Digital neurosis: How our attention is attacked


While I was trying to write a post on artificial intelligence, I was briefly distracted by an article on anxiety disorders. What people with anxiety disorders do, for example, is they get anxious about something trivial, then have an elevated pulse, interpret this body perception as a symptom of a possibly life-threatening situation, call the emergency services, and after they don’t want to go, you realise in all clarity how dangerous the situation is, since you can no longer even rely on the emergency services. This causes the pulse to rise further and the cycle starts again, but with more vehemence. So that’s the structure of an anxiety disorder. And then I wanted to turn back to the AI and was distracted again. This time by something that happened in my inbox. I will reproduce it here in abbreviated form, with only insignificant imaginative additions.

  • Andi to all: Who sent out this invitation?
  • Béatrice to all: Why am I invited? There must be a mistake.
  • Carlos to all: Me too, I have nothing to do with it. Who sends out such invitations?
  • Damaris to all: This invitation must be a mistake. I don’t belong to this group.
  • Edi to all: Oh dear, I’m sorry! I pressed the wrong button. I’ll undo it all. Sorry for the disturbance.

There is silence for a moment and I think it might be over now. But no, it continues.

  • Franziska to all: Why always these invitations after 5 p.m., I’m an early riser and have long since finished my working hours by this time. I’ve already said this umpteen times – can’t we meet earlier?
  • Geri to all: What kind of invitation is that?
  • Hilde to all: I can’t, I’m on holiday. Ingo to all: Why does everyone always press “reply to all”? It would be more pleasant if you would contact the person who invited you directly, without always copying everyone in, otherwise it clogs up all the mailboxes.
  • Hilde to all: Sorry, I wasn’t aware of that. I am sorry.

Silence again. And I think that’s really the end of it.

  • Kathrin to all: What invitation is this about, I can’t find anything! Absolutely nothing!
  • Leo to all: I have installed a filter in Outlook. All messages with “invitation” in the title are automatically sorted into the trash. I highly recommend it. Hehe!
  • Martha to all: Where exactly is this function in Outlook, Leo? It doesn’t work for me.

Leo doesn’t answer. Which is in his favour, because if his trick works, he hasn’t even read Martha’s email.

  • Leo to all: It’s very simple. Here is the link to the explanatory video. Good luck!

After this flurry of emails, I wanted to turn back to AI, but I had to think about the anxiety disorder again. Doesn’t an organisation here function on the same principle in its email channel as a person does in his head with his anxiety disorder? And hasn’t the same principle been at work in American society since Donald Trump’s post-fact Twitter rant? In the digital world, doesn’t 1 per cent that gets upset generally determine the discourse for the 99 per cent that listen? – So, enough with the distraction! I was going to write something about artificial intelligence. But maybe I’m already doing that … indirectly, somehow. Could you make a neural computer learn in such a way that it anticipates and prevents such excesses? That would be intelligent! However, I have the suspicion that in practice it’s rather the other way round: Digitalisation accelerates artificial intelligence, but at the same time it also – and above all – accelerates collective digital neurosis.

Research project on mindfulness

Quasi as a counter-movement to digital distractibility, mindfulness, mindfulness and meditation are gaining increasing acceptance in the business world because solid research results confirm numerous positive effects. But can you also be mindful as a team? And does it also make a difference? BFH Business is looking for managers who would like to participate in a research project on “team mindfulness”. Those interested can get in touch here.

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AUTHOR: Alexander Hunziker

Prof. Dr. Alexander Hunziker is director of studies of the EMBA Public Manager and lecturer for Mindfulness, Positive Leadership a.o. at the BFH Wirtschaft.

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2 replies
  1. Christopher Lueg
    Christopher Lueg says:

    Ja, sowas erlebt man ja immer wieder in Organisationen, bei denen man das eigentlich nicht erwarten sollte :) Bei dem genannten Beispiel wuerde ich es vorallem bei Usability Problemen bei der verwendeten Software ausmachen (etwa: unzureichende Warnung, dass eine neue Einladung an sehr viele Leute gehen wuerde). Unterentwickelte digitale Skills bei denen, die auch wieder “an alle” antworten, tragen dann das ihre bei.

    • Alexander Hunziker
      Alexander Hunziker says:

      Das ist eine treffende Analyse, Christopher, vielen Dank! An die technischen Aspekte habe ich gar nicht gedacht. Ich vermute, dass Viele es besser wüssten, aber ihre Aufmerksamkeit ist grad woanders. Mehr dazu finden wir vielleicht im erwähnten Forschungsprojekt heraus.


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