Tech as an Extension of Ourselves – a Discovery Session with Tom Nash

Paul Denham

It’s not often that I attend a thought leader’s talk and feel like I can physically feel my brain getting larger. What I mean  is, the speaker is making me think in a greater capacity than I expected. Tom Nash, a speaker from TEDxsydney 2019 did just that during his TEDxSydney 2020 Discovery Session – Tech as an Extension of Ourselves. Following the session, I felt infinitely more informed and just a bit smarter. It might have also had something to do with sitting on my own, at home and not being distracted. 

During the session, Tom inspected our relationship with technology; the interplay between its benefits and costs with respects to our mental health, time and attention helping to reflect on what is useful and what is dead weight.

Having lost his hands and legs to a deadly disease when he was 19, Tom Nash (aka DJ Hookie) explained that he shunned the use of a robotic hand for his good ol’ fashion hooks. This baffled me. Why on earth wouldn’t you want the closest thing to a human hand you could have? And this was his point. We need to choose tech to serve us, not let technology use us. We need to make a more conscious decision on what apps we need, what devices serve us and how we should use them. 

For Tom, his hooks are lighter, less expensive pieces of technology. They don’t break down very easily and if they do, they are easy to repair. They don’t need recharging. They are actually quicker and more reliable than a hand. He can pick up a coriander seed. Can you? Tom suggested that we need to reflect on technology and weigh up the benefits and costs.

“Devices have now become routers for our attention.And while they might be physically light-weight, they can also carry a heavy burden. Our devices are also the medium through which we consume information, communicate, digest social media and entertainment but they’re also the same medium through which we work, socialise, organise, finance, research and undertake logistics – what could possibly go wrong.”

Top 3 ways tech can influence our decision-making:

1. Brain-hacking

Brain-hacking is the term given to the way apps, social media and devices are engineered to keep you hooked. They hijack your brain and make you create a habit. They do this by designing them to act like a slot machine. When you pull the lever, you’ll sometimes get a reward. Sometimes you’ll get a big reward. So, you keep going back for more just in case you get a prize (like, share, comment).

2. Social comparison 

Psychologist and Founder of The Happiness Institute, Dr Tim Sharp, joined Tom Nash during the session to discuss the effects of social media. Social Comparison – people coming to know themselves by evaluating their own attitudes, abilities and traits in comparison with others – is a new phenomenon and new issue we’re dealing with “and it’s not surprising that we’re struggling with it” says Dr Sharp.  Self-comparison never existed in humanity like it has done at the current scale due to the commencement of social media less than 15 years ago. 

3. Fast and furious

“Technology excels at such a rate that it often out-paces our ability to reflect upon its benefits versus potential risks” says Nash. We don’t allow ourselves the time to weigh up the benefits and the downsides. Solitude gives us the time to process life. 

So what are some best practices to ensure tech works for us and not against us?


Top 3 suggestions from Tom:

  1. Learn to be away from your devices. 
  2. Move apps to the second page of your home screen or nest them in a folder. Tom thinks he is 50% less likely to open an app using this method.
  3. Use devices purposefully. Tom only writes on an iPad and he’ll only have apps on that device that serve his writing. He doesn’t do any other activity on it and he’s deleted any apps that don’t fit this purpose.

I’ll finish on the same note as Tom did, “Tech is taking advantage of you. Be intentional.”

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