Durable Human (2 book series)

A Plan for Humane Technology

woman holding pen with hands on top of notebook sits next to open laptop

With a new frame of mind, designers can create humane technology. Former Google tech ethicist Tristan Harris wants to teach them how.  

“This talk is about the wisdom we need to steer technology, and our future.” The words from his new message shone brightly from the screen at the 2022 mindfulness in technology conference, Wisdom 2.0.

Harris was back at the place where in 2015, he pulled back the curtain on how tech companies used “persuasive design.” They were in “a race to the bottom of our brainstems to seduce our instincts.”

Their products did not support human well-being, he claimed. “It’s like being on a diet, but you are only handed menus with burgers and fries.” 

Slide from Tristan Harris 2015 Wisdom 2.0 presentation
From the Tristan Harris presentation at Wisdom 2.0 2015

Design as Determinant

In How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design, tech usability expert Jared Spool defines Design as “the rendering of intent.”

Harris believes tech companies’ intentions were way off when they started Google, Facebook, and other platforms. He should know, having trained in the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab.

Since tech products could be accessed for free, users’ personal data were fair game, which companies made unprecedented sums from selling and re-selling. Individuals were hyper-targeted under the guise of “giving users what they want.”

Silicon Valley founders saw tech as a neutral vessel. That users became trapped in polarized filter bubbles was not the platforms’ problem.

The result today: the loudest and meanest social media opinions seem to be the majority. As Harris observes, “we start to believe the extreme voices and stereotypes represent the world.”

Slide from Tristan Harris talk at Wisdom 2.0 says "We start to believe the extreme voices & stereotypes represent the world."

Besides political turmoil, he blames early Silicon Valley attitudes for creating problems ranging from information overload and addiction, to synthetic charlatans including bots and DeepFakes. 

Over the years, it became standard practice to use psychological sleight of hand to keep users engaged.

Children have been especially affected. Since the dawn of social media, youth mental health has significantly eroded.

Even the brain development of babies has been caught in technology’s web.

Toddler using tablet

Toward Humane Technology

After much thought and consultation, Harris has come up with a plan: for tech designers to Think Differently.  Continue reading

Learning about Dopamine May Help Kids and Adults Manage Screentime

Teen boy strums guitar

Understanding how dopamine works in the brain may help people achieve better life balance, especially when it comes to using digital devices.

That’s according to Clifford Sussman, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. who treats children for compulsive video game use and other screen-related mental health disorders.

Using Sussman’s concept, parents have a new way to talk with their kids about digital activities without needing the words “no”, “don’t”, or “addiction.”

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is the chemical released in your brain when you do something exciting that has an instant payoff, such as playing a thrilling video game, seeing your likes on Instagram, or clicking BUY on a nice pair of shoes. We all love that tingly feeling.

“The problem comes when you’re doing this for a really long time. Let’s say hours or even days,” says Dr. Sussman.

Over time, the constant flow of dopamine drives a person to want to repeat the exciting activity. A residual effect is feeling bored when doing other things, including academics.  

“When kids binge all weekend on games, they will be more bored of their classes on Monday,” Dr. Sussman observed in this webinar for the Ross Center.

High Versus Low Dopamine Activities

To achieve a balance, Dr. Sussman suggests alternating high-producing dopamine activities (HDAs) with activities that have little dopamine kick.   Continue reading

Child Psychiatrists and Advocates Condemn Dish Network Prime Video Ad

Grandparents on couch next to baby read parent written instructions on paper

Psychiatrists who care for children and teens are demanding the removal of a Dish Network Prime Video ad because it gives the impression it’s OK to park an infant in front of a TV.  

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s Media Committee writes in a letter to Dish:  

“Infants and toddlers need hands-on exploration and social interaction with their caregivers to adequately develop cognitive, motor, and social-emotional skills. These abilities cannot be learned by infants and toddlers from two-dimensional impersonal digital media.”

The “Babysitting: Prime Video” ad goes like this: Continue reading

Travel with Baby: To Screen or Not to Screen?

Shannon at car door and Cooper in carseat get ready for a trip

Successful travel with a baby is possible without using a device for distraction. Child development experts explain why tech-free travel is a boost to a baby’s brain, psyche, and relationship with you.   

My daughter Shannon, her 5-month-old son, and I had just finished a successful 8-hour car trip south and back. It wasn’t always easy, but we cajoled Cooper with chatter, songs, books and toysnone of which had a cord or battery.

The best moment was on our ride back home.

It was pitch dark when Cooper began to howl. We’d been driving for hours and I thought we were out of ideas, but Shannon had one more. She began to “read” The Very Hungry Caterpillar—completely from memory. Softly and gently, like so many times before, she recited every page.

Coop soon quieted down and was asleep before the caterpillar became a butterfly.

A few days later, Shannon clicked on a YouTube video claiming to have the inside scoop on how to travel with a baby. As she recalls:  

“First, the mom-fluencer, who was sitting in the back seat, showed her husband up front behind the wheel. Then the mom panned a little bit further to reveal an iPad, already playing a video, secured by a plastic case fastened to the back seat about a foot in front of the baby’s face. I had to laugh. Ohhh. That’s the big secret?”

Why Parents Turn to Tablets

Although our trip was sans tech, Shannon considered the alternative. Continue reading

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