Our CEO Kate explains the greater vision of VINAYA, and our in-house psychologist Leah explores the digital problem with the modern human condition. 

Walk into any public place, and you’ll find at least one person absorbed by their phone while someone is trying to talk to them. Whether it’s that friend going through another turbulent breakup, the work emails that are just too important to ignore, or simply an absent-minded habit of scrolling through Instagram, we’ve all been that person at one point or another. Even when we make the conscious effort to ignore the notifications, every buzz or lit up screen has a way of snapping our attention back to the digital sphere. It’s easy to feel as if we’ve become slaves to our digital devices and mindless “app administrators”, rather than the ones who are in control.

As much as we can lament the breakdown of face-to-face relationships and blame our incessantly interrupting smartphones, we as humans are ultimately responsible for our own behaviour. It is true that  technology has shaped our society at an unprecedented rate.  However, the truth is that technology has a human problem, rather than the other way around.

The apps and software we use everyday have been designed to keep us hooked, grounded in psychological research on engagement and usage optimisation. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to consciously choose to what extent we want to engage or give our attention.

Now, I’m not advocating for everyone to ditch their phones and run away to the nearest forest to rid their lives of technology. Technology can be incredibly useful and powerful in helping us achieve more with less time, in making our lives easier and better– when we use it responsibly and mindfully. Perhaps the time is ripe to get more creative in our expectations of technology and not just settle for what we’re offered.

The first step is to take more responsibility over how we use and give attention to our devices every day. If a product does not fit in with who we want to be, or how we want to live, we need to abandon it or reform it so that technological progress doesn’t determine what we become.

"Perhaps the time is ripe to get more creative in our expectations of technology and not just settle for what we’re offered."

There is real scope for exciting innovation and for the creation of tools that beautifully and seamlessly enhance our lives. However, the lazier we become in reacting to the evolution of digital devices and services, the more we will suffer the consequences, now and in generations to come.

Not so coincidentally, the internet era and age of the smartphone has coincided with an era of increased mindfulness in the Western world.

One of the capacities enhanced by mindful meditation practice is metacognition, referring to our ability to take an external perspective to ourselves and assess our own cognitions. If the ability for metacognition is truly on the rise, let’s be hopeful that we can foster more introspection and more actively investigate the role digital devices play in our lives and in the broader world. From there, we can more consciously start to determine how we want technology to evolve.

In many senses, it’s all about balance. We can’t really go cold-turkey with digital devices– it’s not that we’re about to go back to planning our weeks in paper diaries– but we can develop more balanced practices with our digital devices by setting daily boundaries.

Many people hate the notion of work-life balance, for example, as work has become such a large and significant part of ‘always on’ modern life. We’ve embraced the fact that technology has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, and therefore broken down the boundaries between work and personal life.

Work-life balance can in many respects seem like an old-fashioned idea. However, setting boundaries around work could simply imply making more effort to stay present in “single tasking” and giving our minds enough space to use our time more wisely through practicing mindfulness. Digital devices are often responsible for uncontrollably and compulsively upsetting this balance and breaching these boundaries. We must not forget that we have the power to decide how we use these tools and to consciously adapt them to our individual purpose.

Creating a useful tool is one thing, and promoting the expression of our humanity is another, but creating technology that is both instrumental and humanising should be the ultimate aim. Considering both the usefulness and the meaningfulness of a product will help us create technology that does not trample on our humanity but instead augments it and allows us to live in exciting and fulfilling ways.

This post was written by Leah Palmer, a member of the VINAYA LAB specialising in psychology. She's interested in exploring how psychological research and technology can be integrated to promote wellbeing. She enjoys reading, cooking, and travel.