Opinion
Forum Institutional

Why tomorrow’s most successful tech will focus on the human experience

Five years from now, we’ll look back at some of our current digital interactions the same way we see our carbon emissions today.

Five years from now, we’ll look back at some of our current digital interactions the same way we see our carbon emissions today. Image: Unsplash

Isaac Castro García
Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Emerge
Sylvester "Sly" Lee
Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Emerge
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Forum Institutional?
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Listen to the article

  • Technology has brought many benefits, but studies show our digital interactions are having real, measurable effects on our mental health.
  • With 30% of adults reporting feeling lonely, it is clear we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. But developing the right technologies will help.
  • The great products and companies of tomorrow will be those focusing on the human experience, prioritizing emotional connection.

Five years from now, we’ll look back at some of our current digital interactions the same way we see our carbon emissions today. Technology has brought countless benefits to our lives, but for the past decade we've also experienced the perils of technology when not designed with humanity at the centre and business models that prioritize shareholder value over society's values – and our fundamental human needs.

Have you read?

Social and communication platforms had promised to bring us closer together, but in reality they can contribute to drive us further part if not used mindfully. Without the benefits of physical proximity and face-to-face communication, we’ve lost something crucial that we once had in our interactions a decade ago: humanity, intimacy, depth and empathy. We have traded deep connections for surface-level interactions. We have sacrificed intimacy and compassion on the altar of convenience and speed. Now, the costs of this exchange are starting to become clear.

Epidemic of loneliness

Multiple studies have demonstrated that our digital interactions are having real, measurable effects on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. A study by the University of Arizona, for example, reports that “smartphone dependency predicts higher reports of depressive symptoms and loneliness.” Another found that people who spend the most time on social media are twice as likely to experience perceived social isolation. Today, over 30% of adults worldwide report feeling lonely, totalling up to approximately 2 billion people. Technology is not the only factor, but the evidence is clear; we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic.

For context, living with air pollution increases our odds of premature death by 5%. Living with obesity increases them by 20%. Loneliness greatly exceeds both with 50%, having consequences similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In other words, feeling alone is equivalent to smoking one cigarette per hour, from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go back to bed at night. The results are alarming: people with strong social bonds are “50% less likely to die over a given period of time than those who have fewer social connections.” Loneliness is one of the greatest life hazards of our time – and technology can be yet again part of the solution.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that our digital interactions are having real, measurable effects on our mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that our digital interactions are having real, measurable effects on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. Image: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review (Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, J. Bradley Layton). Image: Emerge/Evelyn Chin

Reimagining our future through digital interactions

Fortunately, the future is not set in stone. We have the opportunity to design our digital interactions with humanity at the centre. The great products and companies of tomorrow will be those that focus on the human experience, prioritizing emotional connection and shared presence over convenience and influence.

Today, the metaverse is described as a “collective virtual shared space”, where people can interact with each other in a simulated environment. The recent explosion of metaverse books, media, initiatives and tens of billions of dollars spent by companies over the last five years is indicative of the technological shift at hand. As we squeeze out the last drops of mobile technological advancement, it is clear that by 2033, we won’t be standing in long lines for the latest smartphone. Instead, we will be using a new computing platform altogether.

The metaverse that we want to use will be built on the foundation of our emotional and psychological needs. The transition into it will be technological, but, more importantly, it will be a sociological paradigm shift. While initial discussions focused on head-scratching projects such as virtual land ownership and NFTs, we know that the “why” worth fighting for is shared presence: the ability to feel present with someone who isn’t physically there. With every new technological paradigm, we have a chance to build the world we want to live in. In the very near future, instead of a shaky video call with our grandmother on a small rectangular screen, what if she could appear in your living room as a fully embodied hologram, and you could reach out and hold her hand?

Our digital interactions with others will be centred again on our human experience.
Our digital interactions with others will be centred again on our human experience. Image: Emerge/Mauricio Terán

Within this new paradigm, technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and brain-to-brain interfaces will play a crucial role. New hardware, platforms, disciplines and senses will come into play. We’ll redefine social contracts in the virtual world, where emotion, trust and safety become our most important currencies. We’ll decentralise the platform experience in favour of the human being.

We’ll give our daughter a soothing caress from across the ocean. We’ll hold the hand of our grandmother who has passed away. We’ll play chess with our best friend who moved away for work – and we will tear down the barriers of distance and time. We’ll treasure those meaningful moments. We won’t replace in-person experiences; instead, we’ll enhance our virtual experiences for the moments when being physically close isn’t possible. Our digital interactions with others will be centred again on our human experience.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

AMNC 2024: What to know about Day 1

Gayle Markovitz

June 24, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum