We now live in exponential times. Technological ability is accelerating. Communication is instant. Interconnection is global. Great change is coming hard and fast. To navigate these conditions, we need to be present, creative, brave, calm, and collaborative — in other words, our best selves.
Rather than just an outcome, mental and emotional wellbeing is also a key input for a better future.
But while technology is accelerating, our approach to the development of inner wellbeing is still traditional and, for the most part, not scalable. This mindset makes high levels of mental and emotional wellbeing scarce and difficult to achieve. Too often, the tools for developing mental and emotional wellbeing are mistakenly thought to be solely subjective, shrouded in mystery or religion, or dependent only on luck or human willpower.
This blind spot is dangerous. The lag between our inner well-being and outer abilities results in tremendous social and individual stress. Worldwide you can see people who are overwhelmed by the change.
When the brain is hijacked by stress, we find it more difficult to collaborate, to negotiate, or to accept others. So, how do we better and more widely develop inner wellbeing?
1) Understand that human emotion is no longer a “touchy-feely” unmeasurable phenomena.
Emotions produce measurable signals. These include changes in heart rate, skin conductance, brainwaves, micro-facial expressions, pupil dilation and more. We are broadcasting our feelings through our bodies constantly.
Before cheap sensors and data, these relatively well-understood signals were mostly only measured in hospitals and labs. But the era of wearables and smartphone cameras untethered those signals, making it cheap and easy for people to track any one of them. Still missing, however, was context. What causes me stress and what causes you stress may not be the same, though the net signal tracked might be the same.
2) Recognize that your “digital exhaust” is a pretty good profile of your psychology.
Many hard science followers dismiss human psychology as a soft science, and this argument will probably continue indefinitely. In the meantime, advertisers, insurers, smartphone manufacturers, and many others are collecting massive data sets on your “digital exhaust” that together form a pretty good picture of your behavior and thus your psychology.
For example, your phone probably knows more about you than your mom right now. It knows when you wake up and when you go to sleep, who you call and how often, what you read online and what content catches your eye by measuring scroll speed.
Technology is also providing the context to explain the change in your biosignal. While we all would like to be unique and special snowflakes, it turns out that at scale, we have much in common. Inexpensive data allows for tracking of group behavior and also individuals within groups for greater personalization.
For example, by combining emotion recognition software with data from your wearables, we’ll be able to know how you feel, when you are calm, and when your heart (or mind) is racing. The ability to micro-monitor our behaviors and biosignals and the accumulation of massive amounts of data will allow for the development of predictive models of mental state and programs to proactively support greater wellbeing.
As the world around us gets “smarter,” it will be easier to subscribe to wellness as a service and design daily experience to support goals and personal development.
For the benefits to exceed the risks, two things are needed.
One, as Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist at Amazon suggests, “We need to determine in what sense can we exercise meaningful control over what we produce, both intentionally and incidentally, online.” His six-point model provides a good starting framework, but at a minimum, consumers will need to be confident that the data they produce will be harnessed for their benefit. Two, entrepreneurs have a part to play in pushing the use of these technologies towards a beneficial use rather than a dystopian one. The existence of wellbeing products that are useful and efficacious helps tip the balance towards abundance.
Today, this means emotion recognition software like Beyond Verbal, pattern recognition systems like depression support Ginger.io, consumer EEG like MUSE, haptic systems like the Touch rings and more.
Tomorrow, this could include an app that connects to your smart home, earbuds, and devices to adapt light, sound, smell, music and more to make coming home from work and transitioning to sleep as relaxing and easy as possible. Or a sensor-app combo could map your stress response over time to actual events in your day so you could micro-tune your life. Eventually, you could describe your aspirational self, and your wellbeing service could harness the world around you to help you reach that goal through content, feedback, and motivation.
3) Build and invest in companies seeking to build technology to support mental and emotional wellbeing.
Transformative Technology leverages mobile, Internet of Things, cheap sensors and wearables, massive data sets, cheap networks and computing power, machine learning and AI alongside advances in digital medicine and neuroscience, biology and bioinformatics, and AR/VR to support our mental and emotional wellbeing.
The field is growing fast due to sharp demand for tools to manage stress, technology making things possible that five years ago were impossible, and talented tech entrepreneurs asking the simple question, “What else can technology do for us?” That question has brought us electric cars, commercial space exploration, and genome sequencing—with today’s tech, it can do great things for our mental health too.
Transformative Tech is a young sector with all the characteristics of such (think wearables in 2009–2011). Companies range from startups to established tech companies looking for new markets, but regardless of size, new entrants are iteratively improving their products to achieve greater impact.
Whether we are seeking to feel happy, connected, understood, change bad habits into better ones or reach our full potential – we will have technology to support us. Or if we are solving problems like stress, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, or depression—we will have the tools that we need.
Our mental and emotional wellbeing can improve as quickly as our technology.
And not a moment too soon.
Image credit: Shutterstock