Friday, May 10, 2013

Unzoo this! Sitting, Eating, Interacting

I have just seen three articles in the NZ Herald that illustrate the Unzoo mantra of "undoing the zoo" - applying an evolutionary context to reverse our "nature versus technology" condition into a better integration of humanity and our tools.

The first is about sitting and its impact on our health. This topic has been gaining plenty of coverage in recent years and is gaining momentum. The Unzoo connection is it identifies our technology (chairs in this case, but also cultural thinking) as working against our true nature as formed by our evolutionary context. It also illustrates the Unzoo challenge; "There are all manner of behavioural, cultural and organisational challenges to overcome, but the professor envisions a workplace of the future unrecognisable from today."

Then the next article highlights our modern lifestyles and technology are moving away from our natural social patterns; we are spending less time eating together as families, and again there are health issues relating to this "zoo behavior".
And, oh the irony - here is the ad that featured in the same article!
Zoo advertising: "technology, brought to you by fast food"...

And the third article picks up on a theme of how our technology is alienating us from our own humanity.

The good news? Each zoo theme can be "Unzooed"! Be mindful of your sitting, and take steps (literally) to reduce it. Increase your "real face time" versus your Facebook time. Spend more time eating together without technology driving a wedge between normal human interaction.

Here's a real example for an office worker that doesn't require a revolution to get results;  if you can't get set up with a stand up desk straight away, you can use technology to unzoo you by downloading "stand alarm" from iTunes. It is just a simple reminder to stand and move a few times each hour. Get up and move around every 20 minutes (for about 2 minutes will do).  And get more face time into your work interactions - they have been proven to be more effective for communication than email or phone.

That would be a start. but really what we need is a cultural re-evolution...



Here's the links and some out-takes from the articles:

Health alert: don't get settled into that seat
Are you sitting down? Don't get too comfortable, because mounting evidence suggests you're increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death.

The majority of people in developed economies who spend more time sitting than sleeping. Whether it's at the breakfast or dinner table, in the bus, train or car, at work or in front of the TV, most of us sit down far more than we stand up.

There are all manner of behavioural, cultural and organisational challenges to overcome, and public health authorities will require rigorous proof, but the professor envisions a workplace of the future unrecognisable from today.

Family meals best for children
Children dining with adults are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of foods - the key to keeping their diet balanced and healthy


Children who eat the same meals as their parents are far more likely to have healthy diets than those who do not, according to research.
Eating the same food had a greater impact on a young child's health than any other factor, including social background and snacking between meals.


When robots take over essential human tasks 
Researcher believes there are dangers in losing each other to technology

As professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and founder and director of the MIT initiative on technology and self, she has spent more than 30 years studying the way people interact with machines, and is increasingly worried about the amount of human interaction people are happy to delegate to robots or carry out over phones and computers. 

In her latest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Turkle says we have reached a point she calls the "robotic moment" - where we delegate important human relationships, in particular interactions at "the most vulnerable moments in life" - childhood and old age - to robots.

Today our phones are always on, and always on us. Parents are too busy texting to watch their kids, she cautions. 

What she means by "alone together" - that our ability to be in the world is compromised by "all that other stuff we want to do with technology".

People tell me they wish [iPhone companion] Siri were their best friend. I was stunned.

Turkle is optimistic that people will begin to want to reclaim their privacy, to turn back to their relationships with real people. Yet she concedes that the lure of technology is such that it's a tough challenge. "Online you become the self you want to be. But the downside? We lose the 'raw, human part' of being with each other."