Adeela Warley: Are we too distracted by digital?

We must be careful that an obsession with digital does not distract us from our goals, writes our columnist

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

I declare that I am easily distracted by digital. This article is my old-style admission: I have yet to tweet this.

It hit me during a lecture at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Having logged on to wifi and primed Twitter and Instagram to react and interact, the irony of my routine actions became apparent.

James Williams, a former Google employee and doctoral researcher in design ethics at Oxford University, observed that digital technologies privilege our impulses over our intentions. And that, he says, is gradually diminishing our ability to engage with the issues we care most about. Right then, for me, that meant just listening attentively.

James said that a collision between our understanding of how our brains work and the so-called "persuasive" design of digital technology was driving an industrial-scale assault on our attention. That is more than just a minor annoyance: it distracts us from our own goals, values and, ultimately, our self-determination.

Our recent conference, Psychology of Communications, explored the line between persuasion and manipulation. As charities embrace digital comms using the very same commercial platforms to create charity brand fans, if not addicts, are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

I’d argue the latter, because people choose charities that align with their values and goals. The actions they take with us to give their voice, money or time are an expression of who they are, their values, what they want to be and the world they would like to see.

But let’s keep watch on our language of persuasion, always question our own motives and support the design of technology for good. This is about how, not whether, we use digital.

Now, where’s my mobile?

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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