Is the answer to problems caused by technology always more technology?

What if the answer is less technology? I recognize this is a technology forum but is anyone asking this question?

If a person is struggling with alcohol addiction the solution is not to find a better way to consume alcohol. It is to stop drinking. Yet, it seems that almost every single answer to these problems caused by overly addictive technologies is always another app, another timer, another feature to offset some previous feature and then you end up with a phone or device filled with competing features.

I think the whole concept of grey screening one’s phone is a fascinating place to start when asking this question. It is intentionally making a phone less technological to decrease its ability to distract you while keeping its ability to fully function. With a grey screened phone (which sucks- in a good way) I find it is a tool that makes choosing time well spent much easier.

What if you made a device around this entire concept? Where the goal was to create something via behavioral architecture that made time well spent the easy choice and time poorly spent the more difficult choice?

Or is this question the wrong question to be asking?


But if your device will not be “colorful” enough, most of the people will use “colorful” device from another company?


No, this is certainly a very valid question to ask. And I think, while this forum is about humane tech, it is also about how to introduce it in society and get real broad adoption of it. I am also in favour of broadening the foundational basis / mission of this community.

Greying out your screen - while probably working - will only be done by people that already recognize the issues and are prepared to actively work to improve them. You can compare them to environmental activists - a very small group, while most of the world, knowing the problem, still live unsustainable lifestyles.

Whatever the solutions that the Center for Humane Technology will provide they will probably be based on a combination of all tools and methods that are available. Using more tech to get us to meet in real life, less hooked. Using less tech, where this tech is negatively influencing us, and like @geo says: providing enough motivation not to move to other “colorful” stuff that is out there.

It will be so hard to achieve that last point, and convince/stimulate “the masses” to change their ways. We are in an exponential tech revolution right now, where every tech company - not just the biggies - is throwing new inventions at us in a race to compete, gain market share and go for the big bucks.

I expect social credit systems to become more widespread - not just in China - and with that more real-life things to be replaced by tech, like cash money. We get the robot and AI revolution, which only just started and will be hugely disruptive.

So, I would say: Less tech? YES! and use tech to achieve that, where needed :slight_smile:


Phil I think you’re spot on. Though I like where Tristan and Roger are coming from, “time well spent” seems to be a half-measure at best.

I’ve been asking, “what about less tech?” personally. Ditched my smartphone, went back to a flip phone. Designated days spent away from screens. IDK how that scales into a mission, but I’m convinced the answer to bad technology isn’t just better technology.


I’m right with you, Josh. Ditched my smartphone for a flip phone 6 months ago.

I try not to preach to people about it, but I definitely “show it off” to people, who usually marvel at it (I’m 24 years old, my friends look at my phone with a mixture of awe and confusion). Sometimes people laugh, but I think the best thing we can do is to “de-normalize” smartphones.

Help people realize that you can function in society without carrying your email everywhere you go. Every time I show people my flip phone, they say some variation of … “Oh that sounds so nice, but I absolutely could not function without XYZ apps on my phone”.


Great answer, and I really want to reference the Appropriate Technology movement here, which I think should really be seen as a forefather to this new Humane Tech movement.

The whole idea of appropriate technology is that technology should be human centered. The biggest and best technology is not always the best or most sustainably application if something with a smaller footprint would be better. The movement focuses on decentralization and “small is better” as a mantra. Its original goal in the 70s was aimed at environmental sustainability, but a lot of the principles apply in the new attention economy, also.


“De-normalize” smartphones is a great concept. The simple act of carrying a non-dopamine-pocket-drip in 2018 is radical to the point of being a “mind bomb.”

I too revel in the reveal. Tech worker / no smartphone. [Heads explode.] Most common response is… man, I wish I could do that. You can!

One further question we never talk about is “where is our leisure time?” Wasn’t all of this tech supposed to give us more time AWAY from tech? Time spent outdoors, with others, at peace?

I’ve got some further theories and one if them is (the economic push for) RECURRING REVENUE IS EATING OUR BRAINS.


Eating our brains indeed.

I always go back to the concept of “negative externalities” that you learn about in economics and environmental studies. For example, a manufacturer running a turpentine plant passes off part of their cost of production to society by dumping waste into a stream instead of paying to properly dispose of it.

With smartphones and social media, the negative externalities are the costs of mass data collection being passed off to “consumers”: Our attention, our privacy, and our posture all suffer to create immense value for online data farms (aka social media companies).


+1 for posture negative externality, we never talk about that

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+2. I find the discussion regarding how technology effects our posture, spinal stress, and other ergonomic conditions to be largely absent.

Here is a 2 page article looking at the spinal stress caused by looking down at mobile phones by New York surgical spine surgeon Kenneth Hansraj.


Thanks for the excellent link! I think this is a silent epidemic, and we won’t really see the full extent of public health consequences until the “Digital Natives” generation starts reaching middle age, when back problems generally start to multiply even under “normal” circumstances


Is there a middle ground here where both the tech companies and the user meet halfway to solve this problem?

Yes to “less” … But from a certain perspective “grey screening” is aimed at less: less psychological manipulation aimed at increasing time spent on device use.

Genies don’t tend to be placed back in their bottles. Motorized car travel is relatively dangerous even now – and more so at their initial invention – but we didn’t give up cars, we just made them safer.

Very true. We need to figure out the airbags and seatbelt for smartphones and social media.

Until that point, though, I won’t be using them.

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I agree, genies don’t tend to be placed back into bottles.

However, I think there is precedent with past technologies. When x-ray radiation was discovered it was embraced with wild abandon by scientists, physicians, and even shoe salesmen. It took time for the harmful side effects to become apparent. It also took time for enough harmful side effects to occur before people began to modify their behavior.

Once awareness was raised there was an incentive for manufacturers to create machines that minimized the harmful side effects while retaining the wondrous properties of the new technology. What resulted changed the history of medicine.

As a society we are just beginning to realize there is actual real-world harm from technology addiction. Texting while driving kills real people. Depression from social media addiction results in real suicides. Fake and manipulative news stories, endlessly shared on social media, break the foundations of government and society.

If the ultimate goal of humanity is to use technology to capture attention and thus sell advertising, then we have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dream. If the goal is to make people more connected to each other and in the process bring out the best parts of being human, then we have a lot of work to do. I guess sometimes I worry we have all forgotten that there are other ways to solve problems besides another app, a higher resolution smartphone, or a new tweak of big data.

Thanks for everybody’s replies. I have enjoyed reading them.


I think the question of whether the answer to technological problems are other technologies is really astute and important - thank you for asking!

I’ve had this debate a lot with some friends, and one thing we keep on coming back to is that “other technologies” (as referenced above) is a fairly diverse term. A crude, but helpful, distinction between weaning and replacing technologies brings some clarity to the issue.

Weaning technologies help us reduce dependence on, or solve problems with, existing technology. Grey screening or the facebook news feed blocker would be good examples. Nicotine patches for cigarette smokers is a good non-technological one. Replacing technologies are new technologies that preserve what is useful, but take out what isn’t: say, a new search engine that doesn’t store your data or social network that isn’t ad-based.

I think you need replacing technologies for goods that we want to preserve. We want to live in a world with search and social networks. But a large part of why its hard for us to “re-start” is that current technologies - like Facebook, say - are addicting. This is where weaning technologies come in.

A final point, and one which I think is implicit in your question, but far too often missed, is that the root cause of the problem is the way we interact with, shape our lives around, and inject ourselves into a technologically-curated world. What needs to be shaped, in my opinion, is people: we need to have more self-control, have a clearer idea of what we want out of digital interactions, be attentive to how advertisers and companies are hijacking our minds, and so on. And shaping the people we are, not just the way we interact with the world around us through new kinds of technologies, is the only way we will ever fully surmount this problem. And that answer is not simply technological, but in large part cultural.


I think there will be significant change with regards to toxic technology if users demand that tech companies should always consider the overall well being of their users when creating or making change of their products. We have to remember that we the users or customers can make or break companies whom we think doing harm to our lives.

The catch there is that users are, by and large, not very aware of being manipulated, and even aware users can still miss signs of manipulation. One of the challenges is going to be building a culture of awareness about this—an endeavor complicated by the fact that people are often blind to how easily we’re manipulated because our self-image is one of being rational creatures who make our decisions based on reason and thought. In practice, lots of addictive and inhumane tech leverages the fact that we make lots of decisions without actually engaging in conscious thought.

In UX, methods designed specifically to take advantage of this self-image blind spot in a malicious or abusive way are sometimes labeled “dark patterns.” Even well-intended UX decisions are often heavily influenced by behaviorism, and undermine human agency by skipping under our conscious radar.


Yes, in my opinion, less technology is the answer!! But as you can quickly verify on many posts topics is that some are trying to develop better apps, reinforcing the behaviour, re-decorating the issues! What we need to start looking up!!

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Yes!! Hahaha!!! I believe humankind is getting lost in translation…

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