The Ecology of Technology – Principles for Sustainable Happiness in the Digital Age

  • 28 December 2015
  • sjanicke

Technology has now penetrated almost all aspects of our lives but we have yet to adapt to it in a way that serves us. While our goal is typically to be more productive and efficient, most organizations don’t support this goal in the way they run their operations. Longer work hours do not necessarily translate into greater output. Having more technology tools and fancy gadgets neither guarantees more success nor necessarily makes the workflow any easier. Similarly, as individuals we are hooked to our devices in the belief that it makes our life easier and better, forgetting what “better” really means.

Companies, just like individuals are trapped in the cycle of wants (aka, what they think they need) and actual needs (things that actually make life easier and more fulfilled). But it is so hard to distinguish between the two.

The Ecology of Technology is a simple movement to raise awareness in the various ways we use technology as individuals, as businesses and as humanity and its impact on the world around us. This shift in mindset is based on a set of principles that allows us to increase our awareness and make changes around how we use technology in our daily lives. It helps us to focus on how we are exchanging energy with our digital devices, adapting to the digital environment we are living in, and producing sustainable capital through simple, automated, need-based processes.

Based on these principles we can:

a) become more aware of how technology can serve us, rather than us serving technology (as a consumer)

b) create technology that makes us aware of what we need rather than what we want

c) create an ecological system that reduces stress, increases productivity and well-being and

d) produce sustainable capital that profits humanity and not the economy (because we can produce things that people actually need)

At wisdom 2.0., an annual conference on how to live more connected to one another through technology in ways that benefit our well-being, work effectiveness, and society in general, my friend and founder ofPaulinox consulting Dror Amir and I submitted a panel proposal for theirpeople's stage to discuss the ecology of technology further.

We want to build a movement to provoke a shift in consciousness from technology enslaving us, to us owning technology. 

Some of the principles of the Ecology of Technology include:

a) Disconnect to Reconnect. This is probably the most often discussed principle to interrupt the addiction cycle, also known as “unplugging”. Anecdotal evidence and inferences taken from research suggest that doing so has incredible benefits for our well-being. From feeling moreconnected to others and feeling properly understood, to decreased mistakes made from inattention and technology stress, to increased level of attention and awareness for what really matters.

Only when we unplug do we have the time to also re-connect with ourselves; slowing down the stream of life to feel what is really going on in the moment. I regularly assign my students a 24h unplugging day in my Media, Technology and Happiness class and after initial annoyance and resistance, they report mostly positive experiences. They share that they finally felt like they had time to have in depth conversations with their loved ones, were able to get all their homework done in one sitting, and have a real night of rest. Disconnecting is such a simple but powerful exercise that can provide the “aha” effect we need to become aware of our enslavement to technology.

b) Recharge: When our smart phone battery is empty, we recharge it. But how often do we recharge our own batteries? Do we even know what recharges us? Maybe it is an unplugged meal with a friend, maybe lying in the sun at the beach for 2 days not doing anything, maybe it is going for a challenging hike in the woods or mountains, or it is as simple as smoking a cigar and drinking an incredibly good espresso (i.e.,intelligentia my favorite) in our favorite coffee shop, or reading a non-work related fictional book. The opportunities to recharge are endless but rarely do we take the time to take a #RealBreak and plug into the power outlet to recharge. But how can we function on an empty battery? When did we start to treat our smart phones with more kindness than ourselves? We recharge our devices but not us. This is a sad reality in today’s world and needs to change if we want to survive and advance as a species.

c) Reset your digital life: Every time you move from one place to another you notice how much clutter you gathered and you start to purge (see my post on The Simplified Digital Me). You realize that you really don’t need that cheap garden utensil, nor do you really need that hat you bought because it looked so cool. You notice that you don’t need it because you don’t use it. Now, since our phones don’t “move” we never purge any apps that we gathered over the years. From the on average 95 apps Android users have installed on their phones (according to a study by Yahoo) we actively use on average only 28 of them per month, according to Nielsen data.

Looks like there is a great potential to purge. So, how about once a year we reset our phones and leave only those apps on there we really need, which means the ones we actually use. This way, we can start the year clean and fresh and build a digital environment that serves us instead of overwhelms us or creates unnecessary desires that distract our well-being rather than supporting it.

d) Reduce to Induce: Related to the principle of “reset” is also the principle of reducing the amount of digital information we are exposed to on a constant basis. According to a new statistic by a technology market research firm, the average office worker now sends or receives 121 emails a day, amounting in 14% of their workday. US Facebook usersspend 40 minutes per day on the social network and on average we spend 1.40 -1.72 hours on all social networks every day. In addition, we are exposed to about 5000 ads a day.

Together, these statistics summarize the sheer volume of information we are exposed to daily. An amount of information that we mostly filter out (in the case of ads), but that also interrupts our workday and overloads our mental states with possibilities and distractions. It almost seems like we operate under the premise that more equals more happiness, but science is clear that more options only make us unhappy. Now, there is not one perfect number of apps to have, or devices to own. Everyone has their own ecosystem to operate optimally in. Just like an ecosystem, there is a perfect balance between nutrition (information), retrieval, and system functioning. And reducing and simplifying our digital interactions is one way to achieve a sustainable system that amplifies our well-being and productivity by using less.

Whereas there are certainly more principles to look at to induce change, the questions we want to tackle based on the Ecology of Technology is:How can we change the way we use technology to help us grow for the better? Can technology assist in discerning what we actually needto increase well-being from what we think will make us happy?

We want to see a world in which technology serves us in satisfying our needs, reconnecting our inner wisdom and increasing our well-being and therefore the well-being of others.

Please consider voting for us at the people’s stage at Wisdom 2.0 by:

1. Simply click on this link:  

2. Register for the people’s stage (very simple process, takes 1 minute)

3. Click on the vote button.

We would love to have a conversation with you how to create sustainable happiness in the digital age.