Tech Searches for its Soul: Can Digital Experience Become More Meaningful?
We’re knee-deep in a cultural crossroads surrounding technology. The once-common perception of social media connecting for the better may now appear to be fantasy. Blame it on the recent fallout from privacy scandals, the proliferation of misinformation, and the perpetuation of hate speech. The internet just isn’t the place it was supposed to be.
Our distracted attention spans, a seemingly mild side-effect by comparison, threatens our social fabric in ways that are perhaps just as damaging. Young people are feeling increasingly isolated, and education systems struggle with the side-effects of anxiety and distraction on learning. For both kids and adults, our state of “continuous partial attention” may look like multitasking, but generally reduces productivity and increases psychological distress.
As noted in a recent piece in The New Yorker , Silicon Valley is in the midst of a reckoning that is stimulating some heavy soul-searching. There’s been a good amount of eyebrow raising as the titans of tech flock to hot springs, expensive retreats, and posh meditations to discuss the predicaments of the digital world. This techie wellness fad has brought on a great deal of eye-rolling as executives get introspective in pampered and exclusive settings. While this skepticism is justified, traction is gaining around asking the right kinds of questions: how can platforms be designed with well-being in mind? How can our interactions be more constructive? How can digital experiences become more meaningful?
At Opalite, we believe in the power of visual storytelling to connect and inspire people around the world. Moving images have a unique ability to harness awareness around social issues, to highlight an important venture, and to tell stories that motivate meaningful action. As we enter the next phase of a digital society, there’s a potential to recalibrate and address some of the major issues that have come to light. By now, we’re savvy enough to know that the utopian vision of tech that proliferated in the early 2000s will never look like it was imagined to be. But a deliberate effort can help things get better, and hopefully we’ll see an adjustment period that corrects some of the central problems that have shaped these dark days of tech.
How might we foster more meaningful digital experiences? Here are some ideas:
Shift away from quantified social experiences:
We’re still trapped in the paradigm of the “Like” button. Quantified social experiences make sharing more obligatory and less fulfilling. They’re also more addictive. By shifting away from cheap and easy ways of quantifying social approval, sharing online can become a more healthy experience.
Develop digital experiences with well-being in mind: Well-being experiences, such as meditation content in the form of video, audio, and VR, are on the rise. But they tend to be separated from mainstream content. How can other platforms design core features with well-being in mind? Limiting time on apps and conditioning digital behavior are promising starts. Regulation to discourage addictive features of technology may also be necessary.
Share human stories that connect people around the world: We believe that the digital space has a tremendous power to bring people outside of their own lived experience and connect with humanity in a deeper way. By learning more about different people and cultures, we can enrich our personal experience and support a more just and inclusive society.
There are many troubling aspects of our current digital paradigm. But there are also some signs that it can improve. “Well-being” is the buzz-word of today, but keeping it in vogue is not such a bad idea.