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Tag Archives: design

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

Parents Go Legal on Austin Schools over Student iPads

"We Need to Know" Graphic by EISD Parents for Responsible Use of Technology in School Facebook Group

The mother of a 6-year-old who accessed photos of topless women on his school-issued iPad believes his Austin,Texas school system has not done enough to protect students, so she and other parents are taking legal action.

At a board meeting of the Eanes Independent School District, Meaghan Edwards used the Texas public information act to request terms of service for every website, app, and software product used by district students during the last and next school years.

“If you’re following the rules, these questions will be easy to answer,” Edwards said at the June 16 meeting. Because it was an open forum, board members did not respond with comments.   

So That Parents May Understand

Two separate public information requests were submitted. The more detailed posed dozens of questions Edwards and others hope will Continue reading

New Tools Help People Set Tech Boundaries

Screen Time Screen Shot

Hooray for the big tech companies who’ve enhanced their products to offer better customer control.

Apple was surprisingly quick to roll out Screen Time, a feature that iPhone and iPad users automatically receive for free with the iOS12 update. The improvements come only a year after iPod creator Tony Fadell bemoaned “We have zero data on our habits with these devices”. Now you have your data, right down to how often you pick up your phone. You can also track exactly what you do on the device so you can better manage how you spend your time.

A Boon for Parents

Screen Time is especially life-changing for parents who now can oversee Continue reading

Have a Slightly Risky Christmas: Exciting Non-Tech Gift Ideas for Kids

Chistmas stocking filled with coal

Lots of kids only have shiny objects on their holiday lists and it’s hard to imagine what would entice them that isn’t tech-related. But unplugged gifts can compete, especially if they’re just risky enough to cause a jolt of adrenaline, as do their screen-based rivals.

The gifts on this list not only pack a thrill, they also build kids’ mental, physical, and social skills, and might even draw your family closer together:

Tickle a preschooler’s fancy with a (play) knife

Little kids love slicing through the bread, tomatoes and other wooden foodstuffs in Melissa and Doug’s sandwich-making set. Besides the mental math your child does to separate and arrange the Velcro-joined pieces, this toy builds manual dexterity. Hand-eye coordination is taking a hit of late, as evidenced by young adults who are smart enough to train as surgeons, but they can’t sew.
Melissa and Doug wooden toy for fun cutting wooden food

For elementary-aged kids, a spooky night caper alone in the woods

No need to leave the comforts of home. To play the award-winning Shadows in the Forest board game, kids need only turn out the lights. Players roll glow-in-the-dark dice and take turns using a teeny LED lantern to search out mysterious creatures called Shadowlings. Opponents use cunning and logic to keep their Shadowlings in the shadows.

Shadows in the Forest Board Game

A thrifty holiday gift for older and younger kids

Toddler blowing bubbles

Bubbles! How are they slightly risky? They’re guaranteed to cause unpredictable movement. That, in turn, builds physical durability as kids stand up and get exercise, which became sorely lacking as the pandemic spread.

Blowing bubbles also helps little kids learn how to speak. By puckering up and exhaling, they strengthen breath control and muscles in the back of the tongue. They also practice a bunch of sounds, including /w/ and the /o/, /oo/, along with /k/ and /g/, according to Michelle Boisvert, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, RSP-ADHD, founder of the speech language pathologists’ reporting platform, easyReportPRO. You can buy bottles of bubbles in bulk and bubble refills at Bubble Tree USA.

Non-tech gift idea for Fortnite-prone teens: a wand of red-hot metal

Kids can’t not get creative adorning the ligneous shapes in T.S. Shure Woodburning Creations Kit. Even the box is burnable! Sure, they could possibly singe a finger, but the kit is rated 13 and older. Oh, alright. If you’re gonna get nervous, buy leather gloves to go with.

picture of child's woodburning kit

Enjoy right along with them: a genuine sack of coal

This is no punishment. Who knew you could make beautiful crystals out of coal briquettes, but here are the directions. To make the experiment work, you also need a bottle of the laundry agent, bluing.  This activity teaches your child hands-on lessons in chemistry and earth science—plus how smart and fun mom or dad can be.

Besides needing 3-D, 360-degree full-sensory play, kids crave your undivided attention. To fulfill those wishes, print out fill-in-the-blank coupons (thanks, NewDream.org!) and create your own fun, like a family kayak (or camping or sledding) adventure.

Little ones don’t hold much sway in household decision-making, so love redeeming coupons such as:

  • Let me stay up 15 minutes past bedtime
  • Read me an extra bedtime story
  • Drop everything and play with me

When the holidays are over, continue your tech-management momentum with this free downloadable Durable Family Pledge. Family members choose five life-balance habits to try over 4-week period. Long enough that they just might stick.

Download the Durable Family Pledge for FREE

About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media professor, and parent of three durable young adults. Her words have informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, and in her books, How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design and The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World.

Be sure to also see all the Durable Human holiday gifts (mugs, clothing, tech hygiene gifts, book, and courses) here.

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