Leveraging Technology for Happiness
Duolingo is a fantastic language learning app. It is well designed, fun to use, and easy to do a quick lesson in a few minutes or less. As an added bonus it is free.
I like it because there are times during the day when I have a few minutes free—not enough time or an inappropriate location for a phone call, not the right energy level to respond to an email—that I would otherwise spend on unproductive activities like checking Facebook.
It got me thinking about apps, happiness, and technology.
Power Has No Morality
We can use any development of humans for good or for ill. The splitting of the atom can generate enough power to run hospitals and schools for years or to destroy an entire city. The internet liberates and democratizes information for people to improve their lives but also to build their own pipe bombs. The key difference is not the technology itself, but the attitude and psyche of the people who use it.
Think about our current technologies for a moment. There is an incredible power in them, and on the whole we exercise an incredible responsibility—at least compared to humanity’s past.
Not Stuck on the Past
Can you imagine what the world would be like if the weapons of today were in the hands of our conquering ancestors? The people who counted slaves as ⅗ of a human or not human at all? Those who killed people of different religions, or started wars with tribes who shared family members?
There is something that makes modern times different, that keeps us from physically annihilating our competition or challenging them to life or death duels. Most people are not aware of it because it is hard to see from the inside, it is difficult to talk about, and it can be misconstrued in a way that seems oppressive, arrogant, and judgemental.
Most people look at what is directly in front of their faces and forget to zoom out and see the context of the entire story of humanity. Doing so the difference can be seen more clearly. Although it is by no means universal, there is a worldwide moral and social development that is more inclusive of others and more tolerant of differences.
And of course our previous way of existing in the world—the hate towards our closest neighbors, the ego and ethnocentricism—still exist. That’s exactly what makes nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea so frightening. Yet they are the extreme minority, whereas in the past their point of view was commonplace.
Apps and Happiness
What does this have to do with apps, and happiness? All technology can make us happier, keep us neutral, or make us worse off, depending on how we use it. The key is to become aware of how we are using it and therefore make conscious decisions.
And while apps and mobile technology are not quite as powerful or destructive as the above technologies on a global scale, how we use them depends on the attitudes we hold.
What Do You Want in Life?
Ask yourself what you want in life. Goals? Desires? They can be large or small. With these in mind, consider the following questions.
Does technology currently hinder you? How might it?
Does technology currently help you? How can it?
Now ask yourself—is there an app for that?
You might be surprised by the results. You can learn almost anything—from coding to astronomy to literature, on specific apps and on aggregates like TED talks and Khan Academy. You can record music and jam via bluetooth using Garageband or Figure. If you want to meet people in real life instead of cyberspace, you can use the Meetup app.
The Takeaway: Becoming More Conscious
Of course most people know this, so there are two main takeaway points to this article:
1) Even though you know that apps are awesome, you might not be maximizing the potential of new technologies and mobile apps in certain areas of your life. New things are coming out everyday.
2) There are probably places in your life where you are using technology unconsciously. By becoming more conscious of the effects it has on you—positive, neutral, and negative—you can increase the positive and get rid of the negative in service of whatever you want, including happiness.