Durable Human (2 book series)

Tag Archives: technology

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

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

Essential Ways to Live Better Together in the Time of Coronavirus

Two sisters have fun in a big cardboard box

This post is written with all due respect and the fervent hope for the ultimate wellbeing of all those directly fighting coronavirus. Those at home containing the threat must also summon strength from within.

This will require endurance and for us to be durable in body, mind, and our relationships.

Luckily, the intuition, generosity, humor and other human assets we possess shine brightly during difficult times. They’ll get us through—along with some good planning and design.  

To that end, here are some practical, empowering, mostly no-cost strategies so you, your children, or other members of your household can be durable, happier, and more hopeful managers of the day to day:

First, Reassure

Family members gather for a birthday celebration on Zoom

Before coronavirus, kids had complaints like “all my mom cares about is her phone” and “I can’t get my dad’s attention.” In these scary times, our loved ones need to know we’re there for them, no matter what.

  • When talking to a child—or anyone in the household—look in their eyes and listen closely to what they say. Your undivided attention helps them feel safe and secure.
Continue reading

Gabb Wireless Phone Answers Parents’ Prayers

black touch-screen wireless phone for kids

At last, there’s a sleek phone made just for kids—and it can’t access the Internet. “It’s not that it’s blocked. It really doesn’t exist on the phone,” says Stephen Dalby, founder of Gabb Wireless. “On our cellular network, the only thing you will find will be safe phones for kids.”

Being a dad launched Dalby on his design journey. “I had to get a phone for my son and I just didn’t feel comfortable with the options that were out there.”

Gabb Basic offers plenty for a child to manage as a first step toward a full-fledged smartphone. Kids can call, text, and use the calendar, alarm and calculator apps. But they can’t play games, use social media, shop in app stores, send picture messages, or group text.

Unlimited calls and texts on the Gabb Wireless 4G LTE nationwide network are $19.99 a month, with no long term contract. The phone itself costs $79.99, as opposed to $699.99 for an iPhone 11.

Smartphones were made for adults, otherwise parental controls would not be needed. As “dumb” phones disappeared from store shelves and smartphone ads ramped up, parents wanting to give a cellphone had no alternative. They would have to buy the mobile phone equivalent of a Maserati when all their child needed was a bike with training wheels.

This infuriates Darby. “When it comes to physical harm, we don’t give 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds chain saws. That seems obvious because we’re talking about physical harm. But when we talk about mental harm, emotional harm, spiritual harm, what we’re dealing with right now is an absolute train wreck.”

The destruction is rampant. Since 2011—around the time when so many kids began to use smartphones and their attendant social media apps—almost 3 of every 5 12- to 17-year-olds has developed symptoms of depression. Smart device content is made so engaging, kids move less, so they can gain weight and lose core strength. During formerly raucous school lunch periods, students sit silently—and separately—engrossed in their phones.

As smart devices were doled out to kids at younger and younger ages, Childhood itself came under siege. “Children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle,” says Kyung Hee Kim, an education professor who studies child creativity at the College of William and Mary.

That’s why I consider Gabb—and other smartphone alternatives such as the one-button Relay and new breed of kids’ digital watches—world-changing. The designs put parents back in the driver’s seat and the chance to do it right this time. They can introduce their kids to the digital world as they see fit in a sensible, developmentally-appropriate, step-wise fashion.

Yet, even the relatively simple Gabb is powerful enough to knock a kid off balance. A mom who gave one to her daughter says she gets “sucked into her phone” and resists getting off.  

So, parents aren’t off the hook. Just as they teach their kids to eat right, they must set boundaries and teach healthy tech habits that keep kids durable in body and mind, such as to charge devices outside the bedroom at night.  

Giving a child that first mobile device continues to have more strings attached than the most sought-after pair of sneakers. Parents must carefully consider their child’s readiness and the child herself should show she’s responsible enough to incorporate a powerful object of technology into a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

But as we enter a new decade, parents can breathe easier that their kids can have a safer first user experience. As Stephen Darby says. “Now they have the option, whereas before they just didn’t.”

~~~

I write this 13 years to the day iPhone was released. Tony Fadell, who helped create both iPod and iPhone, quotes former co-worker Steve Jobs’ admonition:

Don’t overschedule your kids. Make sure they get bored so they discover who they are and what they like.

Indeed, as I wonder in The Durable Human Manifesto, what might have happened if Steve Jobs were born today: would the flicker of a parent’s smartphone usurp his wandering thoughts?

He would not want anyone’s iPhone to get in a child’s way.  

~~~

Download a free PDF of the quick-read The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World.

To get $10 off Gabb Wireless use this link and the code DURABLE.

About the author: DurableHuman.com founder Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media adjunct professor. She wrote How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital World Through the Power of Self-Design and hosts the parenting education platform, Durable U. Her work has informed millions on outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, Readers Digest, Tech Republic, Thrive Global, and on the TEDx stage.

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