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Courtney BarnesFeb 26, 2019 4:54:27 AM3 min read

Digital Divide 2020: The New Digital Divide Will Be About EQ, Not Access

Look around, and you’ll see some people are thriving. They are embracing challenges and delivering epic results on daily basis. But you’ll also find a lot of people floundering–distracted, overwhelmed, and underperforming. So, what’s the difference? I would argue that what you’re witnessing is the new digital divide.

The digital divide of 2000 was about access–those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. By 2020, there will be a new digital divide that focuses on emotional intelligence (EQ), not access. In this new digital divide, one’s ability to regulate the use of technology will ultimately be what separates the haves from the have nots.

As a leadership psychologist, the individuals and teams with whom I work all want to be more effective in a wired world and for a good reason. As digital technology becomes even more ubiquitous, we must cultivate inner awareness and agility. Technologies have made it their business to make things “sticky” (don’t be fooled, this is just a nicer word for “addictive”). To stay in control, we need new skills to manage ourselves effectively.

EQ in the Digital World

EQ was first coined in the late 1980s by psychology professors Peter Salovey and John Mayer as a way to differentiate people who excel as leaders from those who hit a ceiling. What was clear to Salovey and Mayer is that individuals who are self-aware and able to self-regulate (adapt and adjust) are more successful than individuals who lack these skills. The higher your EQ, the more likely you are to know yourself and what positions you to be at your best.

In the past, some people might have said you don’t need EQ if you don’t want to be a leader. In a wired world, I would argue that EQ is no longer optional. The reason is simple: Self-awareness and self-regulation are key components of managing and preventing addiction, including tech addiction.

Those of us with high EQ are already using technology to make our lives better (e.g., leveraging Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family without spending hours talking to them on the phone each day). People who lack EQ (specifically the part connected to self-regulation) are using also using digital technologies but not necessarily to their advantage. In some cases, people with low levels of EQ are developing troubling addictions to specific devices and platforms.

As I have discussed in earlier articles, addiction is complex. Addicts crave substances (e.g., drugs or alcohol) because these substances result in a surge of dopamine and high levels of dopamine are linked to temporary gratification. Tech addiction works the same way. For example, social media addictions have been linked to the instant gratification these platforms offer users. The problem is that addicts can never get enough, and breaking the cycle–whether its drugs or social media–is never easy.

The challenge now facing leaders is how to ensure one’s team members are connected but not addicted. After all, a team that’s wired but drained, distracted, and addicted isn’t much better off than a team that doesn’t have adequate access to digital technologies at all.

Leveraging EQ to Be On The Right Side of the New Digital Divide  

  • Increase Your Self-awareness: Fortunately, many apps are designed to heighten our awareness–ironically, even our awareness of our tech addiction. If you fear you have a tech addiction, install an app that tracks your usage (if you’re an Apple user, try Screen Time, Apple’s built-in screen time tracker).
  • Be Disciplined In Your Approach: While some people rely solely on apps to restrict their screen time, it is important to remember that automated solutions are only a temporary fix. Ideally, you need to build self-awareness and develop your own capacity to make better decisions about when and how you’re using digital platforms.  
  • Develop Your EQ: To accomplish the above goal, you’ll need to build your EQ. Here, it is important to remember that EQ isn’t inherent but rather something we all have the capacity to cultivate. Of course, to do this you also need bandwidth–the space and time to get perspective on your work and life.

As we move toward 2020, there is a lot of uncertainty about how new technologies will continue to transform our lives and work. From emotion-detecting software to machine-learning solutions, over the next decade, we’ll all need to to keep changing if we want to remain relevant. Deepening our self-awareness and self-regulation is going to be essential to leveraging and living with technologies and staying on the right side of the new digital divide.