Jess Davis, Founder of Folk Rebellion

As an expert in slower-living and the more mindful use of technology, she founded the site and movement, Folk Rebellion.

When she realized the negative impacts of excessive technology on her life, Jess Davis decided she had to do something--leading to her to create the rebellious movement and platform, Folk Rebellion. Jess Davis is a creative spirit who doesn’t know how to be anything but real and naturally, her recommendations and commentary on mindful tech follow (and you may remember her from her In Depth piece, a little while back). Read along to get to know Jess.

What inspired you to create Folk Rebellion? 

It really came out of my own need. My previous career was a very fast-paced one that lived almost wholly online. I was an award-winning brand strategist and creative director for rapidly growing companies that wanted or needed to create digital ecosystems and build community through storytelling and communications. Once I realized that my feelings of listlessness, fatigue, memory loss, malaise, brain fog were all related to my overdependence and possible addiction to technology - I couldn’t imagine what a world would be like for my son when he came of age, if we stayed on the current trajectory. So I did what I knew how to do best - create a lifestyle brand. I mean, no one wants to be told they are scrambling their brains or worse yet, their kids’. So I started Folk Rebellion as a counter culture, rebellious, and edgy lifestyle brand to spark the conversation and wake people up. You have to realize that ‘digital detox’ was barely in the lexicon back then. I created it to be a voice, resource, & alternative for everyone feeling consumed by the tsunami of the digital revolution.

"I started Folk Rebellion as a counter culture, rebellious, and edgy lifestyle brand to spark the conversation and wake people up."

Based on your research, why are we so addicted to technology? 

Well, first, people have to start to understand that it's mostly designed that way. We’ve been living the past decade in an attention economy. What that simply means is that the tools, devices, platforms, content, and apps have given away their services for free because they make money off of the customers attention, or eyeballs, or ears. This has been the way that most every technology company, until late, has monetized. Through data and advertising. How do they guarantee the user comes back again and again and remain online for as long as possible? By monitoring behaviors and changing things based on them. A perfect example of this is the forever scrolling news feeds, the push to stories on Instagram, etc. What a human feels when they utilize these tools are akin to what humans feel when playing a slot machine, smoking a cigarette, or watching pornography. Furthermore, science and studies aren’t able to fully catch up with the effects of these feelings. What’s been studied one minute has been upgraded to a 2.0 version the next. But the early signs aren’t good. It’s been proven that our brains are being rewired based on these tools. And it’s not just what we consume anymore, but how, that determines if we will be able to maintain our creativity and critical thinking.

What are three things that everyone can do if they are feeling overwhelmed by technology?

  1. First, gain an awareness of what your consumption is like. The best way to do this is a digital detox. Don’t just go offline and throw back margaritas like YAY PARTAYYY. Very thoughtfully go offline for a minimum of 24 hours but ideally more like a long weekend. Take notes, write a scratch in a notebook you carry in your back pocket every time you reach for your phone. Find out what your ‘drug of choice’ is. Mine’s email. I had to remove it from my phone. Discover WHY you are most likely to touch your device. For me? Small talk. UGH I hate it so much. My phone is like a get out of jail free card.
  2. Decide what changes you want to make and understand that just like a diet, you may want to go all in and extreme but be kind to yourself and realize you will probably have to adjust the goal posts. Start small. Create some boundaries around your usage. The most popular ones are set hours for work emails. Putting phones away or in another room for certain periods of time. Reintroduce analog music, reading, hobbies. Remember a lack of boundaries welcomes a lack of respect.
  3. Then shout it from the mountaintops. Or your instagram profile. Yes, the irony. But this step is imperative. It will help remove any anxiety you might feel about being inaccessible at certain times. This ensures your mom knows you’re not dead, your boss knows you don’t respond to emails after 7pm but you’ll get back to them during business hours, and starts to give you permission to breathe, create space, and distance.

You write and create an incredible amount of unique content. What is your creative process?

I wish I could say I had something really special and proprietary but I truly operate from the complete and total fear provided by procrastination. My best work has always been, in business and in my personal pursuits, last minute. It’s as if the panic produces some of my best ideas. I also really believe in Parkinson's Law - that work fills time - having been in upper management and then transitioning to a very busy mom. Once my time was shortened, I was still able to do the work, in a shorter time frame, and better. 

Besides that I typically have Van Morrison playing in the background, block all distractions online, 2 giant cups of coffee, and sit in a sunny window til the words spill (more like vomit) on the page. I also love to work the analog way. When building big campaigns or strategies or new projects it’s all with paper, collage, torn pages, highlighters, push pins….the OG pinterest boards.

How do you discover all the “in real life” experiences you want to have? Where or who do you go to for recommendations?

I’m a big fan of newsletters. I subscribe to so many and then binge read them all at once. I love them so much I even started my own. Newsletters allow me to stay in the know but not have to forever be scrolling through feeds digging out the little bits of content I want. I also pay for my favorite publishers - in hopes that they keep their print offerings going no matter what the current trends predict. My house is filled with magazines and newspapers. 

You’re big on "in real life" experiences--how do you make the most of a city whether you’re in your own or somewhere new?

I try to get suggestions from friends whose opinions I trust. That’s the key. This one time my friend raved about this place we were headed to in the Caribbean. She’d gotten the rec that it was the best of the best and we just had to stay there. When we got there we were the youngest people there by a solid 2 decades. When I asked her who she got the recc from she said her boss’ wife. I would’ve second guessed staying there had I known that. 

Some of my best experiences in other cities have been through friends or friends of friends. But I also love to get lost, read things on telephone poles, flyers in grocery stores. I understand that maybe some of the best little experiences might not have budgets to advertise or a PR company to get the word out. Old school ways like flyers and postcards prove to be some of the best unknown events.

"I try to get suggestions from friends whose opinions I trust. That’s the key."

We’ve taken a lot of care to build humane technology (no mindless scrolling and no follower counts, etc.) and loved our early conversations with you about building mindful tech--what responsibilities do you think tech companies have to their users?

A huge one. But unfortunately there is no mandated ethics in tech just yet. No professionalization like there is in law, medicine, or engineering. But hopefully someday. I am collaborating with the person trying to make that happen.

In a time where our dependence on technology has only increased—even to connect with friends and family—have any of your perspectives changed?

The only way they've changed is that I believe them more so now – deeper, and undoubtedly. Yes, the technology has done exactly what it was supposed to do – be a tool for us to use. It's helped my son keep learning, businesses continue to function, and connection with people from afar. But what I have always felt more than anything is that tech and digital should never be a replacement for real people, real things, real connection. The impact that will be felt from this time period, or already is, is profound. People feel the power of the digital world but can't avoid the powerful feeling of it not being enough. It's. Not. The. Same. Yes, you can teach - but it can't replace teachers. Yes, you can zoom for business but it can't replace the relationship building that happens over a coffee. Yes, you can House Party trivia games but it can't replace the hug of a friend. I think people are already coming to the dark side, my side ;), having three months of only online.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Jess. Your list of tips and tricks for balancing the very online world during COVID-19 is incredibly valuable.

May 20, 2020

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