Most people have a “love-hate” relationship with their inbox. There are numerous times during the workday when the sight of yet another notification announcing the arrival of yet another email deflates us. The email overload that comes with constant connectivity in the workplace has been shown repeatedly in laboratory settings has been shown to have a harmful effect on our working lives by increasing stress, decreasing productivity and making us unhappy.
The data on information workers is supported by the latest productivity data. Governments are increasingly concerned that in spite of the technology boom, productivity is simultaneously growing by a few percentage points per year.
The modern workplace, which used to be a building where we spent our ‘work time’ now has no boundaries. The digitised workplace is constantly connected, and extends to our homes, the gym, and our time with friends and family. The benefits of working in a constantly connected company are being shown to be equally balanced by the negative effects on information workers.
How to address the problems of constant connectivity in the workplace? Could they be overcome by incorporating into our lives an emerging form of digital mindfulness?
The Mindfull Inbox
The issue of information overload costs global companies billions (trillion) of dollars a year in lost productivity, creativity and employee sickness. One of the main antidotes to this is to modify human behavior when online as a means of alleviating such stress and decreases in productivity. Mindful approaches to email and digital data have been proposed by global companies and institutions.
However, while mindfulness programs are all the rage, could mindfulness be engineered into our digital technologies? Could the rapid enthusiasm surrounding machine learning and AI be a solution to the stresses felt by information workers the world over?
Information overload can often result in people being less conscious about their responses to others than they are face to face. One of the problems with information overload is that with so many emails coming into your inbox, it can be easy to forget that the people we respond to receive incomplete information without all of the non-verbal cues. It can be all too easy to misread digital communications and see criticism or attacks where there were none intended as such.
Where some organizations and thought-leaders have supported the use of mindful emailing and other mindfulness-based approaches to the way we engage with digital environments. It might be that the careful use of AI, particularly within email, will be able to answer some of the negative excesses information workers face from life in a constantly connected workplace?
Artificial intelligence, the machine intelligence that perceives and understands its environment to take appropriate actions that maximize its chances of success at a particular goal has the potential to be that mindfulness in the machine. The type of AI currently used to within next-generation email, and personal assistants, known as weak or Narrow AI, is becoming more widespread, to the point where this kind of AI will be ubiquitous across our digitized workplaces.
Some companies, such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and, of course, Knowmail are tackling this problem head on and have been for years and the idea that AI, a digital mind that learns and improves itself to improve the human workplace experience would be a boon to information workers around the world.
It is this kind of mindfulness, software that actively learns and is attentive to our ever-changing present moment, without judgment and provides the relevant information for that present moment, that could very well become integrated into our daily digitized lives. As stated by Kevin Kelly, this new kind of [digital] mindfulness could be applied wherever electricity was applied, and it is here that the real improvement in our lives will be made. When mindfulness can be inserted into our everyday activities.