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Psychologist Prof. Guido Hertel sees more opportunities than risks for society in the digital revolution

"Discussions on this subject are very emotional"
Prof. Dr. Guido Hertel<address>© OWMs</address>
Prof. Dr. Guido Hertel
© OWMs

Our everyday lives and the world of work are unimaginable without digitalisation and the Internet. In the past few years, many things have changed at enormous speed because of them – including, for example, communication with smartphones. Kathrin Nolte spoke to Prof. Guido Hertel, Managing Director of the Institute of Psychology at Münster University, about the consequences of the digital revolution, the challenges it has produced and the fears that people have.

Smartphones, online shopping, intelligent houses – digitalisation has now become commonplace in all areas of our lives. How is it changing our society?

One special characteristic of these changes is that they are happening very fast. The commercial use of the Internet from 1995 onwards laid the foundation for this development. In terms of economic periods, it’s only a short one, but in this time the Internet and digitalisation  have changed many areas of our lives that we had become accustomed to. These include forms of communication, for example, and business models. Jobs are also undergoing huge changes – both positive and negative. So we’re seeing changes in a variety of areas, and not all of them are transparent and easily understandable. That’s why discussions on the subject are very emotional in our society. It’s a cause of concern for many people.

What does digitalisation mean for the world of work and for business?

After digital media – for example, electronic communications and smartphones – were first seen as stress factors, because it meant people could be contacted more frequently, my impression is that nowadays it’s the opportunities and advantages of digitalisation  that are being seen more. People at work are getting better and better at learning how to use digitalisation  in a sensible, intelligent way. Labour-saving aspects, flexibility, time-saving, digital networking – as well as reducing the consumption of paper or energy – are all positive aspects. How to use these benefits is not something that reveals itself automatically, though – it has to be taught. Also, it’s not necessary to follow each and every new trend. What people need in their jobs should always be the focus of attention, and technology should be geared to what is needed. In other words, digitalisation  should be geared to people, and not the other way round.

How can I adapt my daily life to new requirements?

The optimum situation would be if everyone could handle digital technologies, and the opportunities they offer, in a mature and responsible way. This includes the need for education and information as regards the risks of digitalisation. There is no “one size fits all”-recipe, only individual solutions depending on the activity in question, on the underlying conditions as far as work and family are concerned, or on personal preferences. Everyone should ask themselves the following questions: What are my aims in my work? How can digital technologies help me in this respect? And where do they distract me, or are a nuisance or are a safety risk?

Is it normal and understandable that people primarily worry about such huge changes – and don’t think so much about the potential?

Yes, that’s normal. Fast changes make people feel insecure because they cannot properly assess the consequences. Also, a lot of cherished routines are lost. I think it’s important that as few people as possible should be left behind as a result of these new developments. People at work, for instance, need new, realistic perspectives when digital solutions make their work redundant. This is an important task for society and for politicians – and one which will not only determine how positively digitalisation  is seen, but also how successful social peace and social integration are.

Do you have any tips for handling such fears?

Don’t panic! Everyone should look at the benefits the new technology offers, but at the same time ask themselves critically what is really useful in their private or working lives – and what simply isn’t. In doing so, don’t lose sight of your own personal aims and values.

 

Source: "wissen|leben" No. 1, January / February 2018

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