Chapter 3. Designing, with Feeling

RUMMAGING AROUND IN THE clutter of handouts that comes home from school, I stumbled on an alarming article in my youngest daughter’s welcome packet, “It’s Digital Heroin: How Screens Turn Kids into Psychotic Junkies.” Although I certainly struggle with parenting in the digital age, I was taken aback by this high-panic pathologization of technology. Naturally, I tried Facetiming my middle school daughter, just in her room upstairs. No answer. Then, I texted my oldest daughter also at home somewhere. At first three dots, and then nothing.

Eventually, I found the same blurred and crooked photocopy in each packet—elementary school, middle school, and high school. When I sampled the opinion of other parents, no one gave it a second thought. When we think about the most vulnerable among us, emotions are laid bare. Smartphones make kids feel stressed, envious, depressed, and inadequate. Everyone knows that technology makes you feel horrible, I was told. But I wasn’t so sure.

This was a turning point for me. And, as a researcher, I approached it in the best way I knew how. Thousands of diary entries and hundreds of interviews later, I noticed how difficult it is to find a “good” experience that isn’t emotionally complex. A smooth process, once appreciated, was soon taken for granted. Rarely did I see mention of the little blips of delight we diligently design. When people described their highs and lows with technology, it was with mixed emotions. Often ...

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