What is calm technology and why should you care?

Until recently, I’d never heard of calm technology. I’m the kind of person who forgets every security password, never remembers where I’ve left my phone charger, and who gets hysterical at the sight of the ‘bouncing beach ball of doom’ whenever it makes an unwelcome appearance on my laptop screen. Which is depressingly frequently.

What you’ll learn in this blog:

  • What is calm technology?
  • How might it change our use of tech?
  • How it's changing behaviour

So at first I thought calm technology might be some clever new type of gadgetry designed to reduce the frustrations of inept, impatient technology users such as me. Nice idea, but no. Or at least, not quite.

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Calm technology is a theory of design that says, and I’m oversimplifying things, that technology shouldn’t overwhelm us or bombard us from the centre of our attention, but should communicate with us in gentler ways from the periphery of our vision. 

Coined by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, who wrote a book in 1996 called The Coming Age of Calm Technology, it’s an idea that’s been compellingly taken further by Amber Case in her book Designing Calm Technology. For me, there’s something soothing about the very sound of the words. And that’s partly the point.

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“The acceleration of technology in the last 30+ years has left us feeling displaced and out of sync,” says clinical hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, Geraldine Joaquim.

“We feel more isolated and stressed, with more daily inputs than our ancestors had in their lifetime, but calm technology helps give headspace to reorientate; something that used to be a more natural process.”

It makes sense; I’m increasingly finding that I end the working day with a sense of total digital overwhelm. Not only does the constant barrage of information wear me out mentally, it also leaves me unsure of how to relax when I do finally manage to step away from all digital distractions. I struggle to watch TV without checking out what others are saying about the programme on Twitter, and I can’t watch a film without Googling that actor who looks familiar but whose name I can’t remember.

Something has to change, and calm technology is part of the answer. The Center for Humane Technology, an organisation that seeks to ‘reverse the digital attention crisis and realign technology with humanity’s best interests’ puts it like this:

“In the future, we will look back at today as a turning point towards humane design: when we moved away from technology that extracts attention and erodes society, towards technology that protects our minds and replenishes society.”

The organisation also offers lots of practical ways to embrace calm technology and reduce the amount of digital noise that clamours for our attention in our daily lives. From not using your phone as an alarm clock so you’re not tempted to start the day by scrolling absent-mindedly through social media feeds, to moving time-sucking apps from your phone’s home-screen so that you’re less likely to open them on autopilot, there are plenty of small steps we can all take to calm-ify our digital lives.

I’m going to start by taking the radical step of buying an alarm clock and making my bedroom a phone-free zone instead of charging my phone beside my bed and drifting off to sleep whilst scrolling through Instagram. It might just mean I start my day in the old-fashioned way of rolling over to greet my other half with a smile, instead of reaching for my phone to check what Donald Trump’s been tweeting, which invariably ends with a frown on my face. It’s a start, at least.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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