Moving Beyond Digital Detox & The Organic Web

Rohan GunatillakeArticles, Talking

At the recent SXSW Interactive festival, I was fortunate enough to be part of a panel together with Lauren Bacon.

The title of our session was Beyond Unplugging and at its heart was a simple but important idea. Recent years has seen the rise in popularity of the Digital Detox – taking time away from our devices and our information streams as a strategy to deal with our seemingly incessant digital overload. This approach however has two main problems. Firstly it doesn’t actually solve the issue but just provides temporary escape from an issue that isn’t going away anywhere anytime soon, or in other words holidays are nice but you can’t be on holiday all the time. The second problem is that it demonises technology as a toxin that we have to purge ourselves of. This too is unsustainable.

So our session was about how we might move past this dualistic thinking and into a more progressive conversation where we can develop the skills AND the software to result in a world where we as human beings have a tension-free relationship with technology. And if we do it really well, how that relationship can actually be what we here at 21awake call mind-positive.

Lauren has written an excellent summary of our session in her post: What’s the Tox in a Digital Detox? as did one of our participants Katelyn from Citrix in her piece Why Digital Detoxes Don’t Work – and What Does.

So I don’t need to repeat anything they have already ably expressed there and so want to mention one Big Idea which came up and which I found most striking. That is the idea of The Organic Web or Organic Digital Products.

The Organic Web

Our social technologies and news media train us in distraction since the primary business model for online content is advertising – which by default looks to make our attention go elsewhere to where it was originally directed. But the category error we make is to think that will always be the case. However if we make positive mental qualities or wellbeing a design objective of our digital products & services then that we can achieve the results of calm, awareness, concentration, compassion.

To move this conversation on, we as consumers need to recognise that is not OK for our minds to be treated in this way and – if possible – demonstrate that there is a market for digital stuff which looks to support us more fully as human beings. I call this the Organic Web or Organic Digital Products since I find the analogy of the food industry quite compelling. Whether it’s Fair Trade or Organic movements, we now have a maturing market for products which we can choose to consume based on ethical choices – be that in the treatment of animals, the environment or people.

In the same way, I believe there will be a market for technologies which at the very least look to avoid training us in distraction, attention-fragmentation and isolation from others and ourselves. And while the organic word is not a perfect analogy it points to an evolution of digital consumerism that I think we should aspire to. And action wise – it’s up to us as entrepreneurs to make the products and us as consumers to demand them.