Six months ago, I was working as a user experience designer in London. After a particularly frustrating day, in an attempt to put my mind as far away from designing software as possible, I picked a book of poems by Pablo Neruda from my shelf and decided that I would memorize them while soaking in the tub. As I started to read the first poem, I immediately sensed that the part of my mind that memorizes poetry was not as I had left it. It seemed severely impaired. What has happened to my mind? Why didn’t I notice this earlier? What else is different? Is anything missing? Who am I now?, I questioned.
To justify these concerns, I have to step back a few years. When I was fourteen years old, my high school switched to block scheduling, meaning that my spanish, english, and art classes fell in a different semester from my math and science classes. In accordance with this, I formed a conceptual model of my own mind resembling two fields separated by a fence. I imagined that I was moving back and forth between two “fields of knowledge” every few months, with the incessant feeling that the grass was always greener on the other side.
When I went to university, I was admitted to a college of arts and sciences to study Philosophy, and to an engineering school to study Computer Science and Computer Engineering. The fields of knowledge became a binary star system, with a literate mind and a calculating mind entangled in tight orbit. Thinking of my mind as dichotomized always made me feel odd, but I suspected that it made me stronger by preventing me from developing a comfort zone in which I would nurture my strengths but ignore my weaknesses.
That night in London, I discovered that my binary star was changing in a way that I didn’t like, and would likely continue to change for the worse unless I identified the source of the changes and corrected my behavior.
This discovery red-flagged my quiet suspicion that heavy use of technology was affecting my literate mind. Over the previous year I had begun to notice increased difficulty reading at length and articulating my thoughts in speech. I was now confronted with the stark realization that although, as a user experience designer, I could make technology beautiful and easy to use, the fruits of my labor were potentially harmful to people in ways that I did not understand. Put simply, I suspected that my industry was dangerously ignorant of how its products affect people when they are not using them. Until I understood how to design technology that would cause people to flourish rather than wither, I had to stop what I was doing. I quit my job, left London, and have been busy researching and reflecting on this matter ever since.
I now clearly see that with respect to technology–specifically Internet-connected devices–we are still in a state of nature. Our relationship to technology is totally unsophisticated. We lack balance and harmony. We are natural over-consumers on a path to technological obesity. I unequivocally think that technology is a good thing, but I am equally convinced that if we do not develop a sophisticated relationship to technology, we will suffer consequences small and large, physical and mental, personal and interpersonal.
One sometimes encounters hints of an inchoate “technology practice” when bloggers spontaneously write about simplifying the technology they own, abstaining from social networking, switching to standing desks, etc. My aim is to make this notion of technology practice explicit and coherent, and to create products that reinforce it.
Towards this end, I am creating a company called Futureproof. My cofounder is yogi/video game designer Michael Highland. Our goal is to reconcile the need to use technology with the desire to be mentally and physically resilient. If this interests you, please take a look and stay tuned!