How can researchers unite?

I’m a researcher of anti-distraction tools. It strikes me that there are quite a few researchers and academics here who share an interest in humane tech. How can we support each other?

I’m envisioning a loose network that can discuss research, facilitate collaboration, and spread ideas to a wider audience. For example, the usable privacy policy project has created a network, garnered attention and funding, resulted in a slew of publications, and released a tool for use by the general public.

I have two specific questions to kick things off:

  1. What actions could we take to form such a network? Bonus points for actions that we could put into place quickly to build momentum.
  2. What research questions do you wish to answer? This could identify opportunities for collaboration and give us a sense of the diversity of our research topics.

I’ll chime in with my own answers soon, but wanted to first open the floor to others.


I can only say what I am doing. I am working with my public school which is in an influential neighbourhood in Switzerland teaching the kids and their parents responsible media exposure. As a PTA rep for my kindergarden I fight for more leisure activities for the kids, more forest days at school and a cheap daytime structure for schools to keep them interacting with eachother in persona instead of via smartphone.

We have introduced a policy which bans parents from driving their kids to school. In the US that would hardly be possible, but in our small city the police patrol to check if the kids are coming by themselves (by foot, on bike etc.) in little groups of 3-7 neighbourhood children. Walking / biking is healthy and walking together strengthens friendships and community.

We have to convince the libertarian and conservative parents that every penny spent on music, art and practical education is well spent, often better spent than with kindergarden Mandarin courses… :slight_smile:

Everything that encourages curiosity and enables children to discover the REAL world ist good. Discovering a virtual world is always substitution for the real world. Of course the virtual world often is much more beautiful and exciting than the real world. Escapeism is not a solution, it’s a compensatory behaviour to compensate for actions which cannot be made in real world.

Information Technology was supposed to free the workforce and enable decentralized work environments. Yet everyone builds stupid campuses where people live in cramped conditions instead of spreading out to the countryside and enjoying nature.

Great idea, thanks for taking the initiative. I think in terms of your first question, this seems like a nice start! I’ll be following developments here for sure.
Second question: my area is cognitive neuroscience, and I’m very interested in how technology use affects the reward structures of our brain, and subsequently our reward-driven behaviour (i.e. sensitivity and response to rewards, both with technology and non-technology rewards). Much of the research in the area seems to focus on pathological use of technology, such as addictions to video games and internet. I would be interested in connecting with researchers who are looking at the psychological impacts of non-pathological use, the kind of technology use the average person encounters day to day.
I know this seems like the Debbie downer side of things, but I feel like it could serve as a compliment to the efforts to design and develop humane technology. The more we understand a problem, the better equipped we are to address it. Looking forward to reading what kind of research others are interested in!


That’s a great angle! I’ve often seen cognitive neuroscience exploited to design technologies for maximum “engagement,” but there’s little discussion of how we use those same levers to better align it with people’s underlying values.

One lingering question I have is the extent to which technology “addictions” fall along a spectrum or whether there are meaningful cutoff points. Are we all a little addicted or are video game/internet addicts really an order of magnitude apart from everyday tech users?

Hi all,
happy tuesday!!

  1. I belive CHT is the beginning of that network you mention, how we will explore it can dictate the impact of it i guess… if we are able to find our allies, share tools and build our micro-utopias, feels like we on the right direction.

  2. My 2nd-year final project at university was focused on “HOW IS TECHNOLOGY MEDIATING OUR INTERACTIONS?” - you can found the full doc and research methodologies here. My conclusions were not conclusive but there’s a lot of research, some practical field work and it points out some observation related to the subject. I wrote a linkedin article following up this project that might be easier to read, here.

I believe we need to understand better the forces in play, all of this emergent behaviour surrounding new media supported my mobile phones is “by design” - it’s not a random unexpected event - it was planned from the start.

This tech/social media companies highjacked our dopamine centre; what are the consequences? How does that impact our human behaviour? What is the real impact on how we learn? Because learning is very personal yet inheritable collective: we learn with one another!

When i was living in london, one thing always strikes me when i was commuting is that people are so close, due to the new media and tech, yet so far away… no real communication (which is much more than a bunch of 0 and 1 displayed on a screen), no empathy towards one another… I don’t know… meeting a girl/boy can’t be resumed with a swipe… i don’t believe human existence can be reduced to this binary approach of life!!

Maybe a starting by, somehow, reducing this universe of multitudes and possibilities the subject offers to 3 or 4 more general research questions? And then break it down into more specific questions…

What are your thoughts?!

I believe this is key!! I believe most of the solutions pass by a downgrading of tech usage rather than finding “time well spent” apps!!! - but i sit on the far low tech spectrum of nowadays society… I have no phone, no social media - besides linkedin and skype I am app free; so sometimes I doubt my own views, are they that extremist? Am I blind by my own rhetoric? I don’t know…

I think because your tech usage falls quite far outside the social norm, many would think it’s “extreme” or even Luddite (I’ve been called a Luddite simply because I have no Facebook or twitter). But from my perspective in Cog Psych, I think it’s fantastic that you have no phone or social media. I’ve found that it’s really difficult to find comparative research looking at technology use vs no technology use because there are so few people like you, and no one can find participants for a no technology control group! I understand why you would sometimes doubt your own views, and it’s always good to self-examine, but I think you should appreciate and value your unique perspective that’s afforded you by abstaining from common tech, especially phones.

Yes, the Ted talks instructing how to leverage cog psych to build habit forming products make me shudder. My background before Psych was actually design of games and interactive systems, so I’m pretty familiar with that area.

As for your lingering question, it depends how rigorously you want to stick to diagnostic criteria. Video game and internet addicts really are quite different from every day tech users, in very important ways. Think about a substance addiction and all the things that come with it: craving, withdrawal, loss of relationships, failure in school or work or parenting, lying to loved ones about usage, inability to control oneself when faced with the substance, etc. These are all things we see with internet and video game addictions, as well as neurological changes similar to what we find with substance addicted persons. It feels like a few of these boxes could be ticked off with regular tech usage, namely craving and withdrawal, and people do lose a lot of time to their tech, but you typically don’t see a complete breakdown of a person’s life the same way you do with addictions. However, in some of the research I’ve looked at and in my own studies, many people report that they would like to reduce the time they spend on the internet, but find they are unable to do so. Regardless of diagnostic criteria, that’s significant and concerning! So I think my tentative answer to your question is: both. We are all a little addicted, in that we have difficulties controlling our tech-related impulse, but people suffering from full-blown addictions also are really an order of magnitude apart from everyday tech users. Final note: There is debate in the field about whether to label these things as addictions or if they’re instead impulse control disorders. From a cog neuro perspective, I don’t care what they call it. I just care that people’s brains are being changed and there is suffering attached to the changes.


This is an excerpt from my research/project at uni last year, sorry for the copy paste, but I believe this part resumes well my views on the impact of this new technology on our lives … sometimes people tend to forget that language and books are technology as well! An ancient ‘vehicle’ to express ideas, emotions, build up communities, intellectual engagement… I would love to hear more about the psychology behind it, all these apps seem to be following game theory approach!

I believe that the way we are mediating our social interactions through technology is diminishing our human experience. As Debord proposes, the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that “quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there’s also a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought.

I agree with his views. How is our culture and meaning construction being affected? Some will argue that this behaviour is leading us to a new kind of ignorance. Defined not only by lack of knowledge but also by a growing lack of interest in what surround us. Incapable of questioning the world and distinguish true from false information. Facilitating a systemic production and maintenance of ignorance. This tendency towards automated and accelerated modes of action may undermine structures of reflection and critique - “Reflection is the process of knowing what we know. It is the only chance we have to discover our blindness and to recognize that the certainties and knowledge of others are, respectively, as overwhelming and tenuous as our own… We are keyed to action and not to reflection, so that our personal life is generally blind to itself” (H. Maturana and J.Varela, 2004).

From an anthropological perspective, a culture is defined by shared knowledge, as ‘a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life’ (Geertz, 1973).

Learning is personal and inheritable collective: we learn with one another.
Culture and nature are one… and, as we surrounded ourselves by screens and our lives seem to fit in half a dozen of inches what is left of life after the screens? There seems to be a crescent disconnection between culture and nature… unprecedented in our human history. _

“Smartphones have become the hub of our daily lives and are now in the pockets of two thirds (66%) of UK adults, up from 39% in 2012. The vast majority (90%) of 16-24 year olds own one; THE 55-64 year olds are also joining the smartphone revolution, with ownership in this age group more than doubling since 2012, from 19% to 50%.” - Source:

Usage of smartphones while doing other activities:

Source: Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey, May–Jun 2016

People seem to be more and more addicted to new technologies, more specifically to smartphones. At work, in public transports, in restaurants or at home! They ‘do it’ everywhere, anytime… The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) - the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from. Is it?

By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options were given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.

According to Zogby Analytics, 86% of youngsters say their phones never leave their sight, day or night, and 80% say it’s the first thing they do when they wake up.

Nomophobia’, a term researchers use to describe the fear of being without a mobile phone. By 2015, there were 280 million smartphone addicts. It would be the fourth most populous country in the world, after China, India, and the United States.

As we spend on average between 3 and 4 hours a day on the internet some will question why, by which means is this behaviour unfolding and spreading at such fast pace? This behaviour is instigated by design.

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Hey! I am one of the advisors with Humane Tech and I would love to start consolidating some of this incredible research - please keep me posted on this, I will keep a tab on this thread.

Thanks, very helpful!

I totally concur with your last sentence: it doesn’t matter what we call it, if it causes suffering, it’s a problem. In my own work, I use compulsive or problematic smartphone use, because “addictive” risks starting a war over terminology.

So here are my own thoughts:

1) Actions to take to unite researchers:
Start a (bi)monthly bulletin of academic research in this field. I’ve found the monthly bulletin of the American Mindfulness Research Association to be a great resource. At first, this would require a few dedicated volunteers to review the recent academic literature. Over time, I would expect that subscribers would grow and start to submit much of the work themselves.

2) Research questions I have
I’m fascinated by the self-nudging techniques that people are adopting to architect their technology environment (e.g., charging their phone away from the bedside or setting it to grayscale). I want to understand a) how widely adopted these strategies are; and b) how effective they are. It’s a tricky problem because there are so many different strategies–if one wants to test them in an experiment, one has to cluster them according to some reasonable principles, which I’m trying to work out at the moment.


Steve Cutts animations are spot on!!!

As a designer, I’m a big fan of Buckminster Fuller’s work and John Wood (Metadesign) who has been carrying Fuller’s work on Synergy’s. Fuller used to say that along this lines: forget about changing how people think, you cannot do that… give them a tool that by the use of which it will lead them to think differently! Is common sense a tool?! If so, is it a matter of education?! is our value system upside down?!

I believe underlying all our modern ‘societal’ troubles and worries there is a huge crisis in values and ethics, there is no value in doing the right thing these days, it’s all about being the first, the next big thing, it’s all about the rat race… and that cannot be changed with apps, business plans, elaborated theories or positive ‘expectations’ of the future… people need to sort themselves out i guess, I believe the answer relies more on the individual rather than on the group behaviour.

People also tend to discard other issues related to the infrastructure of all this paraphernalia of machines and gadgets humans are building… i.e. all those precious metals needed to build this Internet of Things are done in the most inhumane conditions, or that a mobile phone in average produces 70kgs of waste throughout its production!!!

This was the main theme I was exploring throughout my Ma, and I didn’t make many friends or get much support!! People (my tutors and colleges were the thoughtest ones) are not even open to debate, as the last 15 years of human experience became normalized (Adam Curtis explores this themes through video collages) and life became blind to itself, humans are being overloaded with information 24/7 (our time management/perception is changing as well) and very little space and time for reflection on this subjects… how is this behaviour impacting our critical thinking?! How this will play out in the years to come only the future can tell us but it’s not looking good from where I am standing!


Creating a bimensal newsletter would be great! A collaborative curation (from this community) of the content?

Regarding the research questions; shouldn’t we start by trying to frame some key areas of investigation/questioning and then break them down into more specific questions/field areas?

Yup, I was thinking a few volunteers from the community could curate recent academic research, in the mold of this mindfulness newsletter.

Re: research questions, I wasn’t thinking of this thread as setting a systematic research agenda; just a way of canvassing what others are already researching / interested in.


I’m fairly new to this forum, but really impressed by what’s going on. I’m a 3rd year PhD student looking at Foresight for future cities:
the impact of the process of thinking about future ‘citizens’ (as a catch-all term for a range of actors, participants etc who might be human, posthuman, AI, robotic) in future city aspirations, and;
the ways in which we can examine what citizen means in future cities in Foresight visions.

My subtitle to talks is often Future Cities as if Citizens Mattered.

This is all intended to help create an accessible way for all people to engage with these issues (overcoming ‘democratic deficit’), ensure we are thinking about who/what our future cities are for, and understand what we need to do today to enable more preferable futures to happen. Being in engineering (but from a multi-disciplinary background and perspective), I am linking this into some existing approaches within Foresighting that link to policy and infrastructure developments . I’m trying to combine some philosophical/meta-theory critique of how we approach these things with some practical tools and approaches.

I’m always keen to collaborate with people on ideas for research, articles, blogs etc.

I look forward to reading more about the fascinating research taking place.


Hi Kai,

Thanks for starting this thread. I’m also interested in these questions. I’m a computer scientist whose research focuses largely on creative technology, as well as more recently democratisation of machine learning. (And I did my postdoc at UW :slight_smile: )

My research has mainly focused on how we can create new interactions with technology that are particularly meaningful and inclusive, rather than studying or mitigating interactions that are harmful, addictive, etc. But I am starting to think more about how to bring these two approaches more into dialog with each other (so that, for instance, meaningful tech becomes a point of contrast to problematic tech, rather than an advertisement of “yay! tech is great!” that hides or distracts from the real problems).

Though I haven’t done any work in this area, I am also interested in methodologies for designing meaningful tech. What methods can developers, designers, and UX folks use to build and evaluate new tools to prioritise meaningfulness or “time well spent,” to supplement current best practices focused on more superficial usability criteria (which are insufficient)? Can we build curricula around these for our students studying CS, HCI, UX, etc.? What types of participatory activities can we in the tech, design, and HCI communities be employing to involve a broader and more diverse set of voices in this conversation, and in deciding what alternative technologies or practices should look like? (And how can we academics better find and listen to the discussions that are already happening in other communities?)

Rebecca Fiebrink

Hi there,
Can I ask, are any researchers looking at these questions in younger children:

-Does reward based edu-gaming affect intrinsic motivation to complete the same tasks without reward?
-Does edu-gaming in school associated with increased recreational gaming? Does this affect some groups thought to be more at risk of developing addiction more than others (ADD/ASD)
-Is edu-gaming based on the same dopamine reward loop of non-educational gaming, and how does this affect early child development/behaviour.

Also has has anyone looked at stats of reading for pleasure (digital or paper) in all age groups compared to pre device ownership? Love to hear back.

Great idea #klukoff to develop this network.

I like your idea #1. A bulletin that organizes the relevant research publications in humane tech would be a wonderful resource. Like the mindfulness bulletin, the bulletin could even feature commentary on a few key publications.

It might also be a good idea to create a online searchable database of such studies. This could be continuously updated, as new publications appear.

I could probably help out with either of these. I obtained my Ph.D. in behavioral psychology nearly 12 years ago. As an academic and a researcher, I am fairly adept at finding, reading, reviewing, and summarizing various research literatures.

In response to 2: I am keen to find other (preferably UK-based, but if research interests have a close enough match, I’m happy to look at distance collaboration) researchers interested in critical infrastructure studies, specifically for interaction design. I’m currently at Sussex and King’s.

My research area is the relationship between infrastructures and conditions of possibility, how we can embed ‘social contracts’ (interpreted in the broadest sense) on the infrastructure level in our interactive systems, and how this can augment the experience of interaction.