PEW Research: Tech Saturation, Well-Being and (my) Remedies

Back in January, I was asked to participate in PEW Research’s survey on the impact of digital life:

“Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?”

The choices: more helped than harmed, more harmed than helped, not much changed.

PEW and partner Elon, published comprehensive results of the survey in April:

“Some 1,150 experts responded in this non-scientific canvassing. Some 47% of these respondents predict that individuals’ well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next decade, while 32% say people’s well-being will be more harmed than helped. The remaining 21% predict there will not be much change in people’s well-being compared to now.”

I was amongst the optimists, more helped than harmed. Though, I thought about the ills — tech addiction, inequality, algorithmic bias — before answering. For me, the opportunities brought by connection and crucial intelligence outweigh the bad. Plus, we can fix the bad.

As with all PEW/Elon studies, respondents were asked for supporting commentary on their choices. Ten themes emerged:

For detailed responses, many named, some anonymous, see the research report.

Regarding fixing the bad, the survey asked:

“what might be done to diminish any threats to individuals’ well-being that are now emerging due to people’s choices in creating digital systems and living digital lives”

Five themes emerged:

I was pleased to see my response make the report, as it validates my current (and future work): intersecting arts, tech and information to make technology knowledge and participation more accessible.

The first part was rolled into “reimagine systems”. No surprise to anyone who has heard my STEAM pitch:

Brenda M. Michelson, an executive-level technology architect based in North America, commented,

“We need to improve how we build and introduce digital products, services, information and overall pervasiveness. On building, we need to diversify the teams creating our digital future. 1) These future builders must reflect society in terms of race, gender, age, education, economic status and so on. 2) As digital is integrative – technology, data, arts, humanities, society, ethics, economics, science, communication – the teams must be composed of individuals from across professions and backgrounds, including artists, scientists, systems thinkers and social advocates. On introduction, we need – desperately – to build information literacy and critical- thinking skills across the population and improve curation tools without impinging on free speech.”

The second part, deep in the report supplement, was rolled into “redesign media literacy”:

“We need (desperately) to build information literacy and critical-thinking skills across the population and improve curation tools without impinging on free speech. Broad education on information literacy and critical thinking can help people discern the validity of information, view multiple sides/perspectives of an issue and consider the motivations of content creators/providers. There should be a developing/refining of our individual habits. Turning off notifications. Giving ourselves digital breaks with other people, doing outdoor activity and so on. Essentially, regaining our attention. As well, we can choose devices and interfaces that augment our everyday experiences while being a present participant in social/work/family situations.”

The report is a truly interesting read. A variety of perspectives from leading thinkers and innovators in our field. Rounded out with regular folks, like me.