On Saturday June 9, a standing room only crowd of 250 academics, designers, ethicists, computer scientists, entrepreneurs, psychologists, high school students and others gathered to work collectively to solve problems associated with technology, including addiction, binge-watching, bullying, and emotional detachment. The one-day event, called a reverse hackathon, was held at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and was co-organized by CIIS and HackMentalHealth.
After School Vice President Jeff collins participated in the event, along with a group of high school students recruited by him and After School partners Crisis Text Line and the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellness. Teams spent the day designing changes to improve existing products rather than the traditional hackathon model of writing code to create new ones. “This event was an important step to begin to bridge the gap between popular consumer technology products created for profit and what’s in the best interest of the mental health of users,” said Collins.
After keynote speeches kicked off the event, there was an activity for all those who had not already formed teams. Participants broke out into groups based on the main internet-related problems they were interested in addressing.
Teams prepared presentation pitches to explain how the team planned to create a new and helpful feature for an existing product. Ideas for features were aimed at better serving the mental and emotional health of users. The event’s broad guidelines helped ensure that teams addressed a wide variety of perceived problems.
Jeff’s initial 12-person group wrote down all of the issues they could think of related to negative effects of technology use. They then grouped them into six categories and picked the top two themes. The group formed two teams, one for each of those themes: detachment and addiction.
The final idea for the dependence group focused on how to help users detach from technology to experience more of life off of their smartphones and devices. The application would keep track of screen time and offer rewards for disconnecting.
In addition to participating in the event, After School partnered with event organizers to help support the event. Other partners included Therachat, Google, Greylock Partners, Mindstrong, All Tech is Human, and Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
There were 30 teams, with a handful making the finals. Although neither of the teams filled with teenagers and After School’s Jeff Collins did not make the finals, Collins was pleased with the outcome of the event. “The fact that so many stakeholders are interested in limiting the negative effects that come with technology is encouraging. We appreciate Hack Mental Health organizing this fantastic event and including us in it, and look forward to future efforts,” said Collins.