Giancarlo Pitocco on Technology, Relationships, and Awakening in the Digital Age

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

Listen to the full conversation below:

Is there a parent alive who isn’t concerned at some level of the effect technology is having on their children? From social media bullying to shortened attention spans, it feels like our children’s developing brains are the guinea pigs in a generational social experiment. What little data we have offers a bleak picture. Common Sense Media’s national survey of educator’s report that children’s emotional regulation and resilience—their ability to bounce back from the tough stuff life throws at them—is at an all-time low.

Giancarlo Pitocco founded Purposeful, a digital wellbeing enterprise, to empower us to cultivate healthy relationships with technology.  He attributes decreased resilience to our digital age.  Parents are never more than a text message away. Children can offload troubling feelings in a split second instead of building the capacity to handle them.

And it’s not just our kids.  My own coping strategies have devolved.  If I’m bored waiting in line? I’ll check email. Tired? I’ll scroll social media to unwind. Feeling awkward, worried or anxious?  I’ll grab my phone.

Giancarlo wasn’t surprised in the least when I confessed to using a four-inch device to soothe myself like a pacifier. Technology, he explains, is like food, caffeine, alcohol, or any other stimuli we ingest.  Handled intentionally, it can be a powerful tool for good, but becomes problematic if used unchecked.  “Technology,” he says, “is simply a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves.”

As a young tech whiz at the top of the game, Pitocco worked for all the shiniest players: Facebook, Apple, Instagram. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytical scandal, he asked Mark Zuckerberg at a company town hall meeting how they would address exposures that are eroding democracy and privacy. Zuckerberg’s response had more to do with managing Facebook’s reputation than resolving root problems.

Pitocco realized that the changes he wanted to see made could not happen inside the system that created them. As he travels the country, parents, educators, and employers look to him for answers.

It would be easy to position himself as the expert. Because he is.

But Giancarlo Pitocco is not interested in saving us.

He’s here to remind us how to save ourselves.

The heart of his message is the same whether he’s speaking in a board room, classroom, or community center: I know you came looking for answers. But you don’t need the answers from me. The answers are inside you. I’ll help you with inner exploration necessary to get in touch with your values, and then we’ll work together to decide what’s right for you.

Reckoning with our technology is inextricably connected to what it means to be human. It amplifies our tendencies for connection and distraction.  Tech platforms are designed to hijack our attention by manipulating the powerful reward centers of our brains.  The longer we’re engaged on the platform, the more ads we can be sold. But tech titans aren’t evil masterminds, they’re being faithful to the Silicon Valley ‘growth at all costs’ economic directive.

Giancarlo is not alone in sounding the alarm. Tristan Harris who founded the Center for Humane Technology, calls the interconnected system of social isolation, addiction, outrage, misinformation, and political polarization ​“human downgrading” and warns that it poses an existential threat to humanity.It’s never been easier, through our buzzing, vibrating omnipresent phones, to run away from ourselves. But we are not doomed to be at their mercy.

The long-term solution is both individual and collective.  We must harness our collective agency and create a grassroots movement to hold the government and tech companies responsible.

In the meantime, change begins with us.

Begin, Giancarlo suggests, with an honest conversation. What relationship do I want to have with technology? What relationship do I want my children to have?  What do they want for themselves and how do we balance it all?  Instead of getting furious at our kids for incessant snap chatting, get curious about why they use it.

Giancarlo’s message to his audience extends far beyond our relationship technology. It calls us an essential global shift: It’s time to let go of expectations that leaders on high are coming to save us and take responsibility for our own agency.  It’s time to realize there are no easy fixes and strengthen our capacity for complexity.  It’s time to move beyond the comfort of being told what to do by experts and discover the power inside us.

More rules or a clear playbook won’t ease what pains us and Giancarlo refuses to capitalize on our desire for easy answers. The way forward demands clear eyes, open hearts, linking arms together. The answer we seek lies inside us. Following the long and winding road has brought Giancarlo Pitocco from Silicon Valley to the most essential, urgent work of our time: accompanying our awakening.

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