Life beyond the touch screen

A call for more balanced and more conscious use of smart technology

Banksy: Smartphone Love — retrieved at www.fastcompany.com

What a fantastic coincidence. I’m writing this on my supposed #OfflineSunday, on my smartphone, because I’m on the subway right now and my laptop battery just died. How’s that for practice what you preach?

And you? What were you doing before you started reading this? What did I distract you from? Either way, thank you for your attention. I will do my utmost to give you something valuable for it.

Is there still life beyond the touch screen?

OK, so here’s what I wanted to talk to you about: smartphone addiction is a thing now. It seems to be on the rise. And that’s more serious of a problem than most of us seem to realize.

Obviously, deaths from texting-and-driving accidents, but also injuries from texting-while-walking accidents are a dire result of smartphone addiction. 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. Multi-tasking for the win!

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 me to reach you with this message, for instance? Made it much more easy 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 anti digital technology. This is about using digital technology, smart devices, and social media in a more conscious and balanced way.

Because the balance of your mind is in peril

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 profitable companies? Your attention is being high jacked 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”.

We live in a time where data = your attention = is the new oil

Data is extremely valuable, and will only continue to grow in value over the next few years:

And if data is so valuable, you should be paying attention to how your attention is being monetized. And by whom. Because what you pay attention to, where, when and how you pay attention; it’s all being monetized by the big boys. Every like, every scroll, each pause in your scrolling, every click: these are the data points. That end up making up the big data that make Mark Zuckerberg and his chums richer by the minute. Read this story about how the last bits of capitalist profit were always bound to be wrung out of society by the attention mongers. TL;DR: They get rich while we get stupid.

Smart tech in 2018 is like wallpaper or air

Now, how do you use something in a more conscious and balanced way, if you don’t even notice it’s there anymore? You don’t notice how everyone is stroking at their respective glass rectangles on the subway; how you meet with friends and loved ones less and less in face-to-face settings or even phone calls; or how when you do meet up people are so often halfway distracted from truly connecting with you because something on their phone is stealing their attention away.

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?

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. Who’s next?

What is “free will” and does it even exist?

Small segue. I don’t want to delve too deeply into the philosophical and psychological depths of defining consciousness and free will. If you’d 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 get you 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 and so on, get richer and richer by the day — all by selling us stuff and serving us with ads; slurping up our attention and time, and messing with our brain composition in the same way a slot machine does to a gambling addict. 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. To becoming Batman and saving the world.

So what can we do, now?

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:

1. Remind ourselves and each other. Think about it, Talk about it and raise awareness: make the invisible wallpaper visible again.

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 Skype or Slack chat programs, or simply turn off your internet connection for a few hours.

3. Rearrange our smartphones (and home screens). 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 with Synereo and/or other distributed/blockchain based social platforms that are designed to at least let you monetize the media you create, and the datapoints you generate with your attention.

5. Follow “The Life Beyond”, where myself and others will be posting stories and telling you about ways that can help you to use all of the endless possibilities that digital technology offer, in a more balanced way. Share our content to raise awareness and engage with us to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Was this article helpful, meaningful and relevant to you? What are your thoughts on the whole and on specific points? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Go be your true self.