David Thomason, Eleanor Da Fonseca and Eli Smit on how technology has helped make them a better human

Technology often gets a bad rap for the effect it is having on our wellbeing – just look at the Netflix series Black Mirror. If you paid attention to the reports, you might think devices are only transforming us in the worst kind of ways. We’re addicted to our screens and the dopamine hit that comes from each like or comment, the details of our lives being displayed online is making us increasingly anxious, invisible algorithms are swaying our opinions to become more polarised, and on top of all that, tech is making us more isolated and less social than ever. But for all the problems that have arisen, technology is also a medium that can spark magic. For some, it’s helped lessen their effect on the environment. For others, it’s helped them broadcast their ideas to the world. We reached out to a range of people in business and asked them to share how technology has rewired their lives, for the better. Here's FCB's chief strategy officer David Thomason, technical lead at Rush Eleanor Da Fonseca and host of the Ground Breaking Podcast Eli Smit. 

David Thomason, chief strategy officer at FCB

What technology platform/app/programme/invention do you love that has helped make you a better human?

I recently made myself a better human by breaking a long-term habit and switching my phone off every night so I can read more books. But, to better answer the question, when I switch off my phone I switch on Vodafone’s DreamLab app. While I’m asleep my phone’s computing power is being used to help cancer researchers. It’s strangely fulfilling to wake up to the news that my phone made 2,402 calculations for Project Demystify in just one night, even though I have no idea what that really means.

 When has technology helped you accomplish something truly transformational?

Regular exercise makes me immensely happier, but I was never very good at doing it until I signed up to Strava. That’s the cycling app that allows you to measure and compare your performance for every segment of any ride. It turns the whole thing into a game. Trying to beat my personal best time for the Northwestern Cycleway has become an obsession. When it’s rainy or dark I jump on an exercycle for an hour or more. Netflix, iPhone and AirPods have transformed that from something tedious to something enjoyable. It’s like binge-cycling.  

Eleanor Da Fonseca, technical lead at Rush Digital

What technology platform/app/programme/invention do you love that has helped make you a better human?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and platforms like YouTube and Wikipedia have helped broaden my knowledge on a wide range of subjects. Whenever I want to learn a new skill, YouTube videos are my first stop, whether it is brewing my own kombucha or understanding the fundamentals of deep learning. Being able to attend a Stanford University course by a leading researcher in the field from the comfort of my living room would have been unimaginable a decade ago. My commutes and household chores are more productive and enjoyable thanks to the numerous podcasts I listen to. The ease of access to this huge body of evolving knowledge is empowering and enables me to continuously learn, be better informed and broaden my horizons.

When has technology helped you accomplish something truly transformational?

I love travelling the world and experiencing different cultures, often in countries where I don’t speak the language. Over the past few years, my smartphone has enabled me to navigate and communicate effectively during my travels. I travelled to Jordan last year and needed to purchase some necessities in Madaba, a small town an hour outside of Amman. My Arabic is limited to a few words and greetings and the shopkeeper spoke no English, however, I was able to use Google Translate and DuoLingo to complete the transaction with ease. This interaction led to a beautiful meal at a restaurant owned by the shopkeeper’s aunt. When communication barriers are broken down the entire world is much more accessible and people are happy to share a part of themselves, something which is incredibly special!

Eli Smit, host of The Ground Breaking Podcast

What technology platform/app/programme/invention do you love that has helped make you a better human?

If you told me two years ago that talking into a microphone would make me a better person I would be extremely confused. But it’s true. I was 9 and a half years old when I started interviewing people. The only think I understood about podcasting was that it was an audio version of YouTube. My simple microphone and the podcasting platform however have enabled me to be a way better speaker. I’m still learning to speak and interview well, but it has been fun being able to learn to improvise. I’ve learned how to interact with different people from different backgrounds. I’ve become more extroverted. I am now always talking to an audience. You may not directly see them, but they’re there. I’ve become more creative, able to make decisions quicker and to challenge myself constantly.

When has technology helped you accomplish something truly transformational?

Not sure I’ve done anything transformational yet. But LinkedIn has really helped me connect with some amazing people in this world who are inspiring me with the transformational work they are doing. They’ve inspired me to give things a go, to not be afraid to ask and to challenge myself. I’ve found a community where I can talk about things I’m passionate about.

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