Mindful tech – looking for new ways to engage with tech, work and nature

2019 is still new enough to adopt a more mindful approach to life and work. At an MmIT meeting, four speakers shared their thoughts about creating a healthy relationship with tech.

Have you resolved to find new ways to manage or ‘take control’ of the technology in your life? Have you set out on a journey to explore and pursue a more mindful attitude to life and work?  

For its January 2019 meeting (incorporating the AGM), the MmIT committee invited four speakers to explore the concept of mindful tech (#MindfulTech19). Their contributions ranged from practical tips and tools that can help combat digital distraction, deep questions about digital identity and personal biases and the important role of nature in helping us map and understand the tech landscapes that surround us.

David White, who originated the concept of digital residents and visitors, spoke about what makes humans uncomfortable with technology. The concept of being ‘reduced’ to a mathematical model can be very disquieting – even more so when the algorithm seems to ‘get it right’. Digital identity is something we are always travelling towards – a horizon rather than a location. He called on us all to acknowledge how easy it is to accept tailored ‘truth’ unquestioningly – even for information professionals! Perhaps it is more valuable to question why you agree with something than to find content that bolsters your world view. 

Sue Thomas, author of Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace and Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age  queried the concept that we need to ‘overpower’ or change our attitudes to tech. She believes that it’s not less tech that we need but simply more nature. Connecting to nature can help us focus on the relative inconsequentiality of human life and endeavours – and remind us of our small place in the universe.

There is so much research showing just how beneficial engagement with nature can be for humans. Even VR nature can be beneficial. Farmville for example allows players to engage with and connect with nature, when they may not have access to their own gardens. Nature lends us many metaphors and models for the digital world, from streams to surfing, from clouds to bugs.

Her recommendation is that we allow ourselves a daily dose of nature and that we audit our current interactions with nature. Seek a tech/nature balance.

Mindfulness and balance

Anthony Groves shared his own story about why he brought mindfulness practices into his own life and recommended books and tools that have helped support his practice. Headspace provides daily mindfulness practice while an audience member recommended a similar - but free - app Smiling Mind.

Less tech/tech for good

Anthony uses DreamLab, an app that allows him to ‘donate’ his phone’s power overnight to participate in super-computer-driven research projects.

There are a number of apps available that will enable you to lock devices (e.g. Offtime). But before you sign up to one of these, how about using an app that can measure exactly how often you are distracted by your phone.

Thinking and working differently

Andy Tattersall recommends we follow Mark Twain’s advice of eating a live frog first thing in the morning. This will remind us to get on with our most daunting tasks first. Using a read later tool allows users to ‘stockpile’ reading rather than being distracted by clicking on links.

How about having a walking meeting – outside in nature? Or simply leaving your phone at home? Or finding a quiet place to retreat to? And if all else fails, how about installing PAVLOK, an app that will give you a quick electric shock when you fall into bad habits?!

Further to Sue's presentation, I sought out some nature soundscapes on SoundCloud and reflected on the meeting while listening to a woodland/thunderstorm scene from Estonia. I can highly recommend a virtual dip into a natural landscape. It made me smile. 

MmIT is a Special Interest Group of Cilip, the UK’s library and information association. A report on the meeting, along with links to presentations, will be made available on the MmIT blog https://mmitblog.wordpress.com/