How To Ensure We Can Embrace Disruptive Technology And Still Live Well

Has tech stolen our social life?
The Mix Tape
The Mix Tape
Deposit Photos

Mix tapes were once a forte of mine. Reminder: tape cassettes played music, twin cassette players could record different songs onto tapes, and this primitive technology mixed with a lot of love, created a mix tape. I’d give these to friends as presents, sending them on an emotional musical journey, adding my own little humorous, heartfelt message between songs. My mix tapes took hours to perfect, and the result sounded good.

Today, I was irritated when the Spotify playlist on my phone stopped. Turned out Zeke, my four year old boy was dancing with the Sonos next door, stopping my listening pleasure. Another multi-user account we need. This irritation was the first of three first world problems: the Uber stopped four doors down costing me an extra minute, and a friend sent a messenger post when we’d been chatting on Whatsapp perfectly fine.

I love technology. The potential. The future. What’s here and what’s coming. I’m not alone, assuming that many of you are reading this on your phones. That phone: the friend we lovingly caress, keep close to our chest and take to bed. It’s not that people around us are boring, it’s just that phone life is more exciting, we tell ourselves, (checking it on average 140 times a day). Yet, in this texting, tweeting, twerking world, some argue there’s no social in social media.

Has tech stolen our social life? We don’t need to take a costly group trip to the cinema as the whole of Narcos (and anything else) can be watched chilling in bed for the price of one ticket. Concerts now carry terrorist fears, but we can watch the broadcast live and the full show will be online by the time the next episode of Ozark is finished. Football matches? Can have them bespoke: - enjoy catch-up, forward the boring bits and multi-task with online jobs at the same time. Shopping, coffee and chat? - too time-consuming. Alexa sorts them out for us (well, the shopping bit.) Even dating seems a doddle; our friend just swipes left, has a quick functional ‘What do you want out of life’ chat, and cuts the lunch short if their views don’t align. Sadly she’s still single, but she’s super efficient with it.

Yet, there’s a fine line between being efficient and self-centred. If we’re eliminating anything slightly irritating, and becoming the centre of our universe, with others in orbit around us, what effect does that have on relationships? Isn’t it often in the mundane and imperfect, that beauty is seen; in the vulnerability of being present and available that we allow ourselves to be known?

Artificial Intelligence may usher in utopia, but this new age could also get more radioactive. The Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum illustrates the risk of autonomous weapons and AI’s ability to attack online systems. For most of us, however, the non-headline attack is in the subtle changes in lifestyle. We face a threat to living well, loving wholeheartedly and being truly connected. A quick assessment of some new disruptive technologies reveals how.

Immersive experience is ours through Virtual Reality headsets. We can encounter moments as never before – the close-up visualisations of blood vessels inside a human body, live rock concerts, martial arts – all-encompassing, yet still at home. How do we enjoy those whilst relating well to the real world of people in the same room?

Driverless cars can give us time back as cars become extended rooms. No more ‘commutes’ we can catch up on work, watch global news or stretch out in bed. Yet do we want to lose that amiable drive on the open road - one of the last places where communication can flourish uninterrupted?

IoT devices may soon be able to shop, prepare and alert us when our food is ready, providing the perfect blend of nutrients for our needs. Yet our creativity shouts out for experimentation with ingredients, cooking and taste-testing with others.

So, how do we become socially ‘Futureproof’: embracing disruptive technology, yet still living well? A six step model helps: Safeguard ourselves, Observe Society, Critique Technology, Embrace Intentionality, Be Available, and Love.

Safeguarding involves asking who we are, our purpose, what we want to be for those around us and what legacy we want to leave? Our answers reveal our values and priorities, helping us to be observant, constructively critical, intentional and available. And love is key to all of it. I may have Oculus Rift and Tesla, Alexa and Ethereum but if I don’t have love, they’re ‘clanging cymbals’!

The future’s not here yet. Of course, it never will be! Technology will continue to shower us with both opportunities and challenges but we can seek technologies that help us love others wholeheartedly. Meanwhile, I need to mix a tape for my son….

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