A unique approach to technology and how it changes our lives
Technology has certainly come a long way in the past 20 years. Nowadays, a single pocket-sized device called the smartphone can act as a calculator, newspaper, mailbox, magazine, music player, television, video camera, point-and-shoot camera, scanner, payphone, maps, landline, answering machine, and alarm clock.
It seems almost like a dream, something that a Hollywood spy movie or sci-fi story cooked up.
But as much as the smartphone has benefited us, could it be doing more harm than good?
Center for Humane Technology’s Tristan Harris makes a bold claim:
“Technology is hijacking our minds and society.”
As a former Google employee and founder of the Time Well Spent movement, Harris is one of many voices speaking up about the negative ways technology is impacting society.
As much as technology has been touted as a way to bring people together, streamline work and other tasks, and enhance our overall quality of life, Harris warns that our very humanity is being distorted by the smoke and mirrors of digital devices.
And the only way forward is to take a big step back and look at how we can create a more human (and humane) approach to technological assets.
On the surface, it’s hard to validate the idea that technology is doing more harm than good, given its economic impact and widespread usage.
In an ongoing debate, some argue that the Internet is the best invention ever.
- Smartphone sales more than doubled in 2017 compared to 2012.
- Over one fifth of the world’s population is now on Facebook (2.1 billion) compared to just 100 million a decade ago.
- People are spending twice as much time online today as they did a decade ago.
- The internet is responsible for 6% of the United States economy, or $993 billion annually.
The reasons are multifold.
Mobile devices have enabled constant connectivity so users can engage no matter where they are. Internet speeds are becoming increasingly faster, minimizing the frustratingly slow download speeds that can result in digital abandonment.
In addition, most of the things we used to do “offline,” such as read news, play games, handle finances, and shop, can all be done faster and more efficiently on digital devices.
In this regard, people are still doing the same things they did before the internet took over, just in a different format. Advances like social media have reunited family and friends. Digital media has created new jobs and industries, and has fueled the information age that makes it easier for people to educate themselves to achieve a better career.
The advantages are hard to discount, which could be why the human element is often overshadowed.
Harris states that the “race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society.” It eventually comes down to the fact that A-listers like Google, Facebook, and YouTube are, in all aspects, businesses trying to make money in every possible way. They’re profiting at the expense of our mental health, social relationships, democracy, and even our children.
And they’re becoming increasingly persuasive in the strategies they use to rob us of our finite time.
Advancements like machine learning, retargeted marketing, and Big Data are powering the initiatives to target our individual behaviors and preferences, and drag us deeper into the digital atmosphere.
What’s more, we’ve already seen how widespread and easy it is to manipulate the data and, worse, entire populations.
One of Harris’ most alarming declarations is one that can give pause to even the most digitally driven user: “These are not neutral products. They are part of a system designed to addict us.”
So where’s the humanity in constant connectivity?
Smartphones and devices might give us instant access to friends and family, but it counteracts our ability to make eye contact and socialize in the moment.
Parents give their children smartphones to track them or provide contact in case of an emergency, but they’re met at the dinner table with unanswered questions and unresponsive conversations.
Videos and music play without consent to give you content you never asked for.
People use their devices to record or photograph others without their consent, sometimes using that as leverage. People can become self-conscious or socially isolated to avoid future fallout.
Apps like Facebook and Instagram gives us a real-time glimpse into other people’s lives, but in turn, they can make us feel worse about our own. They steal our joy and self worth. They can also uncover dirty little secrets, like affairs and misdeeds, that create a domino effect of misery (sometimes ignorance is bliss, after all).
The effects are even worse for children who are growing up only knowing a digital world.
47% of smartphone owners have already tried to limit their usage, but only 30% of those have been successful. Those who have tried know it’s not as easy as putting their phones away, especially given all the things our devices are capable of doing.
To combat the digital downside, remember why you invested in a digital device in the first place. It wasn’t because your friends told you to, you had extra money to spend, or you simply liked the way it looked.
You expected it to do something for you, to improve the way you work and live.
Whatever the reasons for purchasing and using your device, it’s your responsibility to make the device work for you, not the other way around.
Becoming aware of our technology catastrophe is the only way we can move forward to regain control of it. You may already realize how much time you’re spending on your device or laptop each day or week, but if you’re unsure (or want the most accurate assessment), a time tracking app is a helpful tool in gauging your online habits to give you a clear snapshot of your digital usage.
In addition, you can use the app to block out unnecessary time sucks so that every minute you spend engaged in digital media is time well spent.
Think of it as fighting tech with tech. You’re empowering the technology you want to combat the online distractions you don’t want, so you can be more productive in your online interactions.
You don’t have to be a victim of technology’s negative impact, nor do you have to fully relinquish your digital devices to achieve a more focused lifestyle. It’s all about finding balance between your world and the digital one so that you can maximize your time for the greatest impact.
To learn how FocusMe can help you tune out unwanted digital noise, try it for free and watch your quality of life improve.