Unplug & Recharge//

Tech Roundup: A Periodic Update on our Ever-Changing Relationship with Technology.

Today: Ditching Instagram, screens and loneliness at work, phones in the theater, and the “devil” in our phones.

Chee Siong Teh / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Chee Siong Teh / EyeEm/ Getty Images

• One of the most fascinating pieces of news was the release of a study called “Global Work Connectivity” by the HR advisory firm Future Workplace. What they found was that we now spend half our time at work communicating through screens instead of face-to-face, with the result that more and more of us report feeling lonely. And loneliness, as we’re finding out, is incredibly bad for our health, with an earlier study finding that the health risk of loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

• As an avid theater-goer, I loved this New York Times interview with comedian and performer Mike Birbiglia about how he deals with people using their phones in his one man Broadway show, “The New One” (which I just saw and loved!!). If the interruption is innocuous, he ignores it, but when it’s more than that, he acknowledges it and brings it into the show. “I basically try to bring people into my head as it’s happening,” he says, “which is to say: ‘O.K. guys, we all know this inappropriate thing has happened. We’re all witness to it. We’re not going to skewer the person because that’s not in the spirit of theater, or kindness, but we’re going to acknowledge it so that it doesn’t ruin the shared experience we’re all attempting to achieve together.’”

• “The time has come for me to delete my Instagram.” Those were the words Bailey Richardson wrote to her followers in late September. But this wasn’t just any person calling it a day on her account, it was one of Instagram’s original 13 employees. Her story is a stark example of how our conversation about technology and social media has changed. “It feels like we’re all addicted to a drug that doesn’t get us high anymore,” she said about her decision to leave.

• Speaking of Instagram, former CEO Kevin Systrom, who left the company in September, gave an interview to The Information in which he talked about the incentives social media companies have to increase revenue by sending more and more notifications and otherwise demanding users’ attention. “Generally, I think that’s unhealthy,” he said.

• And many more of us are joining in the skepticism about social media, as this survey from Axios and Survey Monkey shows. In November of 2017, in response to the question of whether social media does more to help or hurt democracy and free speech, 53 percent of adults said help, 43 percent said hurt. A year later, the numbers have reversed, with 57 percent saying hurt and only 40 percent saying help. The conclusion from Axios: “Americans are more aware than ever before about the dark side of technologies, which should worry Silicon Valley.”

• And those who are most wary about the dangers of technology? Those who are making it. In The New York Times, Nellie Bowles writes about how a consensus seems to have emerged in Silicon Valley that “the benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high.” Or, as one former Facebooker put it even more starkly, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

• And finally, an interview with Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. There was a time when technology was seen as a panacea for most of our biggest problems. But the last few years have shown us the limits – and dangers – of that idea. Pichai reflects the newer view that technology’s role is to augment our humanity. “Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems,” he said. “It was always naïve to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems.” And that’s what the best technology does -- give us time and space to nurture our human qualities of creativity, intuition and wisdom, which really will solve those problems.

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