Sustainability

Topic: Problems in the developing world.

 

Mark Kramer: I’m not sure we’re in a position to morally demand that of any country when we haven’t done it ourselves. There’s a little bit of an analogy in my mind to cell phone use in Africa. The use of cell phones in Africa is the highest per capita in the world because they sort of skipped the step of landlines because once cell phone technology is available, the tremendous cost of installing landlines everywhere no longer is necessary. I think there’s an element in developing country business enterprises that’s similar. Now that we’re aware of issues like greenhouse gases, like solid waste disposal, et cetera, we actually have the opportunity to build businesses and economies that address those issues from the outset rather than trying to retrofit them later. So I think there’s an opportunity there but I think you’re right, it’s not something we’re in a position to demand of others.

 

Question: Who does sustainability well?

 

Mark Kramer: You look at the tsunami rescue effort and of the 18 major international organizations that brought in relief, only three or four actually had logistics software and capacity to manage the inflow of funds efficiently. There are an awful lot of companies out there that could’ve provided direct relief much more effectively than many of the nonprofits they wrote checks to because they understand how to manage materials, because they have the planes and the trucks and the resources to actually deliver the materials where they’re needed effectively. Companies are really good at doing all kinds of things and many of those things are the answers to a lot of our social problems. Above all, companies have a real performance mandate built in to how they think and how they operate. What they care about are results and they will do what it takes to achieve the results they need to achieve and if people aren’t achieving results, they’re out of there.

That culture is really not prevalent in the nonprofit sector, where people are making great sacrifices to work in the sector, they’re trying hard, they care, but they’re not always in organizations that are enabling them to truly be effective and deliver results.

 

Topic: For Profit vs. Non-profit

 

Mark Kramer: I think there are a lot of differences between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and certainly tremendous differences around access to capital. Whether a nonprofit can achieve the kind of growth and success that a for-profit can, I think gets at a number of issues. But there is an interesting category that’s sort of in between that’s emerging, of social entrepreneurs and hybrid organizations. They really are leveraging for-profit capabilities to address social issues. So I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the social issues that prevents you from addressing it in similar ways. I’ll give you an example. There’s a company called Waste Concern in Bangladesh and the issue they address is in the slums in Dhaka.

The government does not collect the garbage so it rots in the streets. It’s a horrible health hazard, it’s a horrible problem. Two engineers got together and said maybe we could hire some of the unemployed people in the slums to collect the garbage. We could recycle things but we could compost the rest. We could make organic fertilizer and we could sell the fertilizer. When they started out it was very hard for them to raise the initial money. Ultimately, the Lion’s Club and the United Nations Environmental Program were the ones that gave them the money to start out with a very small facility.

They weren’t quite making it economically until they found that they could actually sell carbon credits, because when the garbage was rotting in the streets, it released greenhouse gases and when they composted it, it didn’t. So when they factored the carbon credits in, they found they could collected a ton of garbage for 30 dollars and they could generate 60 dollars of revenue between the carbon emissions and the organic fertilizer so they were able to grow very rapidly. They’ve now done a deal with a major international corporation and they’re now handling, in less than seven years from a startup, the garbage from three million people. They’re franchising this in Vietnam, Sri Lanka and other regions around the country and it’s a very profitable business. It’s employing tens of thousands of people who’d be unemployed. It is reducing greenhouse gases. It is reducing health hazards. It’s creating organic fertilizer that’s increasing crop yields. And it’s a remarkable win-win solution.

 

Recorded June 4, 2008.

 

Why corporations are uniquely equipped to drive social change.

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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