David Levy

Dr. David Levy, Ph.D. in computer science, describes the relationship between humans and technology.

In a time when interacting with digital technology is increasingly unavoidable, striking a balance between human interaction and zoning out on your devices is becoming all too difficult. 

On Thursday, David Levy held a discussion at the HUB aimed at finding a meaningful balance between technology and personal experience.

A professor in the Information School, Levy led the audience through a series of mindfulness exercises aimed to increase awareness of their relationship with technology.

Levy has a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University, a diploma in calligraphy and bookbinding, and worked for many years in the Silicon Valley. His ongoing research investigates the challenges of living healthy and productive lives in the digital age. His book, “Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives,” addresses digital overload and how to deal with it. 

Over 21 years ago, Levy began wondering whether the tools being promoted as helpful for connecting us might do the opposite. 

According to Levy, the digital age has caused a massive shift in the way information is processed and transmitted, allowing for constant connection and instant access. The Internet, email, social media, instant messaging, and smart phones are clearly useful as extensions of ourselves that allow for us to connect on a global scale, however the seemingly never-ending interactions can be detrimental to a healthy, emotionally balanced, attentive lifestyle.

In 2006, Levy created a class for undergraduates, graduates, and master’s students at the UW called Information and Contemplation, which included exploration of contemporary information practices, mindfulness meditation, and exercises in mindfulness in relation to technology. 

The course allowed students to reflect on and share their experience using digital devices and apps, helping them discover obstacles to their current practices in order to make healthy and effective changes.

During his talk, Levy guided the audience through some of the same exercises his students went through and showed some of the responses from students in his course.

“My favorite part of this exercise was the level of attention I was giving to my habits,” said one of the responses, which can be found in “Mindful Tech.” “Before paying attention this week, I never really knew what I was doing. … I am sure that paying attention to my habits is the first step to helping me focus when I need to and to resist the deliciously tempting distractions.”

Levy gives talks all over the country to undergraduates. Many who attend his lectures are already interested in having a better relationship with technology.

“I’ve discovered that I can go into a classroom and conduct an hour long conversation with the undergraduates, and they’re all really responsive to questions like ‘Do you think you spend too much time online?’” Levy said. “So I think this generation is becoming aware of some of the interesting challenges we face in how to use the tools well.”

While the conclusions are unique to each individual concerning their relationship to their digital lives, it is still beneficial to teach and practice mindfulness in order to recognize more about our habits.

“Being able to direct your attention and choose what to pay attention to, I believe, is an essential coping mechanism to deal with all of these new voices, all of these new things that are demanding our attention,” one student’s response said. “When we are mindful, we choose to pay attention to what is explicitly important to us.”

What Levy wants everyone to take away, whether it be from his lectures or books, is that everyone is capable of taking control of their digital lives to a much greater extent than they realize. 


Reach contributing writer Alex Zhu at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @AlexZhuUW

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