Fewer Better Things No. 74

The Method Behind The Madness

The fall swells are rolling in and I’m starting to get really busy with new projects, the three-month betterment plan, and surfing. Photo:Per Håkansson

When I was a kid I watched the now legendary Swedish TV-show Tekniskt Magasin about technology and innovation. It ran for 30 years, from the end of the 50s when TV had it’s big breakthrough until the end of the 80s, a few years before the invention of the world wide web. It was hosted by Sweden’s equivalent to Sir David Attenborough, Erik Bergsten, a great broadcaster who was equally enthusiastic and very knowledgable within his field.

He showed me the latest and greatest in tech and innovation from all over the world and I was smitten. I then got my first personal computer in the late 70s and that’s how I started to learn about digital. When media talks about millennials being the first digital generation I just laugh. From my perspective, it was the guys that invented the Internet back in the 60s or even the generations that came before. But I understand what media means, the millennials are the first young generation that can be marketed to via digital channels. They are the first digital consumers.

Since I’ve lived with digital technologies for the past 40-years and been part of the teams that built the first and second generation web apps I believe I have a very unique perspective to share. I worked for one of the first and largest Internet companies in Silicon Valley and have seen how digital technologies have gone from the invisible fringe to becoming the new mainstream.

That brings me back to the early 90s when I was one of the few that had an email address among my peers and thus no-one to send emails to. The same happened with SMS and all the other communication technologies. Back then I couldn't wait for the day when everyone was connected so that we could live simpler lives, organizing everything via digital. Oh, the irony.

Today I’m still a big fan and supporter of technologies and innovations that promise betterment for humanity but I’m also more critical. I’ve seen how good intentions can turn into bad outcomes, and I’m deeply aware of how money has taken over and steered many new ventures towards features and applications that aren’t healthy for us to be engaged in but are still developed as they are very lucrative. It’s a challenge for a company to also add an ethical perspective on technology when the side effects are not yet seen or known but can only be anticipated at best. But I think they really need to try.

In the end, I believe, it comes down to the individual to make better decisions which we know can be challenging as life throws us new curve balls all the time and we become overwhelmingly busy in just managing life itself. But we also have to try a little harder and that is one of the driving factors behind Fewer Better Things, to show what I believe is a more mindful approach to life, technology, and sustainability. The idea is not new and I’m of course not the only one in this field. I’d say that the quest for the meaning of life is as old as humanity itself. No-one owns this space and it’s everyone’s to creatively explore as they wish.

But we have all one thing in common and that is that we create or adopt principles to guide us throughout our lives. These principles change as we live and learn, and become more refined and effective. I look at these principles as my interface towards the world. It’s how I decide to interact with myself, people and things. Many of them I’ve adopted from past thinkers and the rare few I’ve developed myself thanks to the experience I’ve had within digital technologies.

One of the principles I have adopted is not to go to bed or wake up with tech. I often sleep with the Apple Watch but it’s turned off except for the wake up alarm in the morning. The iPhone is in the kitchen being charged. I also avoid checking emails or messages after dinner and before breakfast. I believe that reading a book in the evening and meditate in the morning is a great way of ending and beginning a day.

I’ve of course more principles but instead of listing them all here I’d like to share the approach I have in how I design these principles. It’s very simple and something I learned in a past life when I was touring the world training executives in digital transformation. First, I’m open to try anything new. I have no preconceived ideas or judgments about a new technology or a new tech product (or anything in life really). If Facebook develops a new smart camera I’m eager to check it out and see how it works. Once done I ask myself three questions:

  1. What happened? Example: The first time I stood on a surfboard I was blown away. The feeling of traveling at 20 mph on a wave was beyond what I could have imagined. It connected me with myself and with nature in a way that I’ve never before experienced.

  2. What does this mean to me? Example: Discovering surfing meant a new passion was awoken, a new way of being authentic in nature and in life, and staying fit and healthy plus connecting with my true tribe.

  3. How can I use this moving forward? Example: I can use it to connect with nature and myself on a deeper level, meet new people, develop my physical strength and flexibility, and create daily inner peace.

An alternative outcome could have been that I almost drowned, I didn’t feel safe in the water, I got really banged up, and I lost my inner peace. It meant nothing to me and I’ll never ever do this again. Pretty much how I feel about team sports.

But it didn’t. Surfing connected me with myself in ways that I couldn’t imagine and that’s why I’m staying opened-minded to everything that I haven’t yet experienced. The same goes for digital technologies. I love how email and text have replaced snail mail (except for cards which is wonderful to receive). It’s much more effective as a distribution mechanism for most things. Sending my first email back in 1986 was a mind-blowing experience and got me onto the path I’ve been on since then.

By understanding how anything works, what it means to me, and how I can use it to reach the goals I have in life, helps me to make much better and more intentional decisions. And I’ve learned that I feel better – well-being being a very important life goal – when I disconnect from the world in the evenings and mornings, and create healthy boundaries between me and the world by choosing, for example, the Apple Watch over the iPhone as my main device.

Asking myself these three questions is actually the only thing that matters. It has taught me to trust my own experience, to reflect on what that experience means to me and my life, and helped me in incorporating new positive things moving forward. It has also taught me how to let go of a lot of things, beliefs, and people. And I believe that it’s one of many paths to achieving a certain level of personal wisdom.

So here is an idea to test this method if you are interested: Buy (you can always return it for a full refund) or borrow an Apple Watch and try it out for a week as your new main tech device (my advice is to turn off your phone completely once the watch is configured and put it away for the full experience). Then after a week reflect on the experience and ask yourself the above three questions. And before you say that it's not going to work, remember that there was a time when you didn’t even know that the iPhone existed and you were still doing fine.

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Keep exploring,

Per Håkansson

Encinitas, California