Being graceful, or being more at ease in the world, is something we all aspire to. But in our always-connected, always-on world, this has become more difficult. Can grace survive in an age of instant responses, bombastic communications, online harassment and polarization?
I believe that not only can grace survive, it can thrive in today’s society if we choose to seek it out and enact it where it’s least expected. Grace is a lens through which to understand the world, and a philosophy that can help us better navigate our digital lives.
That’s why I teamed up with Sarah L. Kaufman, author of the book The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life, and Caresse Giles, director of digital at iStrategy Labs, to create Gracefully, a website and podcast devoted to grace and technology. We’re exploring the very notion of grace and uncovering where it is embodied in our everyday life, both online and off. We are looking at ways that thoughtful design, intentional approaches to online content, and personal choices can promote community and enhance civil engagement. Our goal is to humanize technology and empower everyone to live more gracefully in the digital age.
So what do we mean by grace? As Sarah has written on our site, it’s a lovely concept, but difficult to pin down. We all come to the word “grace” with different perceptions. Perhaps it’s smooth, elegant Fred Astaire-style movement. Or warm and welcoming behavior, like that friend you have with a listening ear and buckets of patience. We may also think of spiritual grace, an unseen presence showering us with unconditional love, to help us get through things.
Sarah, who is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic for The Washington Post, has spent her career around dancers, which led her to think a lot about grace, and to write her book examining the three aspects of grace — physical, social and spiritual. What do they share? A sense of ease. Ease in the way we move our bodies, and in the feeling that comes over us when we watch other beautiful movers. That consoling ease when we feel the love of a higher power. And the ease we bring about for others, in how we connect with and treat those around us.
Putting folks at ease: That’s pretty much the essence, and the pinnacle, of grace.
As communities and social interactions have become more digital and tech-fueled, finding that sense of graceful ease may seem elusive. It doesn’t have to be. The key is to create norms and practices around how we use and build technology and integrate. This is an opportunity to restore a greater sense of humanity to our digital world, and create new online experiences that help us discover and experience amazing grace.
So then, what is graceful technology? For us, it’s technology that brings you ease when you use it, and helps you bring ease to others. It also doesn’t take control of your life. Let’s unpack that a bit.
Any technology that helps you live simpler, more efficiently and more joyfully is graceful. This could be technology or an app that helps you manage your schedule, or brings a smile to your face with inspiring writing, visual images or audio. Perhaps it deepens your connection with loved ones. It’s technology that includes you and welcomes you, that doesn’t incorporate biases and inequities, and that encourages thoughtful communication. That’s the sort of ease we can all benefit from.
On Gracefully, you’ll find posts on how to have healthier, more elegant and graceful posture when you’re using your smartphone (that is, ways to avoid tech neck and hunched shoulders). We’ve written about how virtual reality is bringing vicarious adventures to kids with terminal illnesses. You’ll find tips for balancing screen time and physical play for children, and ways that technology can help you practice tolerance and compassion. There’s much more, and our podcast will launch soon and include perspectives from Chautauquans.
At its best, technology can also bring ease to others, whether it is improving accessibility to high-quality information or helping people find a community where they feel at home. Some examples of how graceful technology can help you bring ease to others include enabling you to speak a different language, making your website more accessible to people with disabilities, or empowering you to speak up against injustice.
Finally, how can we stop technology from taking control of our lives? For most of us, completely disconnecting is not an option, but we can certainly start to create more boundaries around where and when we use technology. We don’t always need the smartphone on the table and we don’t need to constantly check social media sites for validation.
Our technologies and the internet are all a work in progress. That means we shouldn’t expect all technology to be graceful, and in fact, all of it doesn’t need to be. Rather, it’s something designers and developers of technology should aspire to achieve.
As we think about digital grace, we should remember a major part of the equation is how technology is used. In no small part, it’s on us, the users, to create the norms and standards that will enable us to live more gracefully in this always-connected world.
We’d love for you to be a part of Gracefully by sharing with us your examples of technology, online sites and communities, or apps that bring ease to you life. Find us on Twitter @GracefullyTech or online at gracefully.tech to share your insights.
Behavior is contagious, and we believe we can realize the full potential of our shared humanity — the internet, too — if we all strive to live more gracefully.
Brian Wesolowski is a vice president at a D.C.-based technology and internet policy think tank, and a co-creator of Gracefully. Throughout the week, the Gracefully team will be interviewing featured speakers and Chautauquans to discover stories of grace both online and off. These interviews will be part of the forthcoming “Gracefully” podcast.