A concept initially envisioned by healthcare experts, digital wellness is now on the lips of the world’s biggest tech players. But is it merely a buzzword, or does it seek to address a real growing problem in our tech-based society?
With each and every day, we’re being connected to one another at unprecedented rates.
Businesses are using technology to streamline operations and boost bottom lines. Overseas travellers can switch on FaceTime to talk to loved ones at home face-to-face. Students no longer need to lug around backbreaking backpacks; they can use a tablet to link up to perhaps the best encyclopaedia we have right now: the internet.
But too much of a good thing can be bad for you. In the case of technology (particularly the internet), experts and policymakers are concerned that they’re causing behavioural shifts on a global scale – referring what’s being dubbed as ‘tech addiction’.
Enter the concept of ‘Digital Wellness’. It is a global movement designed to strike a balance between technology and personal well-being. Simultaneously, it seeks to establish a holistic and unified approach to responsible internet consumption.
Our insatiable appetite for connectivity
Now’s a good time to be alive. Today’s technology has liberated us and is empowering us to lead lives we previously would’ve never thought possible. More than half of the world is connected to the internet and smartphone usage is on a constant rise. It’s much easier for nearly everyone around the world to link up and consume content online.
But there’s a dark side to this consumption.
Online platforms – be they social networks, e-commerce sites or games – today are using persuasive and motivational techniques to bait its users. According to the World Health Organisation, these include:
- Scarcity: a snap or status is only temporarily available; encouraging one to get online quickly
- Social proof: thousands of users retweeted or shared an article, so you should go online and read it
- Personalisation: news feeds are designed to filter and display content based on one’s interest. This often leads to the creation of ‘echo chambers’; and
- Reciprocity: inviting more friends to a network to get extra points. It becomes harder for a person or their friends to leave once integrated into the network.
Do these tactics sound familiar to you? We spend enough of our waking hours using our devices whether for work or play. Apart from encouraging us to keep up-to-date (for fear of losing out in this faced-past internet age), such techniques tap into our innate desire to socialise. We’re just getting more used to doing it via our screens than in person.
With great Wi-Fi comes great responsibility
There’s nothing innately negative about using more of the internet in our daily routines. As with everything else, moderation is key. Using the internet more frequently but without responsibility not only makes us susceptible to be fired up by unverified news, it can also make us compulsive in our pursuit of updates.
For today’s baby boomers (and even millennials), we still remember a time when the internet isn’t as ubiquitous in everything as it is today. This isn’t the case with Generation Z; their youth and formative years have been shaped by the internet.
With the looming risk fostered by hyper-connectivity, even the world’s tech giants are worried that today’s tech is making us lose touch with reality.
On one hand, Apple recently announced controls that allow iOS users to monitor the time they spent on devices; as well as setting time limits on app use, controlling the level of distractions from notifications, and regulate children’s’ device usage.
On the other, Google is adding features to the Android OS the help users keep their smartphone usage in check. This includes a dashboard showing people just how much they’re spending time on devices and apps. The company is also introducing a ‘wind down mode’ – which is effectively a ‘do not disturb’ function that greys out the phone in the evening to prevent pre-bedtime distractions.
These efforts are good and show that technology’s come a long way, but they’re relying on devices to automatically keep our habits under control. It’s important to remember that they’re just tools which we can use.
What, then, can we do to raise our own agency in using technology responsibly?
We’re letting technology tell us what to do, instead of the other way around. We’re being tethering to our devices and social media networks to the point that withdrawal may even cause anxiety, panic and even depression.
But like our computers, our brain needs to rest its processing power. It also needs a regular clearing-up of cache and junk data to operate smoothly.
Part of the popularity of digital wellness today is the trend of undergoing ‘digital detoxification’. While tech developers are creating more tools to help balance our device usage, the onus is really on us to control our connectivity.
This can be as simple as stashing your phone in your desk or bag or creating rules for yourself to not use it during mealtimes (as itchy as it may be for the foodie in you to not post your dish in Instagram). In this case, leaving your devices out of sight, out of mind can be beneficial.
And this detox doesn’t even need to take long. Even three days can help one lower their stress level and reliance on technology. What’s key is that one takes enough time away from their screens to begin appreciating the importance of balancing digital life with real life.
Conclusion: taking back control of technology
The internet has been one of the greatest socio-economic enablers over the past century and is showing no signs of slowing down.
But we humans are analogue creatures, not digital ones. There’s only so much information that we can take it at a time, and therefore its important to keep ourselves in check when it comes to using technology.
By establishing healthy guidelines and boundaries on our relationship with technology, digital wellness is for us to remind us humans that we’re the internet’s masters; not vice versa.