Achieving Balance In A Digital Age: How To Use Technology Wisely

14 July 2017

As Head of Labs at TMW Unlimited, Marc Curtis's job is to help businesses understand the challenges of the future and recommend clever solutions proffered by the evolving technology at our disposal. Marc's attitude towards technology, however, is pragmatic, having discovered an interesting conflict between the exciting world of artificial intelligence, smart city tech and VR (to name but a few trends) and that simple human need to connect to others without our noses stuck in our smartphones.

So how can we still enjoy all this fantastic technology, while keeping our heads about the whole thing? Read on to find out how Marc advises that we incorporate tech into our lives, while still retaining a level of balance:


There is a tension that exists between the human desire to drive innovation  through technological advance  and the human need for a basic connection to the world around them.

Historically, one has been driven by the other. Technology has enabled human beings to make time away from the simple demands of survival. The rise of agriculture meant that humanity could grow more food than it actually needed, thus enabling the development of science, finance and the concept of leisure time. The industrial revolution was the next big shift. Fewer people were engaged in the production of the things humanity needed, creating more time and resource to spend on scientific discovery, education, and entertainment.

"I am not anti-technology... My attitude to technology is pragmatic."

The age of computing, the internet and more recently AI has taken us to a tipping point. Innovation continues to solve the problems humanity faces, but in addition, it is also creating a new problem, one of abstraction. Where we used to look to technology to enable us to spend more time honing and enjoying our basic instinctual needs - socialisation, food, sense of self-worth - technology is now providing us with replacements for these things.

Communication technology has moved beyond simply connecting people and has begun to create barriers. Experiencing something as simple as a loaf of bread can now be achieved by looking at @memoirsofabaker  on Instagram. Technology continues to offer the promise of more time, more experience, more connectivity and yet manages to provide only the appearance of these things. Without being conscious about how we’ve adopted the habits of technology, we’ve fallen into the trap of confusing the appearance of experience with the visceral actuality of it. It’s the equivalent of fast food. You get that hit of instant gratification with none of the nutritional value of a well-prepared meal.

I am not anti-technology. I am passionate in my belief that technical innovation holds the key to making life better for many people. My job at TMW Unlimited is to eulogise about the cultural change required for big organisations to embrace innovative practices.

Marc Curtis is Head of Labs at TMW Limited

Companies need to understand that today’s commercial landscape is evolving at an ever increasing pace. Where once the cycle of innovation might have taken twenty years, we now see the same levels of disruption occurring over the next five. This exponential technological change is something most large businesses completely fail to appreciate, but it is something that many startups rely on. Startups are unfettered by the constraints of big business - bureaucracy, politics and even the notion of what’s possible.

My attitude to technology is pragmatic. We need to understand when it’s appropriate to embrace a new way of working or living, and when to say enough is enough. I often use the analogy of a carpenter with a saw in his hand. The carpenter will carry the saw for as long as she needs to cut wood. Once she’s completed that task, she puts the saw away. If our carpenter went out for dinner with her husband, I’d imagine it would be a very odd evening if she kept placing the saw on the table and looking at it.

The same can be true for technology. If we don’t need our phone in our hand, we can put it away. We can even leave it behind. Imagine that!

"Smartphones are not evil. They are tools."

The tension that exists between the fantastic, exciting world of technological innovation and the more analogue human needs is evident in my own life.

By day, my job is to help our clients understand the challenges their businesses will be facing in the coming years. The challenges vary from client to client, and some are more alive to the opportunities than others. The conversations I have with Sony and Canon, for example, will be of a different nature to those I am having with Unilever and Morrisons.

I am expected to have evidence-based views on everything from artificial intelligence to smart city tech and from VR to chat bots. Often I look to my experience of working with startups to help inform the kind of solutions I recommend to our clients.

Being asked to speak on the subject of innovation and more specifically how big organisations can get better at it, has helped me develop a clear set of actions that can be applied to their everyday businesses. As new technologies and working practices are created, I make sure that the talks I am delivering include all the latest thinking.

By contrast, my years of working in the world of futurology and innovation have led me to seek more analogue experiences in my life away from work.

With my wife, I founded Living Unplugged ; a site dedicated to providing the tools people need to unlock a more intentional and therefore more satisfying way of living.

It is our contention that we have become passive in our own sense of happiness or wholeness because we rely on technology to supply our sense of wonder or accomplishment, instead we are experiencing life vicariously through the lens of someone else’s curated social media feed.

As I’ve said, this isn’t about bashing social media, or technology for that matter, technology is not bad. Smartphones are not evil. They are tools.

"There's a tension between the exciting world of technological innovation and the more analogue human needs"

If our attention shifts from the external to our own internal needs what are the instinctual tools we need to feel more comfortable in the lives we lead? Nourishment, movement, relationships, a focus perhaps? Today these instinctual needs of food, exercise, focusing attention have become chores or punishments because they take us away from the things we think we need, the things we think give us pleasure – but we know they don’t; at best they are distractions and at worst they are pacifiers.

When we see changes in habit and lifestyle as sacrifices we prevent ourselves from recognising the benefits.

Our ambition is for Living Unplugged to provide people with the tools and the confidence to take back their love of food, without the guilt of dieting. To take pleasure in activity without the soul-sapping feeling that exercise is punishment. To experience the sense of accomplishment in creating or mending something rather than clicking ‘add to basket’.

There is a growing realisation, that as we navigate our way towards an ever more technologically enhanced future, we need to recognise the role of analogue experiences. Ignoring this basic human need would ultimately reduce our ability to create, innovate and collaborate with others.

Marc and his wife founded the website Living Unplugged together

What I am interested in can be summed up in one word. Balance.

Technology is exciting, game changing, scary, not well understood and fun! I love talking to people about what it can do for them and thinking about how our lives will change as technology develops.

Balance. The importance of how AI will transform marketing or how Smart Cities will make the provision of healthcare possible for billions of people is diminished unless you can develop a strong sense of what it is to be human.

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