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A Futurist Perspective … Digital Fatigue, And Why You Shouldn’t

by Frank Buytendijk  |  September 7, 2017  |  Submit a Comment

Today I had an interesting conversation. About “digital fatigue”. The word digital is indeed used quite a bit, and it is easy to get tired of it. If you put “digital” in front of everything, it becomes meaningless, doesn’t it?

There are two types of digital fatigue I guess. Some feel it is overhyped. Overstated. Overused. “So let’s continue with business-as-usual, it will all blow over.” The other type you see with the very advanced thinkers, and very advanced companies. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt. WHAT’S NEXT?” and they dismiss everything digital. 

Both, I hope you forgive me the boldness of the statement, are selling themselves short. 

First about the hype. If you hear something a lot, it indeed can feel like a hype. But all signs do point in the direction of fundamental change. Like the internet. Many technology-savvy executives, in their communications, start to stress the role of technology as a way to change the world. Not as a way to “just” build shareholder value. Through the formation of ecosystems, and so-called “techquisitions”. There is an endless stream of announcements of traditional companies buying small or larger technology companies. Today, John Deere announced yet another one, applying machine learning to agriculture. Technology vendors don’t sell their products offering more speed or more functionality, but the position their technology in search of a cure for illnesses, or any other large social issue. It’s fundamental. We are moving towards a #digitalsociety. Not only business changes, not only work changes. Life itself changes. Putting “digital” in front of everything should not be seen as a sign of meaninglessness (is that a word?), but as a sign of the fundamental nature of the change. 

But you know what, this is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is dismissing “digital” as a “been there, done that, what’s next” thing. If you are advanced in your field, you have probably deeper insight than anyone else in what is going on, and what it means for you. You probably have had to develop your own vocabulary, words that you had to invent to describe what you were doing. And that now shape your view on the world. But that can be an issue.

Here’s the thing, which I learned from my children. My children happen to be trilingual. They speak Dutch and German at home, and English in school (and starting to add a bit of Spanish). For them, there is a difference between a concept and a word. That thing standing in front of the door can be called a bicycle, a fiets and a Fahrrad (don’t ask me for the Spanish word). So adding a language isn’t hard, as they get the concept, before they even have the term. In the case of a bicycle this seems not very impactful. Just a few ways to call a thing. But when the thing gets more conceptual, the words start to have slightly different meanings. For instance, the terms society, Gesellschaft en maatschappij each describe the same concept, but from a slightly different — culturally and philosophically dependent — angle. (Back to our bicycle example, even this is more subtle. The bicycle may be the same thing, but it may be used for different purposes. A Dutch child sees the bicycle as the thing you need to go to school with, rain or shine, while an American kid may see it more as a toy or a sport)

Anyway. Back to my main point. In shaping the future, don’t get hung up on words, like digital, or artificial intelligence, or ecosystem, or even the word technology. It will limit your creativity. See through your own vocabulary, and understand the vocabulary of others. There may be concepts hidden there, that otherwise you wouldn’t even see. 

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Frank Buytendijk
Research VP & Fellow
10 years at Gartner
23 years IT Industry

Frank Buytendijk is a Gartner Research VP & Fellow, covering digital ethics and data & analytics. Read Full Bio




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