The question of how technology shapes us, and is shaped by us, is complex. For some, this includes issues related to the interplay between technology and our individual mental health and psychological states. For others, the concerns center on access, digital and technical literacy, algorithmic bias, and trust. Coupled with a global pandemic and a social reckoning over the country’s racist history, these elements are now front and center as researchers and the general public, alike, critique our digital experiences. Our culture’s dependency on technology to work, eat, learn, govern, be entertained, and stay in touch underscores that digitally mediated experiences already profoundly shape our understanding of what it means to be human.

The scenarios are vast. Whether it’s via comment sections, video chat, AI agents, or newsfeed content, how the mediums through which we interact shape human-to-human interactions remains an open research question. What we communicate and how we do so is a performative expression of how we see ourselves and others around us. It is becoming clearer that how we talk about, engage with, and design technology must better align with our needs as humans, not just as end users. Yet, as a collective (from industry to academia to the public), we lack the necessary language to fully describe our modern relationship with technology. As a result, we often fall back on binary differentiation between online and offline experiences.

To explore this deeply, Aspen Digital, with support from Pivotal Ventures, sought to reimagine how technology can shape the human experience and our sense of place. The Virtually Human Working Group, composed of 24 thought-leaders from industry, civil society, and academia, came together to examine how we can better understand the cumulative effects on our human connections of continuously and ubiquitously interacting with technology. The group represents a diverse set of thinkers from various disciplines, such as developmental psychology, sociology, and computer science, and includes tech industry representatives from trust and safety teams and research labs. Each brought to the discussion decades of experience exploring topics like social connection, loneliness, youth and tech, and disability justice.

Read the full article about technology and well-being by Kristine Gloria at The Aspen Institute.