Q&A  | 

Digital wellbeing with Joan Amorós

“Mobile phones may already be changing the appearance of our skull and fingers."

Tags: 'Bienestar Digital' 'Ética tecnológica' 'Joan Amorós' 'Mobile Free Life' 'Transición Digital Sostenible'

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Joan Amorós is a psychologist, coach, founder and director of www.mobilefreelife.com and www.desconnexions.com. With a degree in psychology from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a Master in Executive and Personal Coaching from the Pompeu Fabra University, Amorós' work focuses on promoting a healthy use of technology by assisting organizations, parents and educators, among others.

Can you give us an overview of your work?

I’m the director of Mobile Free Life. Our job is to promote a Sustainable Digital Transition, accompanying people and teams in pursuing their digital well-being. For this, we generate and provide information as well as the bases to establish a balanced relationship with mobile technology. 

What do we understand by Sustainable Digital Transition?

We are living a revolution, the most important concentration of change in history. This era of information, the Internet, the digital world, has greatly impacted how we see, live and make decisions in all areas of society. We’ve gone from having to go to the bank for someone to update our account to being able to buy products from the other side of the world with one “click”. 

Our main concern is that this transition is sustainable from a human point of view, which means that the decisions we make today to meet our needs do not sacrifice the possibility of future generations to meet theirs. 

That is why we must focus on what we sacrifice and make the most out of the mobile technology without forgetting what life is really all about. 

In the attention economy, where's the limit between trying to grab our attention and manipulating our behavior?

There is no border between capturing attention and manipulating behavior. It is a border as unknown as it is accepted. I do not know anyone who reads all the terms and conditions of cookies and privacy of the websites they enter, and these determine the kind of content that will hook us and grab our attention. We are unconsciously delighted by the endless down page scroll, the non-requested video previews, with being able to give and receive likes and with everything being free without having to do anything.

But this is not for free, we pay with our data and our attention. The implicit manipulation is twofold: on the time we are connected and on the content we are consuming.

Which are the main consequences of this attention-grabbing competition?

They are mainly social, health and well-being related.

The infinity of stimuli and rewards that technology offers has made us feel the need to check our phones without them even ringing or vibrating. In fact, many people already have notifications permanently silenced and that has not stopped the excessive use that we make of it. It is already having a morphological impact [NdE: A morphological adaptation? The prevalence of enlarged external occipital protuberance in young adults] and has devastated sleep cycles, not to mention its ophthalmological impact. All this is happening to all adults, not to mention the extent in which it can impact our children and teenagers.

The doses of reward and micro-disappointment that the mobile gives us through our dopamine system, the number of times we regret having spent too much time with it or having seen or shared certain content, all impact greatly in our well-being.

Which are the most addictive apps, and why?

Social media, video games, pornography, online shopping or gambling. Dopamine is involved in all of them. It is a neurotransmitter related to motivation, pleasure and emotion. It is one of the foundations of our reward system, and in reality the torrent of dopamine (emotion, expectation of reward) comes before the stimulus itself. It is more about the expectation of pleasure than the stimulus itself; expecting surprise, excitement, seduction, challenge is what really gets us hooked on mobiles. What keeps us there is the idea that all this is yet to come, a feeling that never ends. And in applications or websites with a lot of content it can easily end in cases of addiction.

We speak of addiction only in cases that are clearly pathological, but a large number of people abuse the mobile phone.

E.O. Wilson, the father of sociobiology, said that the problem of humanity is that we have “paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, god-like technology”. Are we emotionally ready to manage all the technology at our disposal?

Emotion, although it is a very primitive system, is something of the most natural. We are prepared to survive, adapt and evolve. And we have done so in such a way that we can fall in love, transfer our hatred or channel our sadness by phone (or on the Internet).

But some institutions can indeed be considered medieval, the same ones that must legislate and regulate the wave of changes that technology brings. You must protect people (health, rights, well-being …) and society so that they do not give up their values, identity, culture and traditions just by losing control over a device.

What can we do as to mitigate the harm?

Actually, a lot of damage has already been done. People walk and drive with their smartphones in their hands. We change and cancel planes instantly, in a message, people ignore each other even if they are the only people in the same room.

The key is education. If we all have the necessary information about the risks, dangers and disclaimers that involve an excessive use of the mobile, we will be able to control it a little. The mobile phone will not and does not have to disappear, but we need to make small changes: turn it off when we get home or go to sleep, not allowing it at meals or meetings, set time or use limits…