I ran across another article today about how society is slowly devolving, in part, due to technology. This is becoming a more common refrane. Tech leaders are frequently quoted saying they don’t allow their children to play with the devices they create.
The ‘tech elite’ are onto something and we are just coming to terms with it in many sciences. We’ve known for many years, in the behavioral sciences, that the environments we exist in influence us – for better or worse.
We like to think of our experiences simply and tend to perceive only those consequences closest to us temporally, spatially, and socially. We “like” and emoticon ourselves into disconnection as we feel the bright shiny connection in front of us, and in the process, we miss the people sitting next to us.
We as a society are overwhelmed, over-worked, and driven, most logically, to distraction in the screen faces we carry with us. In the Behavioral Sciences, B. F. Skinner (1986) wrote “What’s wrong with the Western World” and described the impact of modern work processes on how we as human’s function. The summary, “distance from the impact of our behaviors, is not a good thing.”
In a hyper-connected world – we have customized technologies around natural human desires. We buy ‘shiny’ distraction avoidance tools. As tech has evolved, it has also come to offer us other tools shaped around human values and goals. We now have FitBits and Alexa to help us live better lives.
The missing piece; however, is that the solutions themselves are one-sided. We have learned to embrace algorithms to help us choose movies (Netflix, etc.) and quickly tag pictures of our friends (Facebook), but we distrust technology in its ability to help us truly improve ourselves.
We offer a few ideas from the nexus of Behavioral Science and Technology, to help humanity connect to itself again.
1) Build technologies that adapt to intended purpose.
When we build technologies without awareness to our own essential humanness we inadvertatly reinforce our worst behaviors. People will always be attracted to ‘shiny’ things, they will want quick rewards AND we need to plan technologies for exceptional #humanexperience right along with our #USERexperience.
More on that, below.
2) Build technologies that help us engage other perspectives.
In a hyper-connected world, we’ve become sucked into news loos and algorithm echo chambers. We see the news that we “like,” not what we need to see about our own worlds. Unawareness, we are silently told, “is bliss.” It is not, we are progressively more lonely, less able to self-regulate, more depressed, more anxious… and of course, given all this we stare at our phones more unable to handle perspectives that differ from our own.
The solutions we typically hear for this are “put down your phone” and, in deed, this is one solution but only short-sighted. The long-term route is to appreciate that we are human, flawed and beautiful all the same.
If we want to pick a realistic way forward, maybe we should begin to use technology to help us see our individual strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives in relation to one another.
3) Build technologies that make us aware of our strengths and weaknesses, in RELATION.
Remember the human tendency to seek out the ‘shiny’? We tend to look for easy answers, for the “best” answer. What we miss is how to balance ourselves in relation to our world, and those in it. We then design FitBits, Alexas, and solutions around the easy answers that inevitably lead us in the wrong direction. Any healthy behavior can go wrong taken to full tilt, and yet we persist… chasing easy answers.
One way that we can address this is to begin to focus on answers in relation to context. Contextual technologies allow us to notice what the best answer is for the current situation, environment, and purpose.
4) Use Intelligence Augmenting technologies to alert us of when we are falling into our patterns of dysfunction, bias, and unawareness.
Intelligence Augmenting technologies are one possible way forward here. Our patterns of avoidance, bias, and unawareness are no secret. The Behavioral Sciences have been using studying how to reduce mismatch between person and environment, and labeling it “psychopathology” for many decades.
It is time that we begin to work across lines to find solutions that bring us together.
5) Build technologies through “open” paticipatory design methods.
One key to advancing us must be opening the doors to participatory development. We need to recognize human motivations and flaws in our processes. If “tech” is not working, it is because “we” are not working towards a common perspective in what we create.
In this world, there are few easy answers; however, one I’d stake my work on is:
We as humans need to work on embracing our natural complexity and celebrating our strengths. If technology can help us do that, we should be working towards that purpose together.