27 December 2023

How not to get lost in the digital world

Kurs cyfrowy świat - work-life balance, zdrowie psychiczne, HR

Autonomous vehicles, intelligent systems controlling devices at home, virtual advisors and consultants, drones used for transport and navigation, cameras tracking movement and identifying specific individuals. Several decades ago, the application of similar technology was mainly seen in futuristic science fiction movies, where machines slowly took control of humans. Now fiction is becoming reality. However, we still have initiative, and it largely depends on us how we will use the benefits of an increasingly automated modernity.

Systems and devices based on artificial intelligence algorithms, of course, facilitate our daily functioning. They enable remote job and education, streamline transport and communication, improve the quality of diagnosing and treating diseases, help caring for the environment, and offer the opportunity to shopping or paying bills without leaving home. However, this does not mean that we should blindly trust modern technology and entrust it with our private data. With digital progress, the number of virtual crimes, including fraud and identity theft, is also increasing.

At ICAS Poland, we know that the dynamic automation of life creates new possibilities, but at the same time, it can negatively affect our well-being. Concerns about job loss, stress related to technological overload, pressure to know innovative solutions and handle often complex programs, fear of digital exclusion, and a sense of disappearing interpersonal interactions are just some of the threats to our mental balance and comfort. During the course, our experts in psychology, finances and new technologies not only tried to diagnose the challenges and problems of the digital world but also showed how we can coexist with artificial intelligence.

One-on-one with AI

Technological development is not a new phenomenon, although the popularization of Chat GPT in recent months has intensified discussions about the role and future of artificial intelligence. Since OpenAI provided internet users with a tool for corresponding with a virtual robot, the world has literally gone crazy about the possibilities offered by this solution. This was confirmed, for example, in the statistics related to the use of Chat GPT. In just the first two months of its operation, the number of users surpassed the 100 million marks. By mid-2023, the average monthly number of views reached 1.5 billion!

- Chat GPT started the AI revolution for two reasons. It was the first tool through which one could communicate in natural language which we use in everyday conversations. Its popularity, therefore, stemmed from its user-friendly simplicity. Secondly, Chat GPT was the first example of so-called generative artificial intelligence, which not only relied on certain algorithms but, above all, created new content - emphasizes psychologist Jarosław Chybicki, one of the speakers at the ‘Digital World’ course.

The revolution became a reality, and following OpenAI's lead, other companies released thousands of tools based on artificial intelligence engines. These tools allow almost every internet user, even those without specialized knowledge and skills, to generate text, images, graphics, presentations, videos, or sound. The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by the current capabilities of both AI and ourselves.

- The artificial intelligence we are dealing with now is its worst version. Its successive versions will only get better. It's such a dynamic process that noticeable changes are already seen not in the perspective of months but weeks. We must keep pace with this development as well. Today, most users cannot fully harness the potential offered by AI. Awareness and education in the field of artificial intelligence are essential. It's not just about AI teaching us; we also need to learn from it - adds Jarosław Chybicki.

Acquiring the necessary knowledge seems crucial in the context of continuous exploration of new technologies. Today, AI is a curiosity for us, but soon it will determine the development of smart cities and homes, as well as autonomous vehicles. It will become an integral part of future medicine and even school education through machine learning. It can also play a significant role in the job market. It is estimated that the proper use of AI increases work efficiency and quality by 30 to even 100 percent.

Technology as a criminal’s weapon

Before we indulge in unbridled optimism, it's essential to familiarize ourselves with the darker side of modern technologies, which, despite numerous benefits, also bring various types of threats. While the rebellion of machines straight out of Terminator remains a cinematic fiction for now, in a world dominated by digital devices and intelligent systems, we cannot feel entirely secure. One of the significant challenges associated with technological development is the adequate protection of privacy. Using online payments, making purchases online, or engaging in social media, after all, requires us to log in. Prior to that, one must register and provide specific personal information. While revealing one's name, address, or email address may carry relatively little risk, sharing passwords for bank accounts can entail unpleasant and financially painful consequences.

It's crucial to remember this, especially when making online purchases, as this field experiences the highest activity of criminals exploiting the latest technologies for fraud or theft. In Poland alone, over 30 million users access the internet and the e-commerce market in our country is estimated at 92 billion Polish zlotys. It is projected that by 2026, online trade will constitute 20 percent of retail sales in Poland. Such a massive online presence attracts the attention of those who, using dishonest practices, attempt to extort money from us. Over 8 years, the number of online frauds has increased by a staggering 5611 percent!

Be online, be safe 

Key in this case is ensuring the security of our data and, consequently, our financial safety. There's no need to employ complicated technologies; all that's required is daily attention, vigilance and adherence to basic principles regarding online purchases.

- Above all, it's worth using trusted online stores. The number of fake ones increased by 34 percent in 2022. Nowadays, setting up such a store takes a matter of minutes. They usually entice customers with significant promotions and low prices for attractive products. After about two weeks, such an online point is closed, and the chances of recovering the invested money drop to zero. Therefore, it's crucial to pay attention to reviews of a particular store and the appropriate security protocols of the website we are visiting - says Krzysztof Nawelski, a finance expert and one of the instructors of the ‘Digital World’ course.

Using strong passwords and encrypted payment methods, tracking purchases and bank statements, updating the software we use — all of these undoubtedly enhance our security online and limit the risk of financial losses. However, sometimes even such comprehensive measures may not prove effective. Cybercriminals can impersonate bank websites and payment platforms. Scammers and fraudsters operate in various ways. From sending relatively harmless though unwanted messages (spam), delivering emails supposedly from credible sources (phishing), and fake notifications of underpayments, arrears, and invoices (spoofing), to installing harmful, infected or spying software (malware).

- In each of these methods, some kind of bait is used — something that will prompt us to click on a specific link, provide our bank details, or reveal passwords. In spoofing or phishing, criminals are not aiming to extort large sums. The recipient typically receives a message about a small underpayment or arrear. The small amount is meant to avoid arousing our suspicions. Meanwhile, criminals are not interested in how much money we transfer to them. They simply want to gain access to our bank account - warns Krzysztof Nawelski.

How can we defend against such manipulations and technological tricks? With the same technology used by criminals. Various anti-spam programs, blockers, filters, security features in web browsers and protective mechanisms employed by banks can serve as robust support for our vigilance and common sense. Similar algorithms can be applied, as seen, for different purposes. The decisive factor in this case seems to be purely human ethics, something even artificial intelligence cannot predict.

Digital Jekyll and Hyde

While technological solutions can assist in protecting our data and finances, when it comes to safeguarding mental health, we are entirely reliant on ourselves. Our bodies won't miraculously update the system, install healing software, implement ready-made schemes, or download a special protocol for emergency situations. Yet, virtually every day, we are exposed to the negative consequences of the digitization of the world. Indeed, technology, through applications, organizes our lives, streamlines decision-making processes, accelerates the flow of information and resources, provides access to tools that facilitate both work and life beyond work, and allows us to connect with family and friends or work from virtually anywhere in the world. However, this same technology inundates us daily with new content, data and information. It compels us to be in a constant ‘stand-by’ mode, expecting an immediate response to every change in real-time, demanding multitasking at the expense of quality and efficiency, and imposing a high pace of life, often disproportionate to the benefits and gains that we achieved.

In the digital world, opposing forces constantly clash. Access to information versus an overload of information. Reactivity versus the compulsion to react. Mobility versus the absence of boundaries. Communication versus communicative noise. Multitasking versus a lack of concentration. Modern technology, especially in the workplace, is our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

- It is crucial to emphasize from the outset that it is not the mere presence of technology in the workplace that triggers technostress, but rather the improper adaptation to it or coping with it in a way that hinders functioning and diminishes well-being. If the boundaries between home and work become blurred, if the balance between professional and private life is strained, if the need to be constantly ‘up-to-date’ disrupts our concentration and negatively impacts productivity, if the abundance of processed information causes us to skim the surface, unable to engage in deeper analysis and reflection, to think innovatively and creatively, when we feel overwhelmed and burdened by technology - then we experience the adverse effects of technostress - explains psychologist and business trainer Kamil Czajkowski, who co-led the "Digital World" course.

When technostress becomes your enemy

Excessive technostress in an employee worsens their well-being, reduces workplace effectiveness, and disrupts privacy. Being overwhelmed by technology and processing too much information diminishes innovation and creativity. Consequently, this impacts a decline in productivity and engagement. At this point, job dissatisfaction increases, and biases against any form of technology emerge. This leads to a desire for a career change and triggers professional burnout.

Technostress can take various forms, depending on the type of stimuli causing emotional tension in the employee. Techno-overload occurs when we accept and analyze more information than we can handle and effectively utilize. Ubiquitous mobile devices, applications, and social networks allow the processing of multiple streams of real-time information, leading to an overload of our minds. This leads to fatigue, anxiety, tension, and makes it challenging to maintain constant focus. We become apathetic, dulled, and insensitive. 

Techno-invasion, on the other hand, is associated with the constant accessibility of employees always and everywhere. The individual feels constant pressure to be in touch and respond to all changes and information. Mechanisms of dependence on staying connected emerge and attempts to break this state result in stress and frustration similar to withdrawal symptoms experienced by an addict during abstinence. There is a fear of missing out on important information (hence the term FOMO), anxiety that we won’t timely read and respond to a message, which might have business or personal significance for us. 

Techno-uncertainty is when we don't have time to master one device because we immediately must switch to other applications and systems. The dynamics of changes are so significant that recently acquired knowledge seems outdated, intensifying discomfort and reducing motivation. If, however, there is too much knowledge to grasp, and we feel that mastering it exceeds our capabilities, then we experience the characteristic techno-complexity in such circumstances. This, in turn, can evoke techno-insecurity, where we feel threatened by job loss to other individuals who better understand new information systems or to technology itself. In this regard, experts with many years of experience may feel insecure compared to younger colleagues. This often leads to tension, stress, and manifestations of unhealthy competition.

How can we protect our mental health in the digital world? There is, of course, no one miraculous method, so comprehensive action is essential, including setting boundaries between work and home, skillfully separating technology from private life, managing our time and skills in line with our beliefs and capabilities.

- We cannot rid our organizations of technology. We don’t want to do that. We can no longer imagine many processes without the presence of computer systems, applications, and devices. Moreover, with the dynamic development of artificial intelligence that we are currently witnessing, we can expect this technology to be increasingly present in our work environment, occupying spaces previously reserved exclusively for humans. It is important that we do not forget that we ourselves are not machines, that certain distinctly human processes govern us, and for these, we should have a lot of patience, understanding, and time - advises Kamil Czajkowski.

Human must be human

The above article could probably have been written by artificial intelligence. However, this did not happen because, at ICAS Poland, the human element is still the most important to us. Therefore, when using our chat, telephone line, or electronic mail, you can always count on the fact that on the other side, it will not be a machine but a qualified consultant who not only possesses the necessary knowledge and skills but above all, will show empathy, understanding, and genuine concern. 

In a dynamic and increasingly automated world, it is crucial to maintain a balance between fascination with technologies and sensible use of their capabilities. This was one of the main aspects of the course organized by ICAS Poland. The course aimed to make its participants aware that in a reality dominated by applications, computer systems, and intelligent devices, it is worth defending humanism. Let us not be programmed for a specific goal and act as binary machines. Otherwise, the sad vision of the future from the movie ‘Blade Runner’, where philosophical androids show more signs of humanity than humans, will become a reality. And then, as the character played by Rutger Hauer said, ‘all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain’.

About the author

Tomasz Zacharczuk

Tomasz Zacharczuk

Content Creation Specialist at ICAS Poland. A graduate in journalism and social communication from the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn. With over 10 years of experience as a radio and online journalist, I leverage this expertise to engage with experts and present the concepts and benefits of the ICAS EAP program. Condensed knowledge, engaging presentation and clear communication are foundation of the interaction between companies and customers. Efficient interaction allows for a better understanding of the needs and requirements of both sides. Only a partnership based on trust and transparency enables the establishment of lasting and positive relationships, not only in business but, above all, in life.