What does it take to leverage our human gifts in the digital age?

Thought-provoking insights and practical tips on Beautiful Work from our conversation with Marta Bertolaso

June 18, 2024
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6 min read
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This article is part of our series Stories of Beautiful Work bringing a curated digest of the most thought-provoking insights and practical tips on the nature and practice of Beautiful Work coming from the episodes of our weekly podcast “Thank God it’s Monday”. 


The key topics you will find in this article are:

  • The impact of digital transformation on work, relationships, and societal values.
  • The paradox between emulating machine-like efficiency and prioritizing human care and connection.
  • A critique of measuring work in units of time and its detrimental effects on well-being and self-care.
  • The difference between human intelligence from artificial intelligence and the importance of embodied, relational intelligence.
  • The importance of genuine human interactions and being present in both physical and digital spaces.
  • The role of societal fragmentation in increasing feelings of disconnection and the need to foster inclusive, authentic communities.

In an age dominated by technological advancement and digital transformation, Marta Bertolaso – a philosopher of science specializing in the intersection of human development and technology – offered us profound insights into the impact of these changes on our work, relationships, and societal values. 

Through her perspective, we delved into the paradox of efficiency versus human connection, the importance of presence in a digitized world, and the existential fears and aspirations of contemporary society. And why does this all matter if we want to create beautiful workplaces and contribute to collective fulfillment.

Efficiency vs. Human Connection

We humans during the last few centuries seem to have developed this tendency to emulate machine-like efficiency in our work, driven by societal pressure and a desire to meet predefined objectives and timelines. However, let’s challenge this paradigm for a moment. What would happen if instead we shape our behavior around the intrinsic value of human care and connection? While machines excel at functional tasks based on data-driven generalizations, humans possess the unique capacity for empathy, wonder, and individualized care. From this realization comes the urgent need to prioritize human-centered values over mechanical efficiency, recognizing the inherent beauty in genuine human interactions.

Machines thrive on data to draw conclusions. Sometimes we think that our work is the same thing, gathering data to make choices, saying things about others, about situations. While what is human is the ability to be amazed and to take care of those in front of you. We stress about performance instead of making more room for the dimension of care. This is the paradox of our time. – Marta Bertolaso, Ep.1 TGIM

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The paradox of work industrial paradigms

In fact, have you noticed that the prevalent industrial-era paradigm measures work in units of time rather than value? This approach has detrimental effects on individual well-being, leading to burnout and a lack of self-care. The societal emphasis on mechanistic efficiency creates a culture of constant striving, undermining the essence of human flourishing. 

To cultivate more fulfilling work environments, there’s a need to shift towards holistic value-based metrics and reevaluate the relationship between time and life.

From a philosophical, cultural standpoint, I believe that all this stress is the toll we are paying for the technocratic paradigms we have embraced, which sometimes lead us to confront even with reverence and fear the technologies we ourselves have built. – Marta Bertolaso, Ep.1 TGIM

Redefining intelligence and identity

Is it really possible to apply the notion of intelligence to something “artificial”? As the most recent studies demonstrate across many different scientific disciplines, human intelligence is inherently embodied and relational. Unlike machines, which operate on algorithms and data, human intelligence comes from the complex interplay of mind, body, and lived experience. Therefore we need to reexamine our identity and capabilities, if we want to explore the untapped potential of our embodied intelligence. By embracing the holistic nature of human consciousness, we can reclaim our agency in an increasingly digitized world.

Artificial intelligence is made up of digital machines that interact with humans, feeding off human activity. So we are talking about technically implemented social systems, where what is artificial is not intelligent and what is intelligent is not artificial. Therefore, we also need to rethink our way of being in the world and especially to reflect on our identity, understand the capabilities of our mind-body, because now all the neurosciences teach us that human intelligence is not in a mass of brain matter inside a skull, but belongs to our body, to our biography, to our being alive, in a much more beautiful, much more significant sense, which we have still explored very little. – Marta Bertolaso, Ep.1 TGIM

The value of presence

That’s how, in a society where time is commodified and distractions are everywhere, we can recover the power of genuine human interactions and of being truly present, whether in physical or digital spaces. It’s by engaging meaningfully and building authentic relationships, that we can counteract the isolating effects of technology and foster deeper connections with ourselves and others.

I believe we shouldn’t get used to things like wonder, or being amazed by the concrete person we have in front of us. Amazement has always been for humans the most important source of questions, answers, creativity, and initiative. What does this stance mean in the age of digital and ecological transitions? To what extent do technologies help us to be truly present? I am a bit allergic when people tell me “ldo we meet remotely or in presence?”. Because if we meet, it must anyway be a form of presence, even if digitally mediated. Otherwise, it becomes a problem. – Marta Bertolaso, Ep.1 TGIM

Existential insecurity and the quest for belonging

Societal fragmentation and isolation play major roles in the widespread sense of existential insecurity in today’s society. As technology reshapes social dynamics, people feel increasingly disconnected from traditional sources of community and belonging. The fear of inadequacy and pressure to excel heighten feelings of alienation and anxiety, especially among younger generations. 

To counter this trend, it’s crucial to foster inclusive communities and meaningful relationships based on authenticity and mutual support. And fostering a new narrative around the concept of performance, one that does not exploit but actually allows us to express our full form, our full potential. By recognizing and celebrating the inherent worth of each individual, we can create work environments that promote personal growth as well as collective well-being and true success. 

International statistics say that loneliness has become the new pandemic. Initially, complicit were hierarchical, Tayloristic paradigms, in which functional performance was the measure of success. Certainly, machines are very serious, machines are perfect, always compliant. But humans are not compliant, we do stupid things continuously. We should return to living with naturalness in all the dimensions that belong to us. Perhaps starting from knowing how to create interruptions. Irony, music, artwork, affectionate attention towards a family member…In general, the ability to create interruptions in a temporal flow that otherwise is a mechanical time, of which we are victims, instead of being authors. – Marta Bertolaso, Ep.1 TGIM

These insights offer a compelling vision for navigating the complexities of the digital age while preserving the essence of what truly makes humans. As we confront the challenges of an increasingly automated world, this conversation reminds us of the intrinsic value of presence, empathy, irony and authentic engagement as key ingredients to cultivate beautiful workplaces. And, as a consequence, societies that prioritize human well-being and collective fulfillment.

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This article is part of the series Stories of Beautiful Work bringing a curated digest of the most thought-provoking insights and practical tips on the nature and practice of Beautiful Work coming from the latest episode of our weekly podcast “Thank God it’s Monday”. You can listen to the episode in its original language here.

If you’re interested in exploring practical strategies to integrate the principles of Beautiful Work into your organizational culture and daily practices, contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

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