By Thierry Malleret, economist
Tech development and innovation are at the core of Chinese policy. To overcome the middle-income trap and to boost productivity, China aims to become world leader in AI (artificial intelligence) by 2030 and triple its production of industrial robots over the next three years. This means that the tech future may well be made in China, with a disturbing societal twist. The authorities are developing a “social credit system” that will become mandatory in 2020 and will rank citizens in terms of their “trustworthiness”, aiming to build a “culture of sincerity”. The world of The Circle and Black Mirror (respectively a novel and a series that depict a dystopian tech world) is not far-off… Our data-mined and branded online lives risk becoming a multifarious popularity contest.
Over the next few years, the issue of how technology affects wellness will become one of increasing relevance. As we have noted before, academic research conclusively demonstrates that the overconsumption of technology/social media is detrimental to well-being (and in particular to mental health).
The issue, however, is broader than that. Apart from the sinister and ‘anti-wellness’ dystopian world depicted in novels like The Circle, technology tends to deprive us of or distance us from the real sources of wellness and happiness: our friends and family, and the quality of our social interactions within our communities. More and more, the technological tools that support us in our quest for well-being advise us and incite us to focus on ourselves to the detriment of the outside world, as if happiness can only be found from “within.”
Most happiness apps, for example, lock us up in our private emotional experience rather than helping us connect with people. Every reputable piece of research in psychology now tells us that this is the wrong approach to well-being. The question is: will we continue to consume the thousands of well-being apps and the self-help industry in general (now a $1 billion a year business just in the United States) in the same quantity or is this segment of the industry potentially facing a big financial hit?