I have got the opportunity to contribute in the domain of Digital Well-being for my thesis project. As I could uncover, the issue of digital well-being requires general awareness apart from design interventions and thus I present a series of blogs where I shall discuss the concepts of digital well-being, digital skills and how you might be (un)consciously a victim, and potentially a patient of a digital well being therapist. But not to worry, there are strategies I propose towards the end to help you detox from excess use of digital technologies.
It would now not require statistical proof for arguing that digital technologies, or smartphones in particular, have transformed the mental constructs of our relationships, environment, intellect and spirituality. We realize that our traditional real world society is shriveling into a rectangular piece of screen under the label of engagement, accessibility and service, immersing us into the Matrix. But if one really takes a pause and looks around, there is an actual purpose we intend to achieve from which we are distracted by the overwhelming information served to us.
The technology today, deliberately or inadvertently creates a solid impact in our daily lives. Mere presence of mobile phone in pockets has shown to reduce the quality of face-face interaction. Cases of distracted driving and reduced productivity are at the peak, lives of teenagers are being engrossed into their digital profiles. Starting from morning notifications to late night infinite scroll, a good night’s sleep has become a Herculean task.
We can recognize when we have a problem with our eyes, when we suffer from viral fever we consult a physician, but do we understand the symptoms associated with excess usage of technologies. Have you noticed them? Maybe in you or the people around you? Did you talk about them to someone or just because it is happening with everyone, it is normal?
Although these repercussions of excess usage of technology can be stated to be unintended, Chris Nodder in his book Evil by Design explains how interactions can be designed to lead us into temptation and enhance our emotions through engagement.
A list of notifications when we wake up in the morning — how empowering is this menu of choices when we wake up? Does it reflect what we care about? (credit to Joe Edelman) By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs. — Tristan Harris
We always choose such immediate enjoyment of likes, reacts, swipes and claps over long term flourishing, punching a hole in our well-being. But all this is not really good for nothing, your each swipe, click, reaction generates tonnes of revenues for companies in exchange for your sleep.
Well, they always say, If You’re Not Paying For It, You Are The Product.
One must have come across recent announcements by Google and Apple on addressing the issue of digital well-being by monitoring screen time. But if one must need to really achieve/experience the state, one must possess the necessary digital skills.I have explained this using an analogy below.
Consider an analogy between two phases of life. At young age when children are exposed to the real world society, certain real world skills like language, manners, values and other resources are taught for them to overcome challenges they might face in life. In similar manner when children are exposed to digital technology, are they prepared or equipped with digital skills to face the challenges they may come across?
In simple words, did the child know about pornography, until they learnt about it themselves? In case of real world, wasn’t the child already told not to accept things from stranger, then why is it we fall short in preparing them for the digital world?
Above are some of features launched by Instagram and YouTube to help users detox. It might certainly look ironical coming from them, but the real benefit lies with company since they would be better off with reduced usage than completely losing the users. Good Cop – Bad Cop both being played by the same company.
The digital skills, as the real life skills, are personalized in nature and come through practice. If using social media means for you to connect with friends, you should set boundaries within which you use the social platforms, such that you know when to stop and not be lured by other features. A recent study by Harvard linked natural light with well-being and on internet one would find many other studies. The fundamental issue I find in such literature is that there is a specific geography, demographics and cultural context in which such studies are done and whether or not the outcomes of that research are applicable universally is a serious question.
To begin addressing this issue, one needs to be self aware and proactive to understand if the use of technology is helping you achieve your purpose, keeping the focus on your life and not the devices. Google’s Well-being Initiative and Apple Screen Time are just some of tools to help you stick to your strategy. Limiting the time is not ensuring digital well-being, one needs to also understand the importance of the quality and purposeful time spent online. If you feel you are the only one, find a companion along and discuss in your circle so you can help each other out and keep track. If you are an employee, you can team up with your co-workers to develop strategies such that your job is not digitally heavy.
A context where you can begin with is to start putting off your phone to sleep before you go to sleep. Reinventing this bedtime routine will have positive impact on your sleep and will gradually become a positive reinforcement for you to detox, once your body realizes that greater pleasure is in sleeping.
To explain this, we have something called the Displacement Theory. It just explains that by spending time in front of screen, we are displacing the time which we would have spent sleeping. Hence, digital wellness lies not in merely detox, but doing things that actually matter to our well-being. This displacement hypothesis suggests that it is not so much that digital technology is inherently bad for our well-being, but that digital technology can displace (or replace) activities that enhance our well-being (e.g. sleeping, face to face interactions, physical exercise etc)
As promised, if you feel like a victim, feel free to use these strategies to achieve digital wellness. These have been consolidated from studies across the globe and more will be introduced in upcoming blogs.
Keep in mind that your current relation with digital technologies is due to several years of engagement and can’t be altered in a matter of weeks. So keep calm as you develop the digital skills! Start small and together we can get through.
Until next week!
Up next: Digital Well-being of Children and Strategies for Caregivers
A question for you this week : What are the activities you do using phone which you think can also be done without it?
Feel free to drop in your answers and feedback in the comments section below or mail me at [email protected] I would like to thank my guide Prof. Pankaj Upadhyay, Department of Design, IIT Guwahati for guiding me in the project.