Positive Tech and Software Development

Nourishing Habits™ Digital Wellness Coaching and Lifestyle is thrilled to feature Zack Prager as a guest writer. Prager is the founder of Ransomly technologies for tech detox and specializes in talking about positive tech & digital well-being.

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Positive Tech and Software Development

I live in two fields:  positive psychology and software development.  

I was lucky enough to do my graduate work under Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology,  at UPenn and fortunate enough to work on many tech start-up teams as a developer. In the last 5 years I have been working to develop positive tech.  

I have worked on my own projects like GratitudeBucket.com, a social network built around appreciating others, and www.Ransomly.com, an internet of things company that helps people put down their phones and connect in real life.  I have also worked with organizations like the University of Pennsylvania and Blue Zones on their positive tech initiatives.

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What is positive tech?  

Simply put, it is technology that makes people happier.  In more academic terms, it is a user experience informed by the science of well-being and whose efficacy is measured with a validated well-being scale.  

Until recently, we didn’t have many empirical measures for well-being and happiness but today, we have dozens of established scales.  That means we can actually determine if our products are making people’s lives better or worse.

Why is it needed?

There is no doubt that advances in software have made our lives better in many ways.  For example, we have more access to information and tools for productivity than ever before.

Unfortunately, it comes at a cost.  The early research suggests much of our software is not actually making our lives better.  In some cases, it is actually making out lives worse by distracting us from building real relationships and doing our best work.  Below are just a few examples.

Relationships - loss of connection

Technology is getting in the way of real connection. Lulu Cheng and her colleagues have found that just the presences of a turned-off smartphone lowers the quality of conversation and a recent Consumer Mobility Report found that people are more likely to reach for their phone than their significant other first thing in the morning.  

Productivity - loss of focus

Our screens our constantly demanding our attention.  The constant connectivity of today’s work forces us to multi-task.  Unfortunately, the research shows we can’t do it very well. In fact, according to one researcher, multi-tasking reduces your ability to focus so much so it is like working high on marijuana.  

Moods - loss of joy

Our time on our phone is engaging so we often fail to notice what it is doing to our moods.  But evidence shows that we are often feel sad, jealous, or disappointed when we spend time on phones.  The apps that grab our attention the most often tend to be the ones that invite of to compare our lives against another’s.  So instead of giving us a mood boost, we often feel deflated after scrolling through our feeds.

That is just some of the early evidence about how our smartphone use is negatively affecting our lives.  There is much more and more coming in everyday it seems.

What can we do about it?

Finding digital well-being is about finding balance.  We can not throw our technology out and expect to live productive, healthy lives.  But we can find a healthier, balanced relationship with it.

Dr. Kimberly Young, a pioneer in treating internet addiction and an advisor to Ransomly, uses nutrition as an analogy for our relationship with our screens.  

Food can be unhealthy but the answer is not to stop eating.  Instead, we need to find the right amount and the right kind of food that helps us be as healthy as possible. The same is true for out relationship to our screens.  We have to find healthy amount of time and the time we do spend on our screens should be positive.

How I create balance:  carving out distraction-free space

One way to improve balance is to carve out tech-free space.  Evidence shows us that our environments shape our behaviors. So if we create space that is tech-free, that will likely lead to more real connection, more focus, and more self-care.

At Ransomly, we have created a Bluetooth beacon and app that allows you to make a room smart-phone free.  When you come in range of the beacon, your phone no longer has access to any of its apps.

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Does carving out tech-free space work?

Yes!  A couple of researchers from East London University, Nicola Hughes and Jolanta Burke, ran an experiment where participants didn’t use their phone in their bedroom.  The phone-less bedrooms lead to better moods, better sleep, and more focus for the participants.

A proposition

Since smartphone-use gets in the way our happiness and carving out tech-space appears to improve our lives in significant ways, my team is advocating for the creation smartphone-free spaces at work, home, and in public spaces.

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I hope you decide to join us in carving out distraction-free spaces for meaningful real life connection and deep work.

-Zack Prager



Buy your beacon today to create space for humanity. 


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Zack works on building user experiences that make people happier in a field called positive technology (a.k.a humane technology).  He studied software development at UCLA and Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and launched Ransomly, a tech start-up that helps people get off their phone and connect with others in real life.  Along with running his company he sometimes lectures at UCSD, SDSU, and academic conferences around the globe.

His work has been covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union Tribune, ABC, CW, NBC, Brit+Co, & more.