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When Tech Gets It Right: Apps & Games For a Better World

by Ivory King

Despite the clutter that apps and devices can create in our everyday lives, there are some that make our lives genuinely better. That can mean making it easier to check ingredients on packaged food or products easier, or a way to teach our kids about environmental responsibility. These products try to do just that, and some of them are even fun!

Shopping for groceries or personal items keeps getting more complicated. Just trying to avoid certain ingredients or chemicals makes getting our everyday needs into a research project. Fortunately there is an app that can make this process a little simpler. Good Guide is a website that has been collecting product information for years. The mobile version has a product scanner that easily lets you find the grades for household products and packaged foods. While it’s useful for helping your family to avoid questionable ingredients, the grading system also includes other factors like nutritional value and the amount of data that brands make available about their products.

Ingredient transparency is as important as knowing what the words in the ingredient list are referring to. Many companies hide chemicals in their products behind phrases like “fragrance” or “natural flavoring.” These terms have no legal definition in regards to telling us if there are substances that we would rather avoid. While we can’t know what exactly they consider fragrance, we can choose an equivalent product that has full ingredient disclosure.

Plants are great for oxygenating and absorbing pollutants, and they can also be valuable teaching tools for kids. But if they’re on the younger side, you may want to help them on their way a bit with a self-watering planter pot. A plant in their room gives them a chance to be responsible for a living thing, albeit a much less labor intensive organism than a puppy. But there are other learning opportunities: seeing a seed germinate and grow shows kids so much about biology and natural processes, and it can foster a better relationship to the earth, especially for urban kids! There are many of its like, but the Aquaphoric self watering planter comes in lots of bright colors that will go with any child’s decor, and they come with their own soil.

aquaphoric self-watering planters of many colors

Do you always feel like you’re turning the lights off after your family moves from room to room? A device that might actually help with that is called Hyko, a polar bear shaped LED lamp, from Netherlands developer Andriy Shmyhelskyy. At his simplest, Hyko acts as a nightlight and bedtime companion. You can adjust the colors, brightness and on/off timer through the phone app as well. Hyko is also a sleeping schedule tool: he turns red for bedtime, turns off during the night, and then wakes up with a blue glow in the morning. If your child wakes up during the night, he can turn back on just by being picked up and given a little shake.

Hyko, the bear lampHyko, the bear lamp

Besides his scheduling features, Hyko also has stories and games on the app that teach kids about the environment, energy usage and climate change. These are designed to help kids understand that energy use with the home has an impact on the world around them, and encourages them to use less of it.

The interactivity of Hyko creates not only a relationship with the bear himself, but a more intimate connection with how your child can affect the world, even if in small ways. This is one reason why games are so powerful for teaching kids about sustainability - they show players how their choices matter, and show the different types of relationships that people have with the environment. Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), a console and computer game, is centered on an Alaskan Native girl who is trying to solve an environmental crisis that threatens the survival of her people.

Nuna of Never AloneNuna of Never Alone

The title refers to the style of gameplay, where you can switch from main character Nuna and her companion Fox to solve puzzles. The game was created in collaboration with elders, storytellers and community members of the Iñupiat, a people whose traditional territory spans from Alaska into the Northwest Territories of Canada. The story draws on Iñupiaq stories and tells them in their own language, creating a fun experience that shares the customs and values of an indigenous culture. Never Alone was developed by Upper One Games, the first indigenous-owned commercial game company in the US, and won the Games for Change Award in 2016.

From keeping chemicals out of our homes to encouraging our kids to learn about climate change, tech designers can help out around the home. Hopefully you find something useful for your own family here!


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When Tech Gets It Right: Apps & Games For a Better World

y Ivory King Despite the clutter that apps and devices can create in our everyday lives, there are some that make our lives genuinely better. That can mean making it easier to check ingredients on pac
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