In its 1948 constitution, the World Health Organization defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” That was ground-breaking and forward-thinking then, and it still is. But much has changed since then. Underlying our physical, mental and social well-being is our relationship with technology in our always-on and hyper-connected world. And this needs to be included in how we think about health and well-being, both for individuals and for businesses. That’s why I’m excited to announce a special section on Thrive Global’s media platform called Social Health. It will be edited by the acclaimed British writer and speaker, Julia Hobsbawm, visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School and at the University of Suffolk.
It’s a concept she laid out in her recently published book, Fully Connected: Surviving & Thriving in an Age of Overload. “Social Health is what I call a successful strategic approach to how we connect with each other in times which are overcrowded with ‘infobesity,’” she writes in her piece introducing this section. “The world’s soaring stress levels, stagnant productivity figures and cultural drop in trust and confidence in technology and social networks show that there is much work to be done.”
And this comes at a critical time. We’re at an inflection point in our relationship with technology. The past year has seen a great awakening about what the technology we’ve been swimming in for the past decade is doing to us. The impact of our always-on culture on our mental health, our relationships, and our productivity has become increasingly clear. And as a result, the need to set boundaries with technology so that we can maximize its benefit in our lives is one of most important conversations we are having.
We all feel this information overload and it’s getting worse. According to a recent study, the top ten percent of smartphone users touch their phones an average of 5,427 times each day. The rest of us are clocking in at 2,617 per day. And over 70 percent of Americans sleep next to or with their phone. It’s doing damage to our social interactions: in a Pew study, 89 percent of phone owners said they’d used their phones in their last social gathering, but 82 percent felt that when they do this it damages the interaction. This growing addiction to our phones is fundamentally changing our relationships: in one study, seventy percent said that phones had interfered with their interactions with their romantic partners. And it’s distorting our family life: according to one survey, 98 percent of parents said that unplugging from devices during meals is important to maintaining their family bond, and yet 42 percent couldn’t even remember the last time their family had eaten a meal with no devices present.
And we can see the results in the business world, as well. In the U.S., 70 percent of employees say they’re burned out — among senior leaders the number is 96 percent. And according to Gallup, 85 percent of employees worldwide say they’re not engaged at work, which costs economies hundreds of billions of dollars. Add to that the fact that stress costs an estimated $300 billion in the U.S. alone.
The “antidote,” Julia Hobsbawm writes, is to “put social health front and centre of organizational responses to the Always On era. And that’s exactly what our new section will be devoted to: strategies, tools, expertise, personal stories, and new role models of success who show how we can take control of our social health in the digital age.
Some of the pieces we’re featuring include:
- Johann Hari on mental health and social health and how our natural psychological needs inform why we might feel depressed or anxious.
- Puerto Rican social researcher Jorge Vega Matos on what coordinated hurricane responses teach us about community on social media.
- Jessica Morris of OurBrainBank on how a diagnosis of glioblastoma led her to found a nonprofit that enables patients to use an app to monitor their symptoms and “feel they’re controlling their disease, not the disease controlling them”
- Rasmus Hougaard and Louise Chester on how always-on connectivity compounded by the added pressures of leadership can neurologically rewire us to disconnect from both people and our own moral code and how leaders can help themselves focus on the right things
- John Dunton-Downer, the co-founder of the music charity Bolivia Classica on how meeting his wife, the acclaimed Bolivian pianist Ana Maria Vera, connected him with his passion in an unexpected way.
- Inger Paus, Managing Director of the Vodafone Institute for Society, on how being “always on” is draining people’s time.
And we want to hear from you. How do you manage to stay connected to your friends, to your work and to yourself in the age of overload? How do you prioritize your social health? Add your voice to this important conversation by tweeting or Instagramming your best stay-connected strategies to @thrive using the hashtag #socialhealth and we will share some of your best tips in an upcoming story.