Hello, you. You, who are designing, coding, marketing, selling, or simply using the technology that will shape our collective future. To what extent do you realize that everything that you and I do, and every bit of technology you and I envision, create, sell, or simply use — has an impact on our lives?
And on the lives of others, and the future of mankind — in a small and insignificant, or possibly a larger and more sweeping way?
Now, when did you or anyone you know, make an informed, fully conscious, deliberate choice about what we want that impact to be?
If you work in tech or marketing, or if you are interested in technology, marketing or entrepreneurship — or basically, if you’re human and you own a smartphone/laptop/pc — this is relevant to you. Let’s talk about the digital transformation that’s going on inside each of us.
Banksy: Smartphone Love — image source: www.fastcompany.com
OK, so here’s what I wanted to talk to you about: the impact of digital technology. At the extreme end of that, technology addiction is a thing now. It seems to be on the rise. And even though it’s hard to come to a consensus about what constitutes smartphone addiction or technology dependency, that’s more serious of a problem than most of us seem to realize.
But smartphone addiction is only the extreme. What about the more general impact smartphones and other digital technologies are having on our lives?
Obviously, deaths from texting-and-driving accidents, but also injuries from texting-while-walking accidents are a dire result of our new norms. Not to mention increased levels of depression, loneliness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts (and, likely, suicides) in today’s teens.
Research points to a link between the amount of use of digital technology and burnout-states in working adults. Like in the adult writing this, right now.
Now, you might be thinking: what’s that got to do with me? I’m not suicidal or depressed. Or: I’m not headed for a burnout, I just work pretty hard […].
And, hasn’t digital technology opened up vast opportunity for the advancement of mankind?
Made it much easier for anyone to start their own company and reach an audience? Made possible countless advances in medical technology, and overall greatly increased the ease and quality of life for billions, not in the least your and my individual life?
Of course it has, and we should not forget that. I surely try to get the most out of digital technology for advancing my personal goals. Toward actualizing the maximum potential within me and helping others do the same. To the betterment of the world.
And that’s exactly what this is about.
This is not about being against digital technology or the use of it. This is about creating, marketing, selling, and using digital technology, smart devices, and applications in a more conscious and balanced way.
What do you get when you mix the addictiveness of a slot machine (or heroin), humans’ innate weakness for social pressure, and the world’s smartest minds working for the richest, most successful and most profitable companies?
Your attention is being highjacked for profit, as former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris and others explain here. Your ability to focus and your overall cognitive capacity is being compromised, even when your smartphone is off and just physically near you.
Your focus and attention are being silently stolen from you. And then sold to the highest bidder, as you can read in Tim Wu’s “The attention mongers”. And if you work in tech or marketing, you’re probably silently and not very consciously adding to this process.
Data is extremely valuable, and will only continue to grow in value over the next few years, just as it has over the last couple of years:
In this day and age, our data goes where our attention goes.
And if data is so valuable, I think we should be paying attention to how our attention is being monetized. And by whom. Because what we pay attention to, where, when and how we pay attention; it’s all being tracked and monetized by someone.
And it’s helping someone get a better life. And most of the time, that someone is not necessarily the consumer.
Now, how do you use something in a more conscious and balanced way, if you don’t even notice it’s there anymore?
We’re talking about creating a New Normal, post-Covid-19 and post-mid-2020 — but what was the old ‘normal’ actually about? Even in the ‘old normal’, we didn’t notice how everyone would be stroking at their respective glass rectangles on the subway, did we?
Or how we already were meeting with friends and loved ones less and less in face-to-face settings or even phone calls; or how when we do meet up, people are so often halfway distracted from truly connecting with us because something on their phone is stealing their attention away.
What is the norm anyway? Psychological disorders are classified against the baseline or norm of what the rest of society is doing at the time of classification. If and when smartphone addiction does get classified in DSM, what will a “normal brain” look like, and what will a “healthy mind” feel like?
How can we know that we’re not all already slowly losing our minds?
I’m not saying you or people around you are addicted. But even so, depression, anxiety, loss of focus; all these could be trickling into your life as we speak. Burnout and related symptoms are already all around us: it’s likely someone close to you has already reached their limit. Again, this even before the world wide lockdown of mid-2020. Who’s next?
Small segue. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the philosophical and psychological depths of defining consciousness and free will. If you would like to do so, you can read “Free will does not exist” by Victor Lamme; “We are our brain” by Dick Swaab or “The smart subconscious” by Ap Dijksterhuis.
The only point I would like to make here is: if there is such a thing as self-direction by a human mind, it has to do with focused attention. And that’s what I want to help you get back. And what I want to take back for myself, while we’re at it.
It can’t be that Facebook and Google Alphabet and Amazon, Baidu, ByteDance (TikTok) and so on, get richer and richer by the day — all by selling us stuff and serving us with ads mixed with ‘entertainment’; slurping up our personal data, attention and time, and messing with our brain composition. Without us making an informed, conscious decision that that’s OK.
We need to take back our self-direction and use technology in ways that provide added benefit to our life. To our relationships, to our financial situation and to maximizing each of our unique potential.
And if we’re in tech, marketing, or business, we should be thinking about creating tech and other goods and services, and marketing and selling them in such a way that it provides benefits to lives. Agreed?
Let me be honest: I can’t say, exactly. I’m gonna give you a few pointers by way of what I’m trying to do for myself. But alas — would you believe it — I’m a flawed human being. Writing this to you on my proclaimed “#OfflineSunday”. Of all days. And on my smartphone. Anyway:
Here are five things you and I can start doing right now to take back control and use smart technology in a more balanced and conscious manner in our own lives:
1. Remind ourselves and each other.
The first step to changing something is increasing our awareness. Think about the impact of digital technology and what we want that impact to be, talk about it and help raise awareness: make the invisible wallpaper visible again. Check out my latest book ‘Life Beyond the Touch Screen’ if you’re interested in raising awareness around the impact of digital tech.
2. Go offline sometime.
Using digital technology in a more balanced way doesn’t necessarily imply using it less. But for most of us, I’m willing to bet: it is. So: take up the (tricky to start but awesome once you get used to it) habit of having #OfflineSunday.
Work offline when you need to do deep work; turn off the Outlook/e-mail client on your machine; turn off Zoom, Skype or Slack chat programs, or simply turn off your internet connection for a few hours.
Take a walk in nature, meditate, or leave the phone at home when you go out sometimes. If you aren’t already doing this, I promise it’ll do you good.
3. Rearrange the home screen on your smartphone and other devices.
Delete or move away the apps that distract; leave only the apps that offer real added value to your life. Put social apps away in one folder, on the second or third swipe from your home screen. Oh, and turn off all unnecessary notifications.
4. Disrupt the attention economy monopolies and monetize your own attention and data
- With Minds or Steem, Brave and/or other distributed/blockchain-based social platforms or browsers, that are designed to at least let you monetize the media you create, and the data points you generate with your attention.
5. If you work in tech, marketing, or do anything to sell or market goods or services online — Make an informed, conscious and deliberate choice about how you want to go about that.
What world do you want to help create?
As with every technology that has shaken our world; from the mastering of fire, to the invention of the wheel; the printing press, wind energy and steam power, to gunpowder, nuclear power and the internet — the technology itself is, of course, neutral.
What matters are the choices we make.
Do we choose to become or add to our collective becoming of a horde of addicted or ‘hooked’, mindlessly scrolling, depressed and self-absorbed touch screen zombies? Or do we choose to become the best we could possibly be, aided by our new technological capabilities?
A tool that can track and analyze so much about our likes and dislikes, capabilities and flaws and that we carry with us everywhere we go can be a fantastic tool for increasing self-knowledge.
As such, digital technology use can be a mirror to us: the way we use the technology actually showing us what our preferences and beliefs are, and what matters to us. At the same time and building upon that, if we make a conscious choice about it, smart, digital technology usage can be a catalyst for our (personal) evolution.
Never before in history have we had the type of tools in our hands that can give us so much insight about ourselves, which we can use to improve our thoughts, feelings, and behavior — if we so choose to.
Now that you can no longer unconsciously and unknowingly contribute to what you do not want the future to be: what kind of future do you choose to design, code, market, sell or consume?
My new book “Life Beyond the Touch Screen” is out now, you can get it here as an e-book or paperback. It’s a meditational booklet designed to increase our consciousness around the impact of digital technology on our lives as individuals, in organizations and society. A reminder to choose.
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