Interesting guest post by Bob Lloyd, Art Director at Vitamin London, a leading digital innovation studio who partner with ambitious companies to build human solutions. They help clients ranging from start-ups to large organisations with a vast array of work from apps to e-commerce. For more information go to www.vitaminlondon.com.

What is the longest you have ever gone without using any kind of personal (or work) digital device? Or perhaps more importantly, how far do you think you could go without any?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprised of a five tier ‘human necessity’ pyramid. To explain a little deeper if unfamiliar – and please note I am not a psychologist, but rather a humble experience designer – Maslow developed a theory that people are driven to achieve certain needs, and that some of those were more important than others, so he applied a pyramid structure to illustrate. The requirements are essentially primal and survival. Once the bottom (and thus most important) level of the pyramid is fulfilled, people are motivated by the next level up, and so forth until they reach the top.

So, the question is can technology ever become part of this hierarchy? And if so, where does it fit in the pyramid? Has technology become a motivating factor that people really ‘need’, or do we simply just use technology and gadgets as luxury items that make us happy?

The first level of Maslow’s pyramid is the so called ‘Basic Needs’ which are inherently physical, obviously we cannot eat, drink or breath technology to survive. At least, not directly… While we don’t use it for that direct purpose, technology has revolutionised agriculture and all forms of food production. So, should it disappear, it would be interesting to see how we would survive, or how quickly we would adapt.

However, on a one-to-one impact, is technology fulfilling the rest of our needs? How does it touch the psychological and self-fulfillment needs that sit higher up the pyramid?

With the internet becoming a place where so many of us work, socialise, and almost “live” in, there is an argument that a proportion of the population don’t need the real world to fulfil many levels of their needs. Think about the little rush of when your Instagram photo gets an abundance of likes, or your Facebook post sparks a conversation. As Simon Sinek mentions in his talk on the 4 ‘Happy’ chemicals this is no accident; dopamine and serotonin are extremely reactive to social media. That’s why it’s so engrossing. Sharing on social media helps people feel useful, interesting and wanted, fulfilling our ‘esteem needs’ no matter how fleeting and superficially. If we start to go beyond this into tactile interfaces then it’s possible we can actually start projecting the warmth felt by an oxytocin rush through digital interfaces as well.

Consider how technology allows long distance friends, family members and lovers to stay in touch; to not feel alone or separated even across hundreds or thousands of miles. In a direct sense, technology can facilitate the ‘Social Needs’ relating to the feeling of belonging to something and a sense of love, without which mental disorders could be wider spread and harder to overcome.

This therefore could transcend a direct relationship of tech to user, and I’d go so far as to say past the ‘Basic Needs’. Technology now touches and facilitates every level of needs for many modern people, to the extent that some generations are becoming raised largely detached from simple, practical knowledge, skills and activities. In fact, it there is an argument that as people become so reliant on their personal digital devices to essentially guide them through live, they will begin to see the device as the thing they need, rather than what it is facilitating.

With the true advent of virtual reality finally at our fingertips, the Sci-fi idea of living within a virtual world which makes us feel better than the real one is no longer such a laughable idea. Technology can already make us happier than some real-world equivalents, and even when the real world comes close many of us are so in awe that we have a burning desire to capture it digitally somehow.

So, is a true virtual future so far away? And as the lines between “virtual” and “reality” get increasingly blurred, are we as a species already so reliant on technology that it has earned a plinth alongside survival necessities?

Jacob Beckett is the founder of Vitamin London, a leading digital innovation studio who partner with ambitious companies to build human solutions. They help clients ranging from start-ups to large organisations with a vast array of work from apps to e-commerce. For more information go to www.vitaminlondon.com.


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