How is technology impacting the digital generation?

February 27, 2024

Garima Garg, Executive Director, Network Engineering, Verizon Wireless

We as a digital industry have made significant advancements and impact on our everyday lives. As a technologist, I am often concerned that these advancements have a differential impact on people depending on their background, gender and individual circumstances.

And as the mother of two young girls, these concerns have become focused in recent times on the way technology is now impacting the online experiences and lives of females in particular. As we think about the digital generation and what legacy we have created for them, we also need to think not just about the benefits, but also the ongoing challenges of living in an always on world. Also we need to ask ourselves how we might be able to address this.

The benefits of connectivity

Don’t get me wrong. I am a technologist through and through and an optimist at heart. I work hard every day as part of a dedicated team of engineers committed to ensuring the best, most reliable experience possible for our customers. And thanks to the latest advancements in wireless and broadband technologies, we as a digital industry have been phenomenally successful in making the world smaller. While maybe not in a literal sense, the world today is much more reachable and extremely connected. We can connect to anyone almost anywhere around the globe, be it through video call or social media platform. Our lives have become interconnected in more ways than any other generation before us, and that has brought about vast improvements to billions of us in the way we live, work and play.

My early experience – a disconnected world

This is nowhere more obvious than when I look back to my early experience in India as a young woman growing up. I went to an engineering school almost 900 miles away from home in Pune, which is a city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Pune is now one of the largest IT hubs in India. But at the time I was a student there, we had very limited access to communications. At the college, we had access to one shared landline amongst 200 students. We used to wait hours for our turn or set a time in advance for our parents to call us. I suppose this experience is very similar to many in the Baby Boomer generation, who grew up without the type of easy access to instant communication or mobile phones that we now take for granted.

A hyper-connected world

Fast forward to today, and it seems as if the world has shrunk and has become almost one as a result of the spread of digital technology. My parents call me from India twice a day, allowing for the time zone differences. And if I don’t pick up immediately, they get anxious. While my parents get to see their grandchildren grow up on video calls, my 3-year-old niece, a real ‘digital native’, only wants to do video calls. She doesn’t even understand the concept of a voice call without a picture. This type of advancement has made the world hyper-connected.

Social responsibility of tech leaders

As the saying goes – “With great power comes great responsibility”. This is true in the tech world too. On one hand, we have created a world where banking is at our fingertips, working from home is technically feasible and driverless cars are a real possibility. But on the other hand, we may be creating a technology which is widening the gender gap in the tech world either by flawed design or by a lack of checks and balances. As leaders of the tech industry, it is our responsibility to consider the social impact of all these technology advancements – especially on women.

My daughters are now teenagers and I am aware that they are entering a digital world which has many benefits, but also many risks. I constantly think about whether humans are now driving the technology or whether the technology is driving humans.

Being part of the tech industry, I do find the technical part of social media impressive. Being able to have quick access to data, research, connect with people miles apart, do a job search, find educational content are but a few ways social media has made our lives much more efficient. But as a mother, it sometimes gives me sleepless nights.

As a parent, the impact of social media1 is a big concern. As our children are still developing psychologically and socially, we need to be cognizant of the impacts of prolonged social media use. Adolescent girls see a perfect world out in the land of social media with teenagers having perfect hair, skin, body and life. This is not only making them conscious of their own body image, but it is also leading to eating disorders, social comparison and mental health impacts. Photo editing software is no longer a tool for just artists. Technology advancements have put this tool at the fingertips of many young influencers, changing the impact of these photos on our impressionable youth. These problems can be exacerbated when we talk about children’s online safety and the access the world might have to them through social media. So, my question is: what are we, as an industry, doing about it?

Verizon is trying to educate parents and caretakers through its Parenting in a Digital World2 blog. Often it’s not a matter of “understanding” the technology that parents struggle with, but rather keeping up with trends, uses, and social implications of technology.

Additionally, it’s important the positive impact social media and technology can have. It’s still a vital tool in connecting, educating, and empowering children. Through the Verizon Innovative Learning3 program, Verizon has now provided over 3.5M students nationwide with digital skills training. By partnering with trusted education partners, edtech innovators and cultural institutions, educators have access to a growing suite of programs and resources, including new tech-driven lesson plans that leverage the power of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) apps in the classroom. Through our commitment to addressing the digital divide, Verizon has committed to providing ten million youth with digital-skills training by 2030.

A shared responsibility

My daughters have a disadvantage (or advantage?) of having a technocrat for their mother. I am able to utilize parental controls provided by the phone manufactures and different social media websites. But is everyone able to do the same?

It is our responsibility as parents to make sure there are checks and balances in place on our children’s use of digital technology, either through industry self-regulation or through government regulation, to ensure that children’s use of social media is better controlled. One approach is to provide ready access to training for parents on how to put parental controls on social media accounts. Social media companies also have a big responsibility to ensure that parental controls are not bypassed, data is kept safe and risks to children are minimized.

Importance of mentorship and role models

An obvious way to work towards how to solve this is to get more women into tech fields. Over recent years, the industry has done well to build programs to encourage more women to apply to tech companies. However, there is definitely more work that needs to be done. Affinity bias is real. As humans we have a tendency to socialize with, hire, and promote people who are like us.

We often have to address the barriers to entry that prevent us from introducing new people and ideas into our fields. Verizon is rethinking many aspects of its process like mandatory college degrees, where we recruit from, and even the language we use in our job descriptions.

By the time many young women become aware of digital technology careers, they may already have chosen their career path and study course. I believe we should focus on early intervention in elementary schools and middle schools to get more girls interested in Math and Science. We should also focus our efforts on supporting more women to establish their career and build a support network, in what is still a male dominated industry. This is where mentorship and sponsorship can play a very important role in accelerating the changes in diversity and inclusion that we need to make.

Verizon has recently launched a program for children of employees to participate in a “Virtual Summer Camp” style program focused on introducing children as young as elementary school to technology.

So, what else can we, and our younger colleagues, do? My advice is to speak up – call those out who treat you differently than your peers either in private or in public. If the internal culture in your organization needs to change, call it out. Being talked over is the number one issue I hear from my mentees. Women cannot solve this alone; they need allies. We need leaders, both men and women to speak up when they see unconscious bias.

I also believe that younger women in the industry need to step up and really think about their life plan, and how they can take more control over their own destiny. I am very fortunate to have a husband who is very supportive and who encouraged me to take a less traditional path in my life and career. My hope for other women is that they also get the support they need to achieve their life plans.

Garima Garg is the Executive Director, Network Engineering for the Tri-State Region (NJ/ DE/ Eastern PA). She is responsible for RF Design, System Performance, Network Assurance and Implementation of new solutions to support wireless network growth and maintenance, including functions to build and grow the RAN network supporting Verizon’s 4G LTE service and 5G implementation.

Garima is passionate about mentoring and coaching younger generations and preparing them for leadership roles.

Prior to this, Garima was the Director of Tech Strategy in Verizon’s Technology and Product development organization. She led the team responsible for strategy and technical aspects of all connected devices and was responsible for driving device ecosystems in partnership with global chipset, OS, SIM and device vendors.

She has been with Verizon for 18+ years. In her previous role, Garima led Illinois and Wisconsin from System Performance perspective including Chicago, the 3rd largest CMA in the country. She led the effort to launch Verizon’s first 5G NR network and 5G home product in Chicago. Garima strategized RF plans for the region, improved performance KPIs, tested and trialed new technologies like 5G – NR, LAA and CBRS. She has also served multiple positions with increased responsibilities across Performance, Transport and System Design in the Greater Boston area.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunication from Pune University in India and a Masters in Computer Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.