Perhaps lost in the midst of the waning days of summer were a few headlines about the double-edged impact of technology in our daily lives. They serve as reminders that with the great changes wrought by innovation come great societal questions to ponder.

The Spiral of Silence

While social media like Twitter and Facebook have made it almost too easy to speak one’s mind on any issue, large or trivial, it’s also stifling debate and diminishing political participation, according to the recent Pew study “Social Media and the Spiral of Silence.” The report measured 1,800 people’s viewpoints about the Snowden-NSA leak of classified information, an issue with almost a close-to-even divide in public opinion about whether the leak helped or harmed the public interest. Among key findings:

People were about half as willing to discuss the issue online than in a face-to-face conversation; 86% were willing to discuss it in person and just 42% of Facebook and Twitter users were likely to post about it.

And, “In both offline and online settings, people said they were more willing to share their views … if they thought their audience agreed with them,” according to the pollster.

Unfortunately, Pew didn’t delve into the “whys’ behind the findings and was on the fence about whether the Snowden story was even a good barometer about individual attitudes concerning political discussions. However, the fact is that it’s very easy for any active social/online media user to only be exposed to information aligned with his or her own thinking, and so not such a surprising result.

Havoc on the Home Front

In “Working Anything but 9 to 5,” The New York Times contrasted the use of sophisticated workplace scheduling technology by leading retailers and food chains with the demands of parenting, especially for single working mothers.  While such software provides businesses with flexibility to add, subtract or change employee hours to align with demand, last-minute schedule changes inject “…turbulence into parents’ routines and personal relationships … driving some mothers out of the work force and redistributing some of the uncertainty of doing business from corporations to families, say parents, child care providers and policy experts.”

“The same technology could be used to create more stability and predictability,” observed Zeynep Ton, a professor at M.I.T. who studies retail operations, quoted in the story. Kudos to Starbucks for addressing the dark side of the technology and retraining managers to help it work in a less disruptive manner.

Email Holidays

And kudos to Daimler for re-programming its email systems to stop email from reaching employees while they are taking vacations.  France and Germany are ahead of the pack in enforcing “no email while on vacation” policies so employees can truly recharge.

But if your boss is cranky instead of happy when coming back from vacation, blame it on e-mail. Only 3% of more than 250 executives surveyed by Korn/Ferry International were willing to completely cut themselves off from the office during vacation.  And last year, the head of Minnesota’s health exchange resigned after a two-week vacation to Costa Rica due to political criticism for doing so. This gives new meaning to “Welcome Back!”

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