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Staying Human in the Digital Age: Q&A With Manoush Zomorodi

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Manoush-Zomorodi

The podcast host and author shares her top insights on maintaining a healthy relationship with technology.

Manoush Zomorodi is an author, reporter, and host and managing editor of WNYC’s, Note to Self, a podcast and radio segment about finding balance in the digital age. Each episode investigates the places where digital gets personal, explores how technology changes the human experience, and provides ways to experiment with better managing modern life.

Recently, Zomorodi spearheaded the week-long challenge, Bored and Brilliant, which sparked thousands of people to evaluate their relationship with their phones in an effort to encourage them to feel the creative and health benefits of boredom.

Here are some of Zomorodi’s top tips for staying human amid all the emails, pings, texts, and app notifications.

Experience Life | Your work on Note To Self focuses on investigating the human side of technology. What are some of the common themes you’ve noticed about how and why humans use technology and how humans are affected by technology?

Manoush Zomorodi | The benefits of new technology are usually very clear: You get around faster because of Uber, it’s easier to know what’s going on because of constant notifications, and you don’t have to go to the bank because you use the app.

But the downside to a lot of this technology is often nebulous. Is my driver making a decent wage? Am I spending too much time looking at my phone instead of thinking? Who is seeing and using my personal information?

Personal stories that explore that tension between our human desires (faster, smarter, better!) and broader societal concerns (privacy, jobs, empathy) are the most fascinating to me.  Just listen to our episode about the digital ad exec who is diagnosed with ADHD and suspects it’s because of his work habits!

EL | Based on your work and research, how concerned are you about the increasing use of technology, especially for education, marketing purposes, and surveillance? Is it making us less empathetic and compassionate?

MZ | I think this question nails what we need to ask ourselves every time we decide to replace paper with a screen or conversation with software: Is this device or service improving my life? Could I accomplish more by putting the device away and making eye contact or reading an old-school book without links to distract me? Purposeful use of technology is what my listeners say they are most interested in. Not just using the tech because it’s there or because everyone else is using it.

EL | What are some things people can do to protect their privacy and security online?

MZ |  There’s the basic stuff: Don’t use public wi-fi if you are using your credit card online, don’t use your password on public computers. But I like taking other small steps like switching off location access on my apps that don’t need to know where I am (like games, magazines, etc.).

Because, let’s face it, the only reason certain apps want to know your location is so they can use it to sell you more or sell your behavior data to another company. It’s my little way of taking back a little personal power in the digital age.

EL |  How often do you take breaks from using your smartphone and social media? What types of things do you do IRL that don’t involve digital technology?

MZ |  I really try to not look at screens for an hour before bedtime because, of course, blue light has been shown to mess with your circadian rhythms. If I do have to work, I have f.lux on my laptop — it’s a program that changes the color temperature of your screen to be easier on the eyes.

As for social media, I try to not feel obliged to take part and only do it when I’m in the mood. On vacation, I really try to be off it entirely. Nothing online can replace the taste of a delicious meal or sight of a gorgeous vista or a cuddle with my kids. And when I catch myself taking a picture of those things, I remind myself to put the phone away!

EL |  You cover how digital tools and media can provide inspiration and motivation as well as be tools for trolling, cyberbullying, and can cause disconnection. What are some of your best tips for finding balance in an increasingly digital world or what you call “digital inner peace“?

MZ |  I think it’s important to remember our gadgets are tools and not our best friends or, as one listener described his phone to me, “binkies.”  On the days when I find myself checking email over and over again or reading all the comments online, I try to carve out 20 minutes to do something with my hands — anything! Laundry, cooking, taking a walk, or watching a dog wait for its owner. It helps bring me back down to earth and, as Louis C.K. says, if the online stuff doesn’t make you feel good, just don’t do it.

You can follow Manoush Zomorodi at @manoushz and “Note To Self” at @NotetoSelf.

Heidi Wachter is the staff writer for Experience Life.

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