A new relationship with technology


In the course of our journey we have read and seen much about how our relationship with technology might be isolating us from real human experience. In the last session we focused on how designing for better relationships might be the solution. Here are some ideas on how those relationships might look:

More reflective of how life is.

Life happens at it's own pace, sometimes fast, sometimes agonisingly slowly. Its bumps are rarely foreseen and humans are messy, inconsistent creatures. When technology seeks to channel us into the most efficient behaviours possible, it loses the essence of some of that humanity and doesn't give us time to adapt to the shift in thinking and behaviour. We are bending to the will of technology. What would it look like if it truly in our service, and evenly distributed?

Truly responsive.

Arguably the biggest impact on digital design in the last 20 years has been responsive design, brought about by the smartphone. The web has adapted well to the introduction of this new method of accessing information and services. The primary quality of digital as opposed to other media, is that it is dynamic- it is, effectively, created at the point of consumption. There is no reason why digital experiences, through this dynamic quality, should not be able to respond to our context in a far deeper fashion. My smartphone already knows to be silent when I am in a cinema. What might my relationship with technology be if it knew how I was feeling?

Not about infinite choice.

We have a world of choice, but too much becomes tyrannical. This is not to suggest that technology should be reductive, but digital tools should augment the natural human ability to filter, recognise patterns and make decisions. It should inspire our decisions, not make them for us.

An ambient presence.

Technologies that are truly personal are there when we need them and disappear into the background when we do not. Knowing the difference will be an important design principle. I was very struck at CES this year at those technologies which didn’t clamour for attention, but which neatly fit into our everyday homes and environments. Providing utility when needed, and being silent when not.

Questioning and provoking.

The algorithms already make a lot of assumptions about me. They are usually wrong. What if technology just asked me?

Identity intact.

The next major battle for digital supremacy will be fought over our data and, in the digital age, this equates to our identity. Every day, we broadcast ourselves to the world. Our identities are fragmented and scattered - my social life on one platform, my working life on another, often carefully curated. Technology that gives us the opportunity to understand this, and mindfully gather our identity back together will enable us to reconnect to our most genuine selves.

Based around a movement.

These battles will coalesce around movements. As we saw with the battles for Net neutrality, so too will movements form around these new challenges. The company which is redemptive in the face of these challenges will lead the next paradigm shift.

Able to help us become in touch with ourselves.

Ultimately, technology needs to become more mindful of our humanity. We project out so much of ourselves through our digital activity. An answer to this might even lie in solitude and disconnection. We know from the practises of many artists that the creative mind needs time to gather itself in. The practice of Mindfulness, whether through meditation or colouring books, has become a popular way to reconnect with our own humanity.

If mindfulness is the process of gathering our thoughts and focusing on our experience of the present, could we have a more mindful relationship with technology? Could we reestablish a true, deep connection with ourselves, our families and our communities. Could we re-claim our identity?

We, all of us, contain complex, diverse worlds and now more than ever we need to understand each other.

But that might not happen until we build a better relationship to technology, and, perhaps, better understand ourselves.

Andy Dobson Wolff Olins April 2017.