Last week we hosted a talk entitled: “The mind as a disruptive technology”. It was jointly promoted by our Innovation network and Thrive, our mental health and wellbeing network. Jonathan Garner, founder of Mind over Tech, spoke engagingly about how our minds work and the impact an unhealthy relationship with technology can have on all aspects of our lives. Rather than quick-fix digital detoxes, Jonathan explained how we can be more intentional in the way we use our devices to achieve our goals and, in the process, safeguard our wellbeing, support our creativity and maintain the quality of our work.
Since his talk I have lost count of the number of times I have been stopped in the corridor by colleagues who are already experiencing the benefits of making small changes in the way they use their phones. From adjusting notification settings and activating night time features to removing certain apps altogether, taking just a few minutes to align the way they use their devices with how they want to live has had a significant impact.
What I found most helpful, and indeed hopeful, about Jonathan’s talk was being reminded that we are in charge and that we still have the power to make choices about how much attention we give and to what. I reflected on this while reading (via an app) this article in The New York Times: “Steve Jobs never wanted us to use our iPhones like this”. In 2007 when he introduced the iPhone, he focused on its iPod and phone call features. The first model didn’t even have an app store. We don’t yet know the devices and functionality that will be competing for our attention in the next twelve years but developing the habit of aligning our goals with our device usage seems like a smart way to make sure we feel excited rather than burdened by what awaits us.
Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep.