What I Want from Technology

It’s really difficult to be distracted when you’re in a beautiful place like this one (in Utah’s Canyonlands, where I spent this past weekend). Natural environments easily lend themselves to being present and simply immersed in the experience. Without billboards and blinking lights and Facebook notifications, it’s much easier to pay attention to what’s going on around you and – even more importantly – what’s going on within you. 

A lot of us use technology to distract ourselves from ourselves. It’s much easier and more pleasant to self-medicate with online shopping, social media, mindless entertainment, and myopic political propaganda than to critically examine our motivations, our beliefs and our own self-identity. That stuff is hard and ugly, yeah. I get it. But if you don’t examine that stuff, nothing in your life gets better.

One of the problems with distraction is that the more we are distracted, the more likely we are to be distracted again. It’s similar with interruptions: the more often we are interrupted, the more likely we are to interrupt ourselves. That means that we are collectively losing the ability to focus on one particular task. If you haven’t seen the research, it’s pretty conclusive that, neurologically speaking, multitasking doesn’t actually exist (no matter how you feel about it). That means that we spend most of our time jumping around from task to task without accomplishing any of them in the best way possible.

Despite my research on attention, social media use, and the rapidly changing way that we interact with other people through digital media, I still struggle with making good choices around technology.

I’m not immune to this, either. Despite my research on attention, social media use, and the rapidly changing way that we interact with other people through digital media, I still struggle with making good choices around technology. Shoot, one of my major research projects in grad school was on the impact of touch on human health, and I somehow managed to become overstimulated, undertouched and lonely in the years between then and now. That’s one of the reasons that now I purposely design experiences (either in nature, with other people, or purposely alone without technology being present at all).

I’m a sucker for snazzy tech as much as the next guy. Here’s the crux of it: in the conflict between technology’s self-interest and my own, technology usually wins, and that’s not okay with me anymore. Something is wrong, and I’m going to change it.

I’m developing a set of guidelines for myself around how I interact with technology, and I will share them once they are complete. It’s important to make the point here that I’m not anti-technology. The issue is that technology – like humans – takes the path of least resistance, and if the free market demands scintillating distractions, they will rapidly be created. (Inviting me to play Candy Crush is the second-fastest way to get unfriended by me on Facebook, by the way.)  So we, as self-aware humans who want a better world for ourselves and our children, need to ask for something different. Ask for technology that makes our lives better instead of simply more entertaining. Ask for technology that leverages the internet to connect us with more people in person, not simply more people online. Ask for technology that helps us be present and healthy and vulnerable and powerfully connected to other people, rather than technology that uses the constant stream of consumer messaging to convince us that we are fat, unsuccessful and ugly. Ask… and keep asking.

I hope you’ll join me in asking for tech that makes our lives better, not just more distracting. Because distraction might make for good economics, but it doesn’t make for good living, and that’s what I’m all about.

Ask for technology that makes our lives better instead of simply more entertaining. Ask for technology that leverages the internet to connect us with more people in person, not simply more people online.

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Dallas Hartwig is the co-creator of Whole9Life and the Whole30 program. New York Times bestselling author. Free-range human.