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Digital detox and meditation: a new lifestyle in an increasingly connected world?

Futur en SeineAll summer long, the students of the CRI Harvard Summer School have explored how can science help us to create more sustainable cities and reinvent the city of the future. To enrich their reflexion, they attended the Futur en Seine festival, a 10 days international festival that showcases the latest digital innovations and questions the future of technology through conferences. In this article, 3 students explain how the conferences cycle “ Human and Technology” and the session dedicated to “Mindfulness and Digital Detox” in particular shed a different light on their project of a cultural initiative between the suburbs and the city of Paris. 

Positive computing

Rafael Calvo
Rafael A. Calvo, Professor at the University of Sydney and Director of the Positive Computing Lab.

One of the large themes of the conference that is particularly relevant to our project is the way in which technology could be integrated into our daily lives. During the session dedicated to “Mindfulness and Digital Detox,” five panelists presented their own perspectives on the balance between mindfulness and a digital lifestyle. Despite their different interests about technology, the panelists all agreed that technology is not being utilized to its full capacity as a social mediator. As Rafael Calvo, director of the Positive Computing Lab, pointed out, technology can often induce feelings of isolation and constant obligation of work, when technology could be designed to induce productivity, efficiency, connectedness, and wellbeing—in other words, what he called “positive computing.” Aimed at integrating technology into human psychology to maximize happiness, designs of future technologies should focus on capitalizing on technological improvements not only to make life easier, but to increase the quality of life.

When approaching the use of technology in our proposal for a cultural initiative between the suburbs and the city of Paris, our group must be aware of how we can use technology to bring people together, not isolate them. The goal will be to reinvent underused spaces through technology, introduce cultural opportunities, and increase the quality of life. However, as Calvo’s questions to the audience about the role of technology in daily life revealed, our group must strive to introduce and use technology in a positive, meaningful manner. Our mindfulness of how to use technology available to us will lead to mindfulness of the arts in the community and perhaps even the mindfulness between neighboring communities.

Integrating technologies in our daily lives 

Another important theme presented in the same session is the way in which technology could be integrated into daily lives. Koest van Mensoot posited the idea of a hierarchy of technological integration, from the bottom of the hierarchy where technology is only envisioned, to when it rises to become operational, applied, accepted, vital, invisible, and naturalized. His main argument, therefore, was that technology, once integrated so seamlessly into society that it becomes naturalized, would not need to be detoxified from users. The idea of integrating technology in a way that layers it as part of human nature is a powerful one. In considering possible improvements for the city of Paris, especially vis-à-vis cultural and social amelioration, we can easily apply concepts of natural and humane technology into our proposal. We can seek to create physical improvements of infrastructure that augment the psychological well-being of the citizens of Paris, and social and cultural events that integrate into Parisian lifestyle in a natural way. Keeping in mind these principles of technological advancement will allow us to create a proposal and effect an improvement that not only is effective but healthy.

Neil Harbisson, the first person in the world to wear an eyeborg.

One of the clearest examples of a digital technology implemented for the purpose of advancing daily life was the Implant Party on Saturday evening. Such technologies attempt to replicate the “natural” level of technological integration, such that it physically becomes part of its users. But it is, however, very controversial. As the inventor of the implants pointed out, implants can replace credit cards, keys, and numerical data that we generate, thus simplifying everyday life. Yet what seems ostensibly like a fantastic idea can in reality raise hidden questions and controversies. During the discussions about implants, an audience member raised the question of whether security features were in place to safeguard against the theft of personal data, but the question was largely circumvented with an equivocation that these devices contained no sensitive personal data. Later, however, they ironically remarked that GPS tracking might soon be installed. What is important to understand from the session is that our desire for technological improvements can often hinder our objective evaluation of the very technologies. In developing our proposals, therefore, we can draw from lessons learned from the Implant Party and ensure that any proposed plan will seek to create advancements that integrate naturally into society and that are not biased by preconceived objectives.

 Ju Hyun Lee, Christopher Li, Nicolas Senecaut




Written by Harvard Summer School

The CRI Harvard Paris Summer program was organized this summer by professors Rob Lue and Alain Viel from the department of Molecular biology at Harvard University, assisted by Adam Tanaka, a PhD student in Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The implementation of the program was made possible through the work of Tamara Milosevic from the CRI and Julien Barrere as a residential coordinator. This program was examining the exciting emerging field of smart cities, but taking another perspective: how can we be inspired by the biological systems (from evolution to metabolism inside our cells) and how can we use science and biology to reinvent the city of the future.

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