How tech stole your happiness

Abhijit Bhaduri | Updated on September 16, 2018

Title: Your Happiness was Hacked Authors: Vivek Wadhwa & Alex Salkever Publisher: Penguin Price: ₹599

This book is a timely reminder to take back control of both your health and mental well-being

Six years ago, Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit group were told by almost half the teens (49 per cent, to be precise) that their favourite way to communicate was to talk to each other. Texting was a distant second choice. Social networking was preferred by only 7 per cent of the respondents. Forty-one per cent of the teens had smartphones in 2012.

This year only a third of the 1,000 teens surveyed in March and April said their favourite way to talk to friends is face-to-face. Six years back the teens had chosen face-to-face communication because it was “more fun and that they can understand what people really mean better in person.” Eighty-nine per cent of them have smartphones now.

You can run but you can’t hide

Your Happiness was Hacked by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever is a look at the dark side of technology. As we get more connected, a handful of companies start running more and more of our lives through their ever-improving algorithms.

The algorithms remove our choices. They nudge us to buy more by telling us that the neighbours have shopped for more. When we post a photo on social media, we count the number of “likes” and comments it has generated.

We keep going back to the post to check if the post has had more comments. We stay glued to the smartphones. I am speaking of the parents — not just the teens.

Technology is all about instant gratification. You do not have to wait for a week to watch the next episode of a serial. The entire season is uploaded and as soon as the episode ends, there is a five second window to stop watching.

Else, the next episode starts playing right away. The result is binge watching and reaching the office being sleep deprived. People watch movies while they wait for traffic lights to change. The world’s best psychologists design the apps that are guaranteed to get you addicted. The algorithms control how you work, play, lead your life and even find love. They take away your choice. The tech companies can now shape how we eat, pray and even love.

Health and happiness

The authors say that technology addiction has had two major impacts – they impact our health and happiness. In July 2018, the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a link between heavy media usage and the rise of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among teens. Google search activities have reduced our ability to read deeply and encouraged skimming. Most publishers have started suggesting how much time you need to budget for reading the article. Anything marked more than 2-3 minutes gets less readers.

London’s black cab drivers need to pass what many consider the toughest test in the world. It is called The Knowledge. You will need to have a thorough knowledge of the six-mile radius of Charing Cross. You have to know all the streets, housing estates; parks and open spaces; government offices and departments; financial centres; diplomatic premises; town halls; registry offices; hospitals; places of worship; sports stadiums; airline offices; stations; hotels; clubs; theatres; museums; art galleries; schools and colleges; museums… Anywhere, a passenger may want to be taken. That area contains 25,000 streets. When tested before and after their preparation for this test, their posterior hippocampus — that part of the brain associated with spatial memory showed an increase. Thanks to Google maps, that part of the brain has shown to be shrinking.

Impact on work

The ease with which we can invite people to meetings has made collaboration a thing to dread. Not showing up for a meeting is seen as rude or not being important enough. Yet, most people sit through meetings, conferences and training programs, responding to an endless stream of emails and chats. Several employers also expect the employees to be evangelists for the employer brand and post on social media. The leaderboards and gaming solutions keep telling you where you stand vis-a-vis others.

“Deep work” is becoming harder to do. People have to keep track of notifications and emails from colleagues, bosses, customers and of course, their friends and loved ones. The “good morning” messages on WhatsApp groups with friends, colleagues, college friends, neighbours, hobby groups for self and the children is taking a heavy toll.

Wake up, it is time to sleep

Both the authors confess to earning their living by evangelising technology while living in the tech hub of the world — Silicon Valley. Yet, they feel compelled to write this book. They talk about the bright side of technology. How it has impacted everything from how we work to how we find love online. But there is a parallel movement growing that says, wait, it is time to stop.

Children are spending 50 per cent less time playing outdoors than their parents. The children spend less time playing with other children and more time with screens. The result is inactivity resulting in a rise in Type 2 Diabetes among children, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The book is a wake-up call. Maybe it is a reminder to get some sleep. Most adults need 6-7 hours of sleep to stay healthy. This book is a good reminder to take back control of your health and happiness.

When you are doing deep work, remember that it takes you 23 minutes to get back to the peak state of focus before you were interrupted. Now ask how many times an hour you get interrupted at work. If nothing else, take time to read the full book. I certainly did and found it was worth it.

The reviewer is an author and leadership development expert

Published on September 16, 2018

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