In an age when technology is touching more and more aspects of your life, you have to start wondering whether you are the programmer or the programmed. Who holds the reins in your relationship with technology?

I often leave my iPhone behind when I walk my dog. I do it on purpose because I don’t want to be distracted. Without even thinking about it, my hand reaches for my pocket, looking for the ever-present iPhone. I see an interesting landscape and my mind automatically thinks I should take a photo with my iPhone. I think of a friend or relative and I want to reach for the phone to message them.

I believe companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Meta, etc. know this fully well, and I am starting to believe that they are no longer in the business of creating devices that help us in life, but rather they are building frameworks where we are being programmed to become more and more dependant on their hardware and software.

When is the last time you drove somewhere without the help of Google Maps? When is the last time you used a camera to take photos, and not your smartphone? Do you still wear a regular watch, or have you embraced the tracking handcuff of Apple, Samsung, Garmin, and Google? Can you go one year without ordering something on Amazon? What about one month?

I have an Apple Watch, and I go through phases of love and hate for the device. I stop using it when I feel like it’s too distracting or too needy. I dislike having to charge it every day. A regular watch can go for years on one battery! This needy Apple tracker needs too much of my attention for me to tolerate it for more than a few weeks at a time. I quickly tire of it and go back to a regular watch, or no watch at all. Recently, upon switching back to a regular watch, I realized I was always using the Apple Watch to check the weather. I repeated that behaviour so many times that I catch myself trying to check the weather on my regular watch too! Apple successfully programmed me to look for the weather conditions on my wrist.

Recently, Apple added some new functionality to the iPhone and Apple Watch. A Journal app was introduced on the iPhone, and both devices now allow users to log their daily mood or mental state. By collecting mental state data from these two sources, Apple will be able to start predicting what makes each user happy and what makes them sad, which in turn will empower Apple to create even more products that will seem to know us better than we know ourselves.

My approach is to be careful with these technologies. I make a point of taking extended breaks from gadgets like the Apple Watch, and I try to be mindful of my screen time on devices like the iPhone, iPad, and computers. It’s so easy to be swept away by the dopamine-infused wave of technology. It’s up to each individual to pause and take control of their tech, or risk being used by their devices as a data point for others to profit.

©️ Razvan Ungureanu