transgender woman holding mobile phone

The well-known and overused phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” should probably be updated to read “Technology eats culture for breakfast”.

Having said that, it’s fair to say that technology and culture are two equal forces that greatly influence one another. As new technology is introduced into a society, the culture reacts in a positive and negative way.

And, as cultures change so does the technology they develop. In the past decade we’ve experienced an unprecedented amount of technological development and adoption that has changed the way we live forever.

Consequently, this has created a number of societal tensions:

  • Liberated voices or uncensored noise?
  • Connected or lonely?
  • Resourcefulness or inherent laziness?
  • Anytime, anywhere or no off-switch?

Liberated voices or uncensored noise?

The birth of social media combined with the explosive and rapid adoption of affordable smartphones has given everyone a voice. In a world where they know no different, this has given millennials the ability to quickly share their point of view with a huge audience, challenge authority and hierarchy, and if listened to, create better outcomes as a result. This, sometimes uncensored and spur-of-the-moment content, can be construed as noise. However, the other skills adopted by millennials is their ability to absorb great volumes of information and filter it to their needs. These relatively untaught and seemingly inane skills have given a less well educated subset of this age group a way to make money; blogging, vlogging etc. Older generations looked on with interest for some time, but slowly began to adopt social media as they learn about the benefits for themselves; mainly keeping connected with friends and family and as an outlet to complain! The downside of all this noise stems from a generational divide – Millennials are resilient to unresponsiveness, so much so, that things like Snapchat and Instagram stories, which have a temporary existence, have been invented. However, gen-Xer’s and baby boomers expect responses. In some instances, this has left brands exposed from a customer service perspective, rapidly trying to keep up with a stream of unsolicited feedback.

Connected or lonely?

Many claim that due to technology, the world is shrinking with more of us “connected” than ever before, which is true. And for the many of us that have moved away from their native home, Facebook can be a great way to keep abreast of what’s going on in your circle of friends and family. However, I’d argue that volume doesn’t mean quality – Millennials often don’t actually speak at all. Whilst we can do business quicker and claim that we are “popular”, as indicated by the number of virtual connections we have, it doesn’t mean that we have deep and meaningful relationships. In fact, loneliness is at an all time high in the UK with over 10 million people impacted. This has become such a big problem that Theresa May has appointed a minister for loneliness to deal with what she called “the sad reality of modern life”. This is a sad fact given we’re supposedly living in an increasingly connected world.

Resourcefulness or inherent laziness?

Since the birth of the internet and then subsequently, search engines like Google, we have the answer to everything at our fingertips – literally. It makes research projects, assignments and dissertations so much easier. But has the ability to Google everything made us more efficient or just down right lazy? Now, I’ve never been a great map reader, so having Google maps has revolutionised my life. However, I have noticed I’m much less planful as a result. No longer do I print off the directions from the AA website for a long trip or investigate what a city has to offer by purchasing the “pop up” map six weeks before. I wing it. And, pray to God that there’ll be an internet connection. If not, I’m stuffed and realise that the map reading lesson I skived at school could have been helpful after all.

Anytime, anywhere or no off-switch?

The fact we now have a mini computer in the palm of our hands, which would have been the size of a small house less than 45 years ago, means we can do anything (practically) anytime and anywhere. We’re more efficient, quicker to get things done, speedier at decision making and can squeeze mundane tasks into the odd spare few minutes. But this always on culture means we rarely switch off. Constantly emailing, posting, sharing, gaming, shopping… whatever your online fancy, I guarantee you’re addicted to at least one. Even on the increasingly rare occasions that people are together, most are watching through a lens to post on social media. What happened to being present and simply enjoying the moment? Millennials are now recognising that life experiences are vitally important. Combine this with data leaks and the fact that social is being blamed for supporting terrorism and sexual abuse, could this bring the need for regulation and the entire thing will go full circle?

So in summary. Technology can catalyse a cultural change, but equally culture determines how technology is adopted and developed. Both powerful forces, so maybe the quote should read “Culture and technology eats strategy for breakfast”.

About the author

Jenny Burns is CEO at KBS Albion, a business transformation partner specialising in product and service innovation.

She previously held a senior role at Just where she worked alongside Albion to transform the business from a successful product provider to a service brand with a strong social purpose at its core.

Prior to Just, Jenny worked at RSA for almost five years. During her time there, she transformed how people worked by leading the move from an old-fashioned office space to the Walkie Talkie building and spearheaded the cultural change required to maximise a £40m investment in new technology, which improved the productivity of almost 25,000 employees by bringing them together under one virtual roof.