Are we asking the impossible of technology?

The majority of technology relevant to Time Well Spent is directly tied to selling products, is a product itself, or exists to turn everything and everyone it encounters into a product.

When you digitize something it becomes a commodity. You, your family, your friends, and all of your habits are transformed into something that has monetary value simply by interacting with different forms of digital tech.

This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. But it seems to be clashing with one of our most basic beliefs- that being human and alive has a non monetary value. A sunset is still beautiful and worth watching even if I don’t take a picture of it and post it. Or at least it used to be.

The question then becomes are we asking the impossible of technology? Is it realistic to want a smartphone or an app or even augmented reality glasses that do not digitize us, our habits, and our lives into a product? Or is the problem our value system itself has become outdated?


Excellent question! I couldn’t agree more with your line of thinking.

The problem is we value the wrong things. My own observations is we value worthless things like grades in school, how many friends we have, how many “likes”, and maybe worst of all how much we ourselves can “sell”. These things are all valueless and focussing on them is damaging and blinding people to having true worth. Society is teaching people to be hustlers.

So unfortunately the solution would mean changing our values. We can value our intellect, our creativity, both our positive and negative freedoms, progress, the quality of our friends and the quality of what we produce. We need to teach people to create what has true value.

The problem is probably the measuring stick. Grades, money, number of friends, likes. Studies show that simply the actual terms we use affect the way our minds think. The problem is that grades, money, number of friends, etc all measure the wrong thing. In fact they do a horrible job at measuring the actual desired results.

I’d postulate that a potential way to change people’s values is to change the measuring sticks we use as a society. Perhaps someone can use technology to provide a superior measuring stick to the crude and false methods that we now use? I don’t know if it’s possible with current technology or requires artificial intelligence.

Is there a way to measure nonmonetary value, progress, quality, true worth and so on with technology? Or should we resort to old school teaching of values?


I don’t think we want digitization to stop. It has definite advantages. IMHO, we only want the digitization not to create mental health issues. Now, is this too much to ask? I don’t think so…

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I agree. The biggest issue are the business models that have an inherent conflict of interest with users (the value creators). Consider the social app you would make and love to use yourself - one that aligns with your values and incentives. The first generation of social networks forced our relationships into binary connections without context (like structured data in an database), public “scores” of our worth, a stage everyone is simultaneously shouting from, etc and we adapted to that. The next generation will be one where we adapt the technology to fit our natural behavior (think offline). I’m working on something in this area and hope to have more to share soon.


Hello Phil!

As a millennial this is something I bump into very often. The idea that we have to share everything we do is concerning. People have exchanged meaningful relationships for “likes” and “followers”. The foregoing has changed the way we see ourselves. There are wonderful and talented people who lack self-esteem because they don’t fit with today’s standards of “success”.

I don’t necessarily think we have to change our value system. We should correctly apply the ones we already have. The problem is that now more than ever there is no real concern for promoting this way of thinking. It’s time to change our educational system by fostering emotional intelligence and character ethic principles since early age.



Your reading time < 2 min. My writing time > 15 minutes.

My vote for your best suggested answer is:
“Or is the problem our value system itself has become outdated?”

And I would expand on that with details:
The value system of the cash register is outdated because it only allows purchase and sale of values denominated in dollars. What about the value of your time and the quality of time in any sale. What about the value after the sale? The history of the price tag is interesting if you haven’t learned about it because when it was introduced as a time saving practice to have a fixed price for everyone regardless of how much their time was worth we lost some things in our economy that were required for self correcting economic inefficiency.

you mention needing another measuring stick? I agree. I have been working on project to redesign the price tag so it includes the ability to pay with “hours equals price” as a measuring stick. For example, a price tag might read “2hrs + $5” and then the 2 hrs gets converted based on how much an hour of your time costs x 2. So if you earn on the job $10/hr the price tag of “2hrs +$5” would charge you at the cash register $25 = (2hrx$10/hr + $5). On the other hand if you are rich and your time is valued at $100/hr then the same price tag of “2hrs + $5” would charge you at the cash register $205 = (2hrs x $100/hr + $5).

The advantage of using personalized time as a measuring stick for price of sale is useful because some products such as a move download have a variable value in dollars directly related to the value of time saved or the quality of time improved. A movie download that costs a rich person 2 hrs to watch and $10 to download has a real cost of 2hrs + $10 to a person whether they are rich or poor. The return of value from the purchase of the movie download is (2hrs x how much per hour you would pay for the experience of watching the movie). Imagine a rich person who believes that the time value of watching the movie it twice as rewarding/valuable use of time compared to working on the job for $100/hr. That rich person would be willing to pay much more in dollars for a movie download that a poor person who gets equal time enjoyment would pay for the same movie download.

The result of using a better measuring stick for sale price that is based on a persons marginal cost for time is perhaps part of the solution to measuring value of a sale and will encourage people to value time in a purchase decision instead of just considering the value of the their money.

Anyway, using this alternative measuring stick of time like you suggested for a price of things, we can do some economic experiments. You can consider my time reading your comment and replying as a payment in “hours of my time”. instead of dollars of your money. How much time was it worth to you for reading this? how much money was it worth to your for reading this? can you write me a receipt?

I agree. The history of the industrial revolution is actually a good learning example for demonstrating in the past what you describe as happening in the present with the information revolution. In the industrial revolution, the first things that happened were increased productivity, but at high cost because they didn’t understand machines they created could hurt people and just built machines to produce more for less. This is what happened with the information revolutions where we can produce more information with less work, but we didn’t until recently understand the information systems we created could hurt people and we just built information systems to produce more information and take more time.

Now we’re at the point in time similar to where the industrial revolution started enacting child labor laws and requiring sewing machines to have safety guards so the workers wouldn’t end up with mangled hands so much. We now realize that like child labor in dangerous factories, children can be hurt by some kinds of information work as well and children need protections and safety guards from some parts of our information revolution. Also we realize that there’s information system hazards like fake news that people need to be protected from.

The point I’m making is that I agree with you and I think this is a natural and predictable evolution of the information economy.

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Steve I meant measuring fewer things with money, not more.

But I think I see what you are getting at. If people see their time as valuable, then putting their time in terms of money will give people some source of reference for comparison. Still in my mind it seems a little cold to view life in terms of money.

My main point that money, grades, likes, number of friends are poor systems of measure because they are means rather than ends. These things are poor proxies for what we really need in life. When we start to use means like money as a proxy in our minds for ends, the whole calculation will always be wrong. Nobody seeks money as an end in itself, rather they seek satisfaction, health, wisdom, equality, etc. Money is just one tool of many to reach those goals.

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@Phil, as usual you are totally on point.

You said, “You, your family, your friends, and all of your habits are transformed into something that has monetary value”, which is a good point. I want to expand on that.

Let’s keep in mind what, exactly, is being digitized. It is not you that Facebook holds in its servers, it is your activity - a rough outline of who you are. If we keep this in mind, suddenly we realize that Facebook loses its power over us. Nothing in the real world has actually been digitized at all. It only has power if we believe that the profile is equivalent to our selves.

The foundation of Facebook’s success is people’s common belief - whether conscious or not - that their Facebook profile is effectively an extension of themselves. This belief drives us to make our profile conform to our internal representations of ourselves - how we believe ourselves to truly be, and how we want others to see us. If you go look at someone’s Facebook profile, you do not see a snapshot of her as a person. You see a highly curated version of how she sees her inner life, of how she would like others to see her. In Facebook, people see a (false) opportunity to invent a better version of themselves, and to make that an extension of their real identity.

By identifying so powerfully with an online profile, filling up the shell with a crude outline of our fantasy-self, we give up our innermost desires to Facebook. Advertisers love desire - it helps them sell things. That’s how digital information has becomes a commodity in the world today. Never forget that Facebook marketed its advertising services by claiming to be able to identify depressed teens who would be vulnerable to specific types of product ads. Never forget that Facebook shows you more advertisements shortly after you change your profile picture, because they know you are in a vulnerable state, hunting for “likes” to validate yourself. Vulnerable, insecure people buy things more. Facebook is designed to put you in that state, then show you products that will supposedly fill the empty void they just created.

This is the grand deception that Facebook has pulled on us all, and this is what drives their revenue model of advertising. Advertisers will prostrate themselves in front of Zuckerberg for eternity as long as he tricks his users into sharing their personal vulnerabilities with the network.

Find a way to show people that their profile is not their self, and Facebook will be in trouble. I don’t know if it’s an aggressive anti-smoking style marketing campaign, a film screening, a community workshop, or what. But that’s the basic answer that will loosen Facebook’s grip on our society.

What people share on facebook is hardly authentic - mostly competing for likes or glorifying your offline life. But those little dopamine-inducing notifications have little true connection on the other side, and it’s easy to think you’re uncool when everyone else seems to be having so much fun. Likes are a disembodied metric and one-size fits all (lack of signal strength). For example I could like out social obligation, reciprocation, the person, the content, to unlock an incentive or signaling to another liker.
Further, people are sharing less personal content (down 20% YoY '14-15) on Facebook, and self-censoring more (71% of WAU in '13). As you can see from the rise of messaging, there is a massive opportunity to fulfill purpose and intent better by facilitating the natural push-pull of how we share in real life. Facebook’s binary “friends” graph cannot scale with quality.

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Thank you for the thoughtful replies.

It is clear there is a great amount of conflict for all of us with these issues. No one seems to know what to do about the problems facing us because there simply is no precedent in human history. Every single analogy seems to break down upon closer examination.

It seems we are at ground zero of a completely new philosophical movement (or maybe spiritual or religious if you are so inclined). That is both terrifying and liberating. But we have to find a way to embrace technology and our future without losing our humanity in the process.

I would postulate that it boils down to this: Is the nondigital world (aka the real world) of greater value than the digital world? It is not so clear anymore. But if the nondigital world is of greater value then we have a yardstick with which to measure new technologies.

For lack of a better example consider geocaching. A geocaching app encourages the user to head off into the world and explore, enriching their life through contact with trees and parks and people. The opposite would be Candy Crush, an app that removes the user further and further from the real world. Which direction does Facebook push us?

Maybe we can’t pry technology loose from commercialism but we can at least push it to help us spend our limited time living lives of value.

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Well said, Phil. I think what everyone can agree on is that there has been nothing like this in human history. We have very few examples to work off of here, because past technological revolutions have been so much more gradual.

I would postulate that it boils down to this: Is the nondigital world (aka the real world) of greater value than the digital world?

I started to try and answer your question in this reply, before realizing that this is not really the type of question that gets answered in one short discussion post. It is going to take some real contemplation, from all of us, to really consider this.

One other question I would add to yours, though, is to what degree is the digital world actually separate from the nondigital world? That needs to be resolved before we ever ask about comparing values of the two. Personally, I would start with the assertion that everything in the digital world is bound to be a representation of things in the “real” world. Can something exist online that is not a representation of something else in the physical (unmediated) world? What is the value of a representation without the physical thing it represents?

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Hi all,
you guys are always spot on!!

This subject has been my focus on the last 2 years…

"As we surrounded ourselves with screens and our lives now seem to fit in half a dozen of inches, what was once directly lived has now become just a mere representation! How does it impact our human experience? What is lost when we mediate our experiences through objects? "

This is part on a short article I wrote (trying to sum up 1 year of research).

There isn’t an easy answer… who knows why people do what they do!!! But one thing is evident to me, these digital (new) technologies are creating and maintaining a state of ignorance across all our societal domains, where we can’t distinguish true from false information anymore.

“The aim of public education is not to enlightenment at all, it is simply to reduce many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” - H. L. Mencken 1880-1956


And how did we define before, where is the truth? Where’s the lie?

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