Your computers and phones are tools you use to accomplish your goals.
But today, the products you buy don’t help you pursue your dreams, but someone else’s.
Along the way, you adapt your habits and behavior without realizing it. Tech companies build habit forming products and they have more influence over us than we realize. They even shape our social, cultural, and personal values.
1. How Many Friends Are Enough?
Most of us don’t spend our day-to-day lives trying to impress a hundred people in person. If we put a smile on a partner’s face, talk to our parents, and hang out with a friend or two, we’ve had a rather social day.
But social media convinces us that interacting with only a few dozen people is a failure. It’s not enough to have a few hundred followers. Make that a couple thousand. Now make that a thousand more. Anything less shows that we’re doing something wrong.
Not only that — the quest to influence a thousand strangers causes us to ignore the people who are right in front of our faces.
When you do head online without social media, you’re more likely to interact with one person at a time through email or instant messaging, rather than conduct yourself like a celebrity or politician trying to amass a following.
Action Tip: Only add friends you know from real life on Facebook.
2. Do I Need to Replace This?
Our early tools that were intended to do their jobs for as long as possible. Sometimes that wasn’t a long period of time, but that wasn’t intentional. They did the best they could.
The modern tech industry has long embraced planned obsolesence, so many of us have grown up unaware that this was even going on. Regularly replacing all our gadgets is simply something people do. And that leads to a global problem (read Point 3).
It’s possible to do the same thing with our smartphones. Even today, you can make future purchases with an eye for products that are meant to last.
Action Tip: As in this Reddit thread, tell us about the sturdiest (and trusted) product you have owned. Do you have a habit of checking out the next shiny thing?
3. Is This Good for the Environment?
Many of us would describe ourselves as environmentally conscious. We actively want to do the right thing for our planet and the ecosystem around us. Planned obsolescence may be great for business, but it’s devastating to the planet (and our wallets).
Thing is, doing the right thing can be hard to figure out. Some of us switched to digital products thinking they would save us from using paper alternatives, but we may be making the situation worse. Electronic waste is rampant, and the amount of resources that go into making all the phones, laptops, and e-readers we replace every few years may be doing much more harm than using notebooks and magazines that are easily recyclable.
These days it’s not too hard to find products made with recycled paper, but it took work to get the industry to move in that direction. We should expect the same from tech companies. To do that, we have to stop absorbing their marketing and replacing our gadgets every year or two. Our dollars encourage them to do what our mouths tell them not to.
Instead, we should reward companies that make ethical decisions, whether that means adopting sustainable sources or creating hardware that’s intended to receive software updates indefinitely.
These changes can mean having to pay more or using underpowered hardware, but that’s not a problem if you value the environment more than having the latest and most powerful tech.
Action Tip: Learn more at the Electronics TakeBack Coalition website.
4. Is Being New All That Matters?
The same is increasingly true with the information we consume. Social networks and websites (ours included) place the latest posts at the top of the page. Older content is tucked away. Information that is merely hours old can seem outdated.
We’ve adapted this behavior in so many areas of our life that even when we’re aware of some habits (buying the latest iPhone every year), we overlook others (only getting news from Twitter).
Not only can we use the stuff we buy for longer, we can seek out older long-form content. A book from 1970 can often tell you more about a subject than an article posted yesterday. Arguments made centuries ago have been proven true generation after generation. Let’s not miss out on wisdom just because it’s old — that’s part of what makes it wisdom.
Action Tip: Go back in time. Build the fundamentals. For instance, read self-help classics like Think and Grow Rich (1937) or Psycho-Cybernetics (1960) to rehash the ideas of wise men who came before us.
5. Why Are We So Vitriolic?
Have you been online? It’s rough. Anonymity and distance can bring out the worse in people. Individuals say terrible things to each other all the time.
Turns out, the internet is a great place to be kind to one another. Unfortunately, the ease of instantly publishing our thoughts makes it easy to say things we later regret. We should avoid criticizing or mocking others when we have no intention of trying to help them.
There’s a person at the other end, and we’re modeling the type of behavior we can expect them to respond with. And those of us who manage our own websites are not required to host hateful or inflammatory speech. We can do the web a favor by choosing not to provide such rhetoric a home.
Action Tip: Hardwire kindness in your life. Take ideas from websites like Random Acts of Kindness and KindSpring.
6. Does This Benefit Society?
The web allows new products and services to change the lives of millions of people in a matter of days. With such a rapid rate of change, often the time for reflection doesn’t come until after it’s too late.
Now the companies that make these services are determining what rights we have online. Communities and governments haven’t been able to build informed consensus fast enough to form effective laws.
There’s a lesson here we could learn from the Amish. The community has a reputation for shunning technology, but that isn’t actually the case. Instead, the Amish inspect the value of a new technology before adopting it. This has enabled the community to sustain traditions and values through a time of rapid change in the surrounding culture.
The Amish and DNA Sequencers? Watch the video.
Has Technology Addiction Hijacked Your Values?
This isn’t a question you can answer quickly.
It’s hard to follow the myriad of ways technology impacts our decision-making. What incentivizes so many companies to provide internet services for free? Where is my data stored? How much information do advertisers get whenever I view their ad?
I had no idea as a teenager that when I created email and social network accounts, companies were tracking and monetizing all the information I shared. I was too young to understand how the traditional economy worked, let alone the new information economy that’s still taking shape before our eyes. Today’s kids face an even more complicated landscape to navigate.