The CEO of Cypher on the surprise upsides of technology

Screens, games, apps and the internet are often seen as the ‘baddies’ in our lives – but can computer science improve our lives and wellbeing? 

There are lots of rather scary headlines about Artificial Intelligence and technology taking over our lives and our jobs. Autonomous cars becoming our faceless taxi drivers. Robots caring for our ageing relatives. Apps organising our finances. Disembodied voices choosing our playlists. And no-one can feel comfortable about teenagers spending too long alone in their rooms on the internet – which does have threats and dangers. In this era of instant gratification, it’s important to stop, take a deep breath, slow down and put things in perspective.

It is useful to remind ourselves of what benefits the communications revolution has brought – and may deliver in the future. Many of the concepts that at first seem worrying or disempowering may well be the ideas that save us. For instance, autonomous cars with integrated safety features, controlled maximum speeds and zero emissions will dramatically reduce accidents and pollution on the roads. 

Meanwhile here are a few things that are on the positive side of the story about the tech that affects our lives today – and may help us and our children.


Studies show that it’s not the length of screen time that endangers mental health and behaviour, but rather the content itself. It’s useful to identify the four different types of screen time – creative, communicative, active and passive. There are positive aspects to each, and using the mantra of ‘measured, monitored, meaningful’ can guide our children to a healthy relationship with their screens. Of course, it’s not just the kids that may be spending too long with their eyeballs fixed to the illuminated rectangle. Hold is a nice little app, good for both teenagers and adults, that rewards you for not using your phone. Great to help you instigate good habits like ‘no tech at the table’.


While having dinner together every evening is the best way to catch up and connect with the family, technology has brought us some ways of delivering a face-to-face experience when we can’t actually be there. Facetime and Skype are wonderfully easy ways of making us feel we’ve almost actually been in someone’s presence. It can be a real comfort to university students away from home to have Mum in the kitchen with them for a chat – even if they are just on their iPad. 

Yoga and meditation

It’s widely accepted that taking time out to focus on yourself is well worthwhile. If you’re juggling children, work, a partner and life in general – it can be hard to find that quality ‘you’ time. Something like Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is a lovely way of focusing on your fitness and your mind, facilitated by our old friend the internet. This ummer our Fit for the Future coding camps will include a few minutes of meditation every day to help kids focus and reconnect with themselves. Meditation has been shown to improve concentration and behaviour in schools. And, technology can help.

Re-connecting with nature

There’s research to show that time outside improves our levels of happiness. The Wild Network have a mission to grow what they call Wildtime. They’ve partnered with Persil to create the free Wild Explorers app, to help the whole family get outside. So, if you have 10 minutes with your four year old you could find a list of 14 things to do together ‘on your doorstep’. Immediately you and your child are reconnecting and really observing what’s going on in nature close at hand.

Healthy eating

There is a concern about children’s diet and exercise. Simple tick charts you can make with your kids to track the fruit and veg they’ve eaten each day is a way to start ‘codifying’ data and reward improvements. Change 4 Life apps, from Public Health England, are easy to use and super kid-friendly. Put the Food Scanner app in the hands of a six year old – and you’ll have an expert on the sugar, fat and salt content of your favourite packaged foods. On an idle stroll into my kitchen just now I discovered that Nutella has 56.3 sugar cubes per jar, making it very high in sugar and saturated fat. But on a brighter note, it’s low in salt.

Get moving

‘Time to stand!’ Anyone with an Apple watch will recognise this command. Devices that measure movement and incentivise exercise generally do improve our fitness. Fitbit have a new tracker that promises to ‘Build healthy habits’ for kids. At our camps children have created their own pedometers – which of course they can’t wait to try out. 

Technology as therapy

OxfordVR is working to develop a VR treatment for young people with social anxiety. When VR is done properly, the experience triggers the same psychological and physiological reactions as real-life situations. Their first live project to combat the fear of heights had results that are better than those expected with the best psychological intervention delivered face to face with a therapist. 

At Cypher, we believe that by giving our students the fundamentals of computational thinking we are reducing their fear of the future and giving them the tools to succeed in any field they choose. We want all children to be fluent with the technological languages that will facilitate their futures in a context that appeals to them – from fashion to engineering, art to mathematics, architecture to conservation. 

Cypher are running their Fit for the Future camps during the Summer holidays for children aged 5 – 12+. Including time for meditation, games and healthy snacks, the camps inspire children to learn the language of the future, coding, through learning the foundations of computational thinking and hands-on creative projects. Different themes each day will help our students get a positive approach to technology and develop their own ideas towards happiness and wellbeing. 

Find out more about Cypher Camps here