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6 Online Technology and Life

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Are the many discouraging indicators, such as increasing depression and suicide and skyrocketing obesity, actually arising from our use of screen technologies? Clearly, these technologies cannot be the only factor, but in this chapter we look at how our omnipresent screens may be impairing our sleep and undermining other basic pillars of health and entailing a cascade of major compromises of our physical and mental states.

As we were writing this book, many of the tech industry’s most prominent members, troubled by the addictive and destructive behaviors that they perceive social media, mobile phones, and other technologies to intentionally foster, began offering serious criticism of the industry. They include former senior executives at Facebook, Google, and other prominent companies. Among the loudest and most insistent was Roger McNamee (whom we later asked to write the foreword to this book). Roger has been investing in technology companies, such as Facebook, for three decades, and introduced Sheryl Sandberg, its present chief operating officer, to its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. From his seat at the table, McNamee has one of the longest perspectives on how the industry is affecting us and our world. In a Guardian interview in October 2017, he pointed out the underlying conundrum: “The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences. The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models.”1

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9 A Personal Epilogue

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Almost immediately after we pitched this book to our publishers, criticism broke out about the business practices, ethics, and values of the big technology companies. In August 2017, sociologist Jean Twenge published her book iGen, which examines how teenagers are growing up with technology dominating their lives while being completely unprepared for adulthood.1 Her September 2017 article in The Atlantic, discussed in chapter 6, sparked a firestorm of commentary and criticism. Former New Republic editor Franklin Foer published World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech in September 2017, a polemic that criticizes Google, Facebook, and other tech giants for what he regards as soulless monopolism that seeks to understand every facet of our identities and influence every decision of our lives for profit.2 In a blog post titled “Hard questions: Is spending time on social media bad for us?” Facebook’s director of research, David Ginsberg, finally acknowledged that perhaps the social network was not so good for its users.3 (The eye-popping irony of the post was that the prescription to solve the problem was even more in-depth Facebook participation!)

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7 How Can We Make Technology Healthier for Humans?

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In a well-known parable, a group of blind men encounters an elephant. Each man touches a different part of the elephant and receives very different tactile feedback. Their later descriptions of the elephant to each other disagree, though each individual’s description is accurate and captures one portion of the elephant: a tusk, a leg, an ear. Humans often have only partial information and struggle to understand the feelings and observations of others about the same problem or situation, even though those feelings and observations may be absolutely accurate and valid in that person’s context.

Though more multifaceted than our perceptions of an elephant, our relationships with technology are similar: Each of us experiences it differently. Each of us relates to technology in a unique, highly personal way. We lose or cede control, stability, and fulfillment in a million different ways. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in the novel Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

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3 Online Technology and Love

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

We are living in the Tinder era, when a swipe is a terminal judgment taken in an instant upon scant information—at a rate of hundreds per hour. This is entirely new to humans—the appearance of an apparently endless choice of potential partners. Were it that simple! This chapter looks at how the Internet has changed our views of love, of romance, and even of ourselves.

Since the first civilizations, and across all cultures, humans have told stories about love. From Paris and Helen, to Romeo and Juliet, to Bonnie and Clyde, to Brangelina, lovers have captivated our imaginations, and love stories have become part of our cultural fabric. Very few of us can live happily without the love of others. The love of children and partner, of parents, and of friends: all contribute mightily to the richness of our existence.

In many ways, past technological revolutions have affected how we love. Universal schooling and the popularization of letter-writing made love letters a common vehicle of expression. Later, the camera allowed soldiers to exchange pictures with their wives and families and girlfriends. The telephone connected distant lovers and friends over twisted strands of copper wire.

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8 A Vision for a More Humane Tech

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Imagine that your smartphone had a pause button that would stop all buzzing and notifications for multiples of fifteen minutes and clear your home screen to leave nothing on it except for a clock—and that you could block all incoming messages by pushing a single button on the phone. You might say that your phone already does that with its Do Not Disturb (DND) mode, but DND requires quite a bit of management in its present state, and when the DND period ends, you get a rush of notifications, followed by newly arriving notifications. What if you could program the phone to send you notifications only on the hour, in regular batches?

In fact, someone has already invented a phone like that. It’s named “Siempo,” and it was designed by a team from the ground up to encourage more conscious, thoughtful use of applications and technology, and to return to users control over their lives. Siempo calls the device the “phone for humans.”1 Siempo was launched on Kickstarter in March 2017, and it raised only a fraction of its goal of $500,000. Sadly, the market did not fully validate what Siempo was offering.

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