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Digital revolution for happiness

Our phones have been dubbed ‘devices of mass distraction’ – blamed for everything from low self-esteem in teenagers to burnout in adults. But our gadgets are neutral and we have free will, Margaret Morris tells Ali Roff

Q+A

Margaret Morris is a psychologist, app creator and author of ‘Left To Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology To Reclaim Our Relationships, Health, And Focus’ (MIT Press, £20). She believes that instead of rejecting technology, we can use it more consciously and creatively to foster our connections.

Q What are the usual traps we fall into with modern technology?

There is a feeling that we have to use technology as it was intended, or as it was designed to be used. We actually have a choice, and devices can open up our options for communication, as well as how we take care of ourselves. One example is a smart light. A number of people I interviewed used lights to open conversations in which words had previously failed. I spoke to a woman who was more of an introvert than her partner, and who sees their home as a private retreat – whereas he loves spontaneous interaction and would often arrive home with unexpected guests. At one point, after repeated visits, she used the smart light at home remotely from her office to signal – with a red light: ‘This isn’t good for me.’ After doing that twice, he got the hint, and it allowed them to start a dialogue about the problem.

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