The Importance of Balancing Our Tech Life

March 19, 2015

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a state of constant consumption and perpetual amusement. There is always one more video to watch, one more clickbait listicle to read, and one more email to send. It can be downright exhausting—yet I continue.

I intuitively sense that there is something missing; some aspect of our current tech life that keeps us peppy yet trite, image-rich yet imagination poor, hyper-connected yet left with a lingering sense of alienation.

There’s got to be a better way.

We may love our tech, but we often wonder if it’s like an unhealthy relationship where we’ve lost ourselves in the process. We’re not giving up on tech, but feel something is awry—we know it. It’s an intuition that we are in need of a reset. While every aspect of life involves a tradeoff, we get the sense that there are some essential aspects of life we don’t want to give up.

We want our kids to embrace technology, but also have a meaningful existence. That’s why we worry when they are glued to iPhones instead of eyeballs and feel a sense of sorrow if they are staring at screens instead of sunsets. That’s why we get concerned when they are caught up in the crowd online instead of lost in the moment.

We want our kids to not only have a life that is recorded, but one that is truly felt. That requires carving out space to think, to feel, and to be. Searching our noggin’, not just Google.

We want to balance our tech life, and that of our kids. It’s not easy.

I like to joke that tech balance is a high-low issue. On the low-end, it is about productivity. That’s why the business world gravitates towards digital diets and unplugging. It’s a natural extension of the self-betterment movement. But on the high-end, tech balance is truly one of the most important issues facing society. At stake seems to be the very heart of our unique human experience.

But where does the human experience come from? It comes from thinking. As Descartes famously uttered: "I think therefore I am."

Despite the passage of time, his statement is highly relevant for the Internet Age. As I putter along on this great big earth, the technology in my hands and in my house supplies me with a never-ending stream info and entertainment. It doesn’t stop. I’ve got a thousand and once gadgets and apps that want to think for me, and sources of infotainment that want to gobble up any leftover space where thoughts might grow. Gobble, gobble.

What does that mean for us? If the very act of thinking is what gives credence to our existence, what happens when we think less? Do we somehow become less?

The less I think, the less I feel human.

Every quiet moment that was once opportune space to process and conceive has slowly given way to more consumption. Instead of letting our brain wonder and wander, it is being held on a proverbial leash where it is constantly barking out reflexive statements. We seem to have put so much energy on expanding our breadth in life, but ignored its depth.

But at our core, we desire a life lived deeply.

It’s a mushy qualitative feeling in a world that is increasingly data-obsessed. It can be a struggle to verbalize.

I faced this very struggle trying to write a TEDx on the topic in the summer of 2013. The emerging topics of digital detoxes, diets, distraction-blocking tools, Lumosity brain training, assessment tools, and unplugging all seemed aimed at the same issue: improving our cognitive skills and ability to live our life deeply. What it lacked was a visual that tied it together.

We want to incorporate tech in our life, and that of our kids, in a way that maximizes the human experience.

A mental food plate.

This simple visualization can serve as a springboard for tech balance. Similar to the food plate, and the food pyramid before it, it makes it easy to visually see the parts that make up the whole. A complete life requires reflection, but it is something we do if only we had the time. The mental food plate elevates it an essential status.

I understand that each day I should be having grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables. But I also think about the mental food plate, which reminds me to assess my thinking, be mindful in my info consumption, carve out time to reflect, and work my mental muscles. It helps me.

We often wonder if the Internet is making us smarter or dumber. My answer is that it has the ability to make us smarter—if correctly harnessed. As the cliché goes: we are what we eat. The same goes for our digital consumption.

We want to incorporate tech in our life, and that of our kids, in a way that maximizes the human experience. We want them to have critical thinking to solve problems, creativity so they can innovate, and adequate space to feel on a deep level.

We want them to think.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

David Ryan Polgar

David Ryan Polgar is a pioneering tech ethicist, Responsible Tech advocate, and expert on ways to improve social media and our information ecosystem, along with increasing the ethical considerations regarding emerging technologies. He specializes in uniting a diverse range of stakeholders in order to tackle complex tech & society issues, cultivating conducive environments for forward progress.

David is the founder of All Tech Is Human, an organization committed to connecting and expanding the Responsible Tech ecosystem; making it more diverse, multidisciplinary, and aligned with the public interest. As the leader of All Tech Is Human, he has created a unique grassroots-meets-traditional-power-structure model that is uniting thousands of individuals across the globe to co-create a better tech future.

In March 2020, David became a member of TikTok’s Content Advisory Council, providing expertise around the delicate and difficult challenges facing social media platforms to expand expression while limiting harm. He appears in the upcoming documentary, TikTok, Boom. David is an expert advisor for the World Economic Forum's Global Coalition for Digital Safety.

An international speaker with rare insight into building a better tech future, David has been on stage at Harvard Business School, Princeton University, Notre Dame, The School of the New York Times, TechChill (Latvia), The Next Web (Netherlands), FutureNow (Slovakia), Infoshare (Poland), the Future Health Summit (Ireland), NATO, and many more. His commentary has appeared on CBS This Morning, TODAY show, BBC World News, MSNBC, Fast Company, The Guardian, SiriusXM, Associated Press, LA Times, USA Today, and more.

David is a monthly expert contributor to Built In (writing about the Responsible Tech movement), and an advisory board member for the Technology and Adolescent Mental Wellness (TAM) program, and a participant in multiple working groups focused on improving tech and aligning it with our values.The main throughline throughout David’s work is that we need a collaborative, multi-stakeholder, and multidisciplinary approach in order to build a tech future that is aligned with the public interest.