsman: Well, this brings to a close a very thought-provoking episode of CXOTalk. We've been speaking with Professor Doctor Julie Albright who wrote this very compelling book that I'm holding up. It's called Left to Their Own Devices. It's an important topic. Julie Albright, thank you so much for taking time to be here with us today.

Dr. Julie Albright: Thank you so much for having me.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, before you go, please subscribe on YouTube, hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so you can get our newsletter, and tell your friends. We have great shows coming up. Check out and we will see you again next time. Thanks, everybody, and I hope you have a great day. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Oct 04, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 627