Screen Free Manifesto, or Our 21st Century Challenge Mindfulness - Senstone

Screen Free Manifesto, or Our 21st Century Challenge

23 Jan, 2020

I must say from the very beginning: the publication of this train of thoughts is long overdue. For me it all started quite a few years ago, before I started thinking about Senstone. I was watching Black Mirror series for the first time. Remember that episode with the guy living in the cubicle with screens everywhere? He couldn’t even shut his eyes without being penalised for not watching an advertisement or one of those disgustingly infinite shows.

Do you remember how the episode ends? The protagonist, after a long battle with the system, gets a reward – a flat with a screen free window with a view on the tropical forest outside. 

That Black Mirror episode aired 8 years ago, in December 2011. 

Nowadays, in our interconnected world, screens are everywhere. They are almost impossible to dodge. Smartphones, computers, smartwatches, outdoor advertising… We need screens for work, we need them for leisure. We use them to make money, to talk to friends, to play with our kids, to have fun, etc. But, honestly, one of the main “activities” we use screens for is doing, well, nothing. And this very sort of “activity” is probably the most curious of all. How come we are spending so many hours glued to the screen doing nothing?

But there’s more. There is this popular opinion about the world around us not being worth our attention. Like, at all. Since, you know, this world has poor interface. It needs to be improved by the Augmented or even the Virtual Reality. Wearing AR/VR glasses allows screens to control human sight, pretty much making their owner a powerless object in the real world.

So, the question arises: Do we use screens to achieve our goals, or are we simply hooked to them, engulfed with the visual stimuli of the screen-centered digital era? 

If this is the way humans are supposed to be in the future…

….then why are all those trends centred around maximising the real life digital-free experience gaining popularity? I mean all those “mindfulness” techniques, all those famous chefs, “slow food” apostles, messing around the kitchen cooking meals (like there is no decent take-out available), all this “slow media” swing aiming to contain the spread of fake news, and… cyclists, strolling around the cities in droves? Right.

So. How exactly do those two big trends overlap and coexist? How exactly the VR/AR trend is happening at the same time as the trend towards maximizing the real life experience?

Who are the real life backers? Some sort of contemporary Luddites who don’t understand the inevitability of the “androidisation” of humanity? Why are they so persistent?

Well, if they really are the Luddites of our age, then we are going to have to label Luddites some of the brightest minds of the Sylicone Valley, at least in terms of how they bring up their children. Because, as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras points out in his New York Post article:

“There’s a reason that the most tech-cautious parents are tech designers and engineers. Steve Jobs was a notoriously low-tech parent. Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers enroll their kids in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to no-tech Montessori Schools, as did Amazon creator Jeff Bezos and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. We see the aggressive temper tantrums when the devices are taken away and the wandering attention spans when children are not perpetually stimulated by their hyper-arousing devices. Worse, we see children who become bored, apathetic, uninteresting and uninterested when not plugged in. But it’s even worse than we think. We now know that those iPads, smartphones and Xboxes are a form of digital drug. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does”.

And suddenly mindfulness, the popularity of Seneca’s stoicism, slow media, slow food, as well as the attention towards the introverts’ lifestyle and, hey, last but not least, the revival of physical books to the point that you hear rumours that e-books are already dead -– all these trends, while strange on first glance, suddenly look much, much more logical. 

So, how come that all those contradictory things are happening almost at the same time?

My answer is simple: the trend for maximising the real life experience is about taking back control over our own time and senses. It is all about taking back control over our lives, an outward rebellion against the growing importance of the digital, screen-centred way of life. This is how the two trends are spreading almost simultaneously. They feed off each other.

And the crucial asset the two trends are fighting for is OUR ATTENTION.

To illustrate what’s at stake, there is the most striking example: kids. 

“Growing data suggests that exposing young children to too much time in front of a TV or computer can have negative effects on their development, including issues with memory, attention and language skills,” – reports TIME.

There is a growing amount of evidence that decline in physical world interactions like unsupervised play results in the rise of mental disorders in children. Apparently, no screen can overcome anxiety and provide a peaceful state of mind.

As Jean M. Twenge, the famous psychologist who coined “iGen” term, pointed out:

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones…

Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

If you were going to give advice for a happy adolescence based on this survey, it would be straightforward: Put down the phone, turn off the laptop, and do something—anything—that does not involve a screen. Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness.” 

More and more researchers and writers speak about smartphone addiction as if it were something similar to drinking and other bad habits. Just look at this passage by Ian Bogost, the author of Play Anything:

“Now we all check their email (or Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or…) compulsively at the dinner table, or the traffic light. Now we all stow our devices on the nightstand before bed, and check them first thing in the morning. We all do. It’s not abnormal, and it’s not just for business. It’s just what people do. Like smoking in 1965, it’s just life.”

Nevertheless, he predicts that it all can change in the future. In the words of a renown Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan:

“…it is not unfathomable to imagine a prospective society that finds the tic itself to be as abhorrent and vile as today’s culture does cigarettes. In that putative future, smartphone users would be relegated to special rooms in airports, where passers by would shake their heads disapprovingly at the grey faces lit from below by their tiny, blue screens”.

How is that? Impressive, isn’t it?

The thing is that more screen time means more sitting time too. Another reference to smoking:

“Erin O’Loughlin is an exercise psychologist at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. There are many reasons children and teens have been sitting more, she notes. These include less outdoor play, more screen time and schools that have been reducing opportunities for exercise during the school day.”

As Michaeleen Doucleff and Allison Aubrey write in their NPR “Smartphone Detox: How to power down in a wired world”, sometimes we all need a digital detox:

“A recent study of high school students, published in the journal Emotion, found that too much time spent on digital devices is linked to lower self-esteem and a decrease in well-being. The survey asked teens how much time they spent — outside of schoolwork — on activities such as texting, gaming, searching the internet or using social media.

“We found teens who spend five or more hours a day online are twice as likely to say they’re unhappy,”compared to those who spend less time plugged in, explains the study’s author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

Twenge’s research suggests digital abstinence is not good either. Teens who have no access to screens or social media may feel shut out, she says.

But there may be a sweet spot. According to the survey data, “the teens who spend a little time — an hour or two hours a day [on their devices] — those are actually the happiest teens,”Twenge says.”

Mike Brooks and Jon Lasser, authors of the Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World, describe the content of their book as follows:

“Our tendency to overuse our screens is interfering with our ability to meet our basic needs. These include sleep, physical activity, and perhaps most importantly, our in-person relationships.”

They provide an example from Dr. Daniel Kahneman’s works. Dr. Kahneman is a psychologist, an economist, and a Nobel Prize winner, also considered the father of behavioural economics.

So, Brooks and Lasser write:

In his TED talk, Kahneman mentions that overall life satisfaction is influenced most by the quality of our relationships. When we are looking for overall life satisfaction, it’s critical that we invest in our relationships. We must remember that, from an evolutionary perspective, these relationships always took place in-person. In a sense, we are hard-wired to meet our deep-rooted need for relationships in-person.

Excessive screen time is detrimental to relationships:

 

Photo www.dafjones.com

Stop being Pavlov’s dog — turn off notifications. “This won’t necessarily keep you from checking the phone compulsively,” says University of Connecticut psychologist David Greenfield. “But it reduces the likelihood because the notifications are letting you know there may be a reward waiting for you.” – conclude Doucleff and Aubrey.

So, it’s all about attention and our ability to be in control of our time. Let’s dig in deeper.

There is no sense in arguing with the fact that we can do little without screen-centered digital instruments, but why we are glued to the screen around the clock, all the time?

Jean M. Twenge made an observation about her students:

Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up.

Why is that? The answer is: because of the dopamine inducing reward seeking instant gratification principle which is a part of the smartphone design. Similar to the “like” button on Facebook, it’s based on the whack-a-mole principle, and so the simplest way to overcome the addiction is to go unplugged for some time and practice Mindfulness.

 As Bianca Boscer writes in The Atlantic:

“That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”

In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.

In the end, he says, companies “stand back watching as a billion people run around like chickens with their heads cut off, responding to each other and feeling indebted to each other.”

Sean Parker, ex-Facebook president,  explained the initial objective behind the development of Facebook back in 2017 this way:

“How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content. It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

As Olivia Solon writes for The Guardian, Parker used to tell how in the early days of Facebook people would tell him they weren’t on social media because they valued their real-life interactions.

“And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be,’” he said.

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying,” he added, pointing to “unintended consequences” that arise when a network grows to have more than 2 billion users.

 

Indeed, the simplest way to overcome the media addiction is to  go unplugged for some time and immerse yourself in real life experiences. Some call the practice “Mindfulness”. I don’t know, I just love to rake leaves. Some of my friends meditate while washing dishes or playing with kids.

The thing is that even then our mind is working, quietly braingesting everything. Having a quiet walk through the park, playing with kids, talking with friends or parents, biking, practising yoga, you name it – all these activities lead to brilliant insights! Which is very good, of course, but unless you write down those insights, they could evaporate from your memory. How do you put something down without it being the buzzkiller? Notepad and pencil? That’s buzzkilling right here. Imagine yourself on a bike, juggling the pencil and the notepad along the way. Naaaah.

Enter Senstone.

One click of a button would be so much better. Voice would be better. And what would be even better? The voice-to-text technology to record your insights and be able to work with them later.

So, this device as we see it is free from the digital hooks, while simultaneously being able to put down whatever the user wants – all this without the dopamine inducing feedback of any sort.

Senstone is the Instrument of the Mindfulness and Focus.

 

Instant gratification principle, present in most high-tech devices, is the reason for the short-sightedness of our times and one of the main causes for problems in our society. This is exactly what Bina Venkataraman’s recent book THE OPTIMIST’S TELESCOPE: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age is about.

 In the NYTimes review of her book, Robert H. Frank notes:

“Decisions about saving money, for instance, are heavily distorted by impatience, which helps explain why so many struggle in retirement… Saving might be easier if we could somehow imagine the future more vividly, a hypothesis of the economist A.C. Pigou supported by the work of the U.C.L.A. economist Hal Hershfield. As Venkataraman describes his experiments, he showed subjects in one group of volunteers photographs of themselves that had been digitally altered to simulate their appearance in old age, but no such photographs to a second group. When he then gave all his subjects some money they could either spend or save, members of the first group saved significantly more.”

Now, on the smaller scale, just think how many times a day you get distracted by something when you’re busy working. And think about all the things NOT done because of the digital noise triggered by a call, a messenger notification, a Facebook beep, and everything else. If you think about it, they all amount to direct financial losses and the sense of wasted time at the end of the day. Have you ever tried to imagine  what your productivity is going to be at 10 PM when it’s only 8 AM? The 12 hours of your life you will never get back!

 

Isn’t that similar to what people feel when they look at those photos of themselves that had been digitally altered to simulate their appearance in old age?

A wasted day generates the same kind of frustration, only less sharp.

It’s the “get things done” principle that makes money, not the instant gratification induced by being plugged and connected to all the processes of the world at once. To surrender to the Fear of Missing Out is a terrible business idea.

Unplug. Concentrate. Focus. Get things done. Use Senstone.

_

Even such great minds as Marc Benioff, an executive who is, according to Forbes, worth almost $7 billion, agrees: “I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.”

He says: “Innovation is a core value at Salesforce. It is deeply embedded in our culture. This starts in the mindset of every person in the company — you must cultivate a beginner’s mind, the practice of looking at the world with fresh, unencumbered eyes, and avoiding inside-out or homogenous thinking that can lead to blind spots and missed opportunities. To encourage this mindset, we have ‘mindfulness zones on every floor of our office buildings where employees can put their phones into a basket and clear their minds”.

 

Jeff Bezos agrees with the sentiment. Catherine Clifford, CNBC, quotes his opinion that “the best work happens when an individual has both a beginner’s mind mentality and a vast library of knowledge”.

The ‘mindfulness zones’, where employees are not supposed to use their smartphones, is not just a quirk of Benioff’s Salesforce.

“Yet this emphasis on mindfulness and consciousness, which has extended far beyond the tech world, puts the burden on users to train their focus, without acknowledging that the devices in their hands are engineered to chip away at their concentration. It’s like telling people to get healthy by exercising more, then offering the choice between a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder when they sit down for a meal.” — Bianca Bosker writes in The Atlantic.

There is strong scientific evidence suggesting that “the mere presence of one’s smartphone may reduce available cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning, even when consumers are successful at remaining focused on the task at hand”, as claimed by a study conducted at the University of Chicago

Enter Senstone.

As Justin Rosenstein, the former Google and Facebook engineer who helped build the ‘like’ button, puts it “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman [his ex-colleague from Facebook stint] and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s. They are the last generation of people who would remember the world in which telephones were plugged into walls. It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads, and laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a once-popular Biggie Smalls song about the perils of dealing crack: never get high on your own supply.

 

Again: enter Senstone.

Since, as says Satya Nadella, Financial Times Person of the Year, “From ancient Greece to modern Silicon Valley, the only thing that gets in the way of continued success and relevance, and impact, is hubris.”

 

by Roman Motychak, Nazar Fedorchuk

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