Buoyed by experiential optimism, I want to highlight the ways digital technology can benefit well-being, and strengthen our connection to the natural world.
I’m writing again, having written little for five years. Anything substantial that I did write was most likely project documentation. I chose to keep relatively quiet, focusing on my job and my private life. I sidelined side projects, kept clear of commitments, and abandoned my blog. Perhaps the only truly significant text I wrote was my wedding speech.
Early this Summer, Geri and I spent a fortnight in the remote Scottish Highlands. Long planned, the trip held plenty of meaning for me, but it was also well-timed: it marked the end of five years as a full-time partner at product studio Fictive Kin. Moments of clarity came at me fast these last few years, often following periods of lassitude and generalised anxiety. I’m wiser now, with almost twenty years experience designing and building digital products, and I better understand how my values should inform the work I do. I’ve learned many lessons, my priorities have reshuffled, and I’m motivated to concentrate on things that matter to me.
Broadly, I feel compelled to look closely at the ways digital technology affects our mental and physical health, and seek positives. The trend right now is to wallow in pessimism, to presage a digital nightmare. Of course, there’s a problem with information addiction, and without a doubt, major companies are hijacking our attention for their gain. We’re instructed to reclaim our lives, to turn off all notifications, and charge devices in another room while we sleep. I’m not looking to regurgitate any of that because it’s all obvious. This technology is ineradicable, so perhaps we need a more pragmatic and optimistic approach, where we each reconsider the purpose of our own devices and the role they might play in improving our lives.
As I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors, I’ve sometimes found my iPhone to be a generous partner, perhaps leading me to an incredible experience, helping me identify what I’m seeing, or inviting me to submit observations to data banks. Such moments bring great joy or surprise and have encouraged me to seek a positive perspective on the role technology plays in both protecting nature and strengthening our connection to it.
If I have anything close to a mission statement, it’s this: I’m exploring the ways digital technology can have a beneficial impact on our happiness and well-being. I’m particularly interested in the ways digital products encourage us to go outside, where they make nature more accessible, and how they can help broaden our knowledge of the world around us.
I’m excited because this feels fresh, and my heart is in it. I know I’m richer for looking more closely, and more than ever I need to see how things are connecting. I’d like to find the points where these networks touch the world that surrounds me. I’m fascinated by the ways nature informs technology, and the ways technology supports nature. I need to understand how digital consumption affects our mental health, and what we can do to ensure there’s a positive influence.
I’m also interested in pace and patience: how moving more slowly can produce better results professionally and personally. I’m concerned about this culture of #hustle, and the dangers of celebrating and rewarding workaholism at the expense of a balanced, healthy life. I’ll likely deal with that as a separate project away from my primary research, or perhaps they’ll intersect.
So I’m writing again. Much will appear here on Medium, and on my soon-to-be-rebuilt website (where I intend to blog again on a variety of topics). Some projects will be experiments, and may or may not come to anything meaningful. Some of what I write will simply be cathartic: a stream of consciousness perhaps, a means to just get stuff out of my head. Some things are better out than in, as we say around here.
"Our national parks appealed to me the way Disneyland appealed to other kids."
My next post will colour in some background, revisiting my early connections to landscape and the natural world. From there I’ll consider the importance of reconnecting our senses to nature alongside our need for digital technology. There’ll be thoughts on calm tech, thoughtful design, migration data, recognition tools, practical ways to use digital tech outdoors, and plenty of autobiographical stories. After a long break from presenting, I’ll hopefully be sharing much of what I discover at events next year and beyond.
I admit that I don’t always know where I’m going, but at least I’m going somewhere. If you’d be kind enough to come with me on this particular meandering journey, I’d be delighted.