The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World
Posted in: Internet Use/New Technologies at 26/04/2018 14:25
A plurality of experts say digital life will continue to expand people’s boundaries and opportunities in the coming decade and that the world to come will produce more help than harm in people’s lives. Still, nearly a third think that digital life will be mostly harmful to people’s health, mental fitness and happiness. Most say there are solutions
When the Pew Research Center asks American internet users for their bottom-line judgment about the role of digital technology in their own lives, the vast majority feel it is a good thing.
Yet, over the past 18 months a drumbeat of concerns about the personal and societal impacts of technology has been growing – and it crescendoed last week in the congressional grilling of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s power and impact on American life. More broadly the concerns are highlighted by headlines about the “Heavy Toll of ‘Always On’ Technology,” the emergence of a “techlash” driven by people’s disillusionment with the online environment, and worries over digital dystopia. There has also been commentary and research about the effects digital technology usage can have on people’s well-being, their level of stress, their likelihood of committing suicide, their ability to perform well at work and in social settings, their capability to focus in an era of information overload, their capacity to modulate their level of connectivity, and their overall happiness.
In light of these mounting concerns, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center queried technology experts, scholars and health specialists on this question: Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?
Humans need tools. Humans need and want augmentation. And as the saying goes ‘First we make our tools, then our tools form us.’
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. (See the section titled “About this canvassing of experts” for further details about who these experts are and the structure of this canvassing sample.)
Many of those who argue that human well-being will be harmed also acknowledge that digital tools will continue to enhance various aspects of life. They also note there is no turning back. At the same time, hundreds of them suggested interventions in the coming years they feel could mitigate the problems and emphasize the benefits. Moreover, many of the hopeful respondents also agree that some harm will arise in the future, especially to those who are vulnerable.
Participants were asked to explain their answers, and most wrote detailed elaborations that provide insights about hopeful and concerning trends. They were allowed to respond anonymously and many did so; their written comments are also included in this report.
Three types of themes emerged: those tied to expert views that people will be more helped than harmed when it comes to well-being; those tied to potential harms; and those tied to remedies these experts proposed to mitigate foreseeable problems. The themes are outlined in the nearby table.
Themes about the future of well-being and digital life
|MORE HELPED THAN HARMED||Connection||Digital life links people to people, knowledge, education and entertainment anywhere globally at any time in an affordable, nearly frictionless manner.|
|Commerce, government and society||Digital life revolutionizes civic, business, consumer and personal logistics, opening up a world of opportunity and options.|
|Crucial intelligence||Digital life is essential to tapping into an ever-widening array of health, safety, and science resources, tools and services in real time.|
|Contentment||Digital life empowers people to improve, advance or reinvent their lives, allowing them to self-actualize, meet soul mates and make a difference in the world.|
|Continuation toward quality||Emerging tools will continue to expand the quality and focus of digital life; the big-picture results will continue to be a plus overall for humanity.|
|MORE HARMED THAN HELPED||Digital deficits||People’s cognitive capabilities will be challenged in multiple ways, including their capacity for analytical thinking, memory, focus, creativity, reflection and mental resilience.|
|Digital addiction||Internet businesses are organized around dopamine-dosing tools designed to hook the public.|
|Digital distrust/divisiveness||Personal agency will be reduced and emotions such as shock, fear, indignation and outrage will be further weaponized online, driving divisions and doubts.|
|Digital duress||Information overload + declines in trust and face-to-face skills + poor interface design = rises in stress, anxiety, depression, inactivity and sleeplessness.|
|Digital dangers||The structure of the internet and pace of digital change invite ever-evolving threats to human interaction, security, democracy, jobs, privacy and more.|
|POTENTIAL REMEDIES||Reimagine systems||Societies can revise both tech arrangements and the structure of human institutions – including their composition, design, goals and processes.|
|Reinvent tech||Things can change by reconfiguring hardware and software to improve their human-centered performance and by exploiting tools like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).|
|Regulate||Governments and/or industries should create reforms through agreement on standards, guidelines, codes of conduct, and passage of laws and rules.|
|Redesign media literacy||Formally educate people of all ages about the impacts of digital life on well-being and the way tech systems function, as well as encourage appropriate, healthy uses.|
|Recalibrate expectations||Human-technology coevolution comes at a price; digital life in the 2000s is no different. People must gradually evolve and adjust to these changes.|
|Fated to fail||A share of respondents say all this may help somewhat, but – mostly due to human nature – it is unlikely that these responses will be effective enough.|
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