2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Beyond Unplugging - Staying Sane Online

Written by Megan Simpson | February 10, 2014

At SXSW 2014, Lauren Bacon talks about having a healthy relationship with technology

Lauren Bacon describes herself as "curious for a living.” Having first spoken at SXSW in 2007, she returns this year to lead the panel, “Beyond Unplugging - Staying Sane Online.” In this installment of the Session Spotlight we learn how Bacon suggests that people foster a healthy relationship with technology and their devices. For more about this topic, visit her blog laurenbacon.com. or follow her on Twitter @laurenbacon.

SXSW: How will you address having a healthy relationship with technology?
Bacon: If abstinence education can’t stop unwanted pregnancies, why preach digital abstinence as the cure for information overload & online distraction? We’ll dig into our digital & personal toolboxes to share the practices, apps & gadgets that can foster a healthy relationship to technology. Panelists will kick off the conversation with their thoughts & suggestions for a middle way, then open the floor for your ideas and tips: How do you maintain your health, sanity & relationships while using tech?

SXSW: Tell us about the others joining you for this session.
Bacon: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is the author of The Distraction Addiction), a brilliant book on the subject of computing's effects on our minds and bodies, and how we might embrace healthier and more contemplative modes of using technology. He's as articulate and engaging as you might expect from a longtime teacher and leading-edge thinker. Rohan Gunatillake is the creator of Buddhify, the world's first urban meditation app. He's spoken at conferences such as Buddhist Geeks, so it's probably becoming apparent that he's both a Buddhist practitioner and a technologist, who's interested in creating a "third way" between complete techno-compulsion and the rejection of technology as inherently evil. He's smart and funny, and also does a lot of work in the arts and culture sector.

SXSW: What kinds of people do you hope to see in the audience at your session?
Bacon: This panel is for anyone who would like to use technology more consciously, or who is interested in getting a better handle on what a healthy relationship with tech looks like for them. If you've ever felt like your devices are taking over your life, or caught yourself hitting refresh compulsively, or craving several weeks off the grid just to escape your inbox, this is for you. (And if you're so scared of becoming that attached to technology that you actively avoid engaging with it, it's for you, too.)

SXSW: Why should registrants attend?
Bacon: 2013 may well have been the year of the digital sabbatical: It seemed like everyone was taking drastic measures to get away from the frenzy of email inboxes, social media, and soul-deadening screen time. But while it's refreshing to opt out for a while, there's a binge-purge flavor to that cycle that isn't really sustainable. This conversation will focus on how we can better integrate healthy practices into our daily lives with technology, rather than looking at tech as a necessary evil that needs to be ritually cleansed from our systems. We'll be avoiding grandiose pronouncements and one-size-fits-all prescriptions in favor of practical tools and frameworks anyone can use to design solutions that work for them.

SXSW: Why does this topic excite you?
Bacon: If there's one change I would love to see in the world, it's people opening up to "yes, and" thinking rather than "either/or." Much of the public conversation about tech these days seems to be divided between utopianism ("Tech will save us all!") and dystopianism ("Tech is destroying our souls!") – and on an individual level, I think we absorb this stuff and apply it to our own use of smart phones, social media, and so on. Tech isn't making us smarter or dumber, kinder or meaner, more or less attentive – we are evolving and changing based on choices we are making, and habits we're establishing. This panel is tackling one small piece of this larger conversation, but I think it's an important one to tackle. We do need help figuring out how to use emerging technologies in ways that support our values and priorities, but it doesn't need to be a single, prescriptive rulebook for everyone – and the off-switch isn't the only option for regaining control of your tech habits.

SXSW: What’s your favorite aspect of SXSW Interactive?
Bacon: I love how accessible SXSW is – and as a result, how big and diverse the crowd is that attends. It's like the gathering of the clan for everyone in tech: You'll find everyone from household-name entrepreneurs to newbie bloggers and coders, and everyone in between. And I love how it still feels like a real community gathering, because of the way sessions are curated and diversity is promoted.

SXSW: Tell us something interesting about your background.
Bacon: The only university degree I completed was a Bachelor of Music in classical voice. I sang professionally for several years before stumbling accidentally into coding and design, and once I discovered those passions, I quit singing altogether and never turned back.

SXSW: What do you do to relax and unwind?
Bacon: The highlight of my week is a workout with my Ukrainian boxing coach. I also love French decorating magazines, hosting dinner parties, and playing with my kid.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “Beyond Unplugging - Staying Sane Online” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.

Lauren Bacon photo by Margaret Bacon.