Can We Have Compassionate Tech?

Aden Van Noppen, founder of compassionate tech company Mobius, answers our questions about how technology hijacks attention and how we can foster a healthier relationship with our screens.

Adobe Stock/Wayhome Studio

Q: What motivated you to focus on technology that’s used for good and social well-being?

A: When the 2016 election happened and it was clear how much technology was dividing our country, I decided to focus on the intersection of my work with tech for social good and my firsthand understanding of going on meditation retreat and putting aside technology. The experience of being with myself, being present with what is around me, and tasting that deliciousness, offers a contrast to what it’s like to constantly be plugged in.

On the last day of a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, when people were asking questions about integrating back into the world, a primary concern people had was, “I’m terrified of my phone, and I’m terrified of my email, and I’m terrified of these technologies that bring me out of presence.”

Q: What are some ways tech and social media interrupt our presence?

A: At every level, employees at these companies are being rewarded for doing whatever they can to keep us on the products, keep us engaged with the screen. Another piece of it is the way that our brains work and that what we get hooked on can be things that are really unhealthy for us. In order to value our well-being over the fastest route to a profit, these companies need to also measure and incentivize design choices that actually prioritize our well-being, even if that means unplugging.

Q: Mobius is a company committed to helping create a world where technology fosters liberation and thriving for all. What does that look like?

A: What we found is that there is a lot of good work happening in the big tech companies, but it’s like swimming upstream, so we shifted to focusing on people who are creating new solutions. We started to place more of our focus around supporting people who have been most marginalized by the existing tech sector. People who often have the knowledge and wisdom around thriving don’t necessarily see a seat at the table for themselves.

Q: What can we do as consumers to support a more healthy tech landscape?

A: Technology policy is a really important piece of that puzzle. People can help push different policies forward by writing to their representatives.

A lot of people also don’t know that most of these companies have a well-being or responsible innovation team. Working on these teams is a good way to get involved.

There are also more and more alternative platforms for us to be on, whether it’s social media platforms or video call platforms that are really built with ethics at the center. It takes some research to figure out which those are, but they need our support. Marco Polo is a great one for keeping in touch with loved ones, and Whereby is another option for video conferencing.

Q: What can we do as individuals to cultivate healthier relationships with our tech and social media?

A: So much of it is taking a moment to breathe. The impulse to check my phone is a red flag for me in terms of my mindfulness practice. I ask myself, “What am I trying to avoid?” “What am I not looking at?” Our use of technology in and of itself can become a mindfulness practice, and that can be really, really powerful.

One other practice that I have started doing before opening my computer is taking a moment to do a brief centering practice, like a body scan. Sometimes it’s just two breaths, but honestly, it’s been really transformative to just take that moment.


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