The history of technology is a story which has been told and retold. But there is a subplot to the story. For every technological step forward there have been doom-laden warnings about the disastrous effects this new invention would have on human beings and humankind collectively. Plato lamented the advent of writing, arguing that it would make people’s memories feeble through lack of use. When the first steam trains vastly increased the speed a person could travel, some worried that women shouldn’t ride because the high velocity would cause their uteruses to explode from their bodies.
The advent of digital technologies – the personal computer, the internet, the smartphone – is no different. For as long as these technologies have existed, some voices have railed against their disastrous effects on our individual and collective wellbeing.
But in recent years and months, this conversation has taken on a new tone. Increasingly our understanding of psychology and neurology is shedding light on what these now ubiquitous technologies are doing to our minds and subjective experience. Moreover, more and more people, driven perhaps by observing both their own conscious experience online and social pathologies that appear linked to our use of technology, are wondering aloud whether we might be on the wrong track.
Tellingly, a growing number of these voices are coming from people who work, or have worked, in big tech companies, and now have serious misgivings about the impact of their creations. Starting in 2018, the big tech companies themselves began to openly and actively address questions around “digital wellbeing”.
It seems that we’ve reached a point of collective reflection, where we need to decide how we want our relationship with digital technology to be. This paper is about that conversation: what have new technologies done to our well-being, and what can we do about it?
DSI4EU aims to support the growth and scale of digital social innovation (DSI), tech for good and civic tech in Europe through a programme of policy, research and practical support. Find out more at digitalsocial.eu/about-the-
This trend analysis was developed in cooperation between betterplace lab and TD Reply. TD Reply did the data analysis, using their data-driven sensing tool trend sonar.