There has been a lot of noise around digital wellbeing recently. Everyone is asking how much do you use your phone? How long are kids playing on tablets for? Is it bad for us? So, in this blog I’m going to examine digital wellbeing, both pros and cons, and give you a Fusion Spaces take on it.
So, what is digital wellbeing?
The definition of digital wellbeing is: ‘A term used by health professionals, researchers and device manufacturers to describe the concept that when humans interact with technology, the experience should support mental and/or physical health in a measurable way. The goal of improving digital wellbeing is to design technology in such a way that it promotes healthy use and proactively assists the user to maintain a healthy lifestyle.’
In my mind the key to digital wellbeing is summed up in the last sentence i.e. promotes healthy use and proactively assists the use to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But that still leaves the question – is our handheld technology harmful?
Both sides of the story
As with anything there are always two sides to the story so let’s examine the cons first.
Prof Niall Moyna has connected the rising obesity levels and sedentary lifestyle with technology, saying: “It’s the digital age that has actually engineered activity out of our lives.” Phones, tablets, and computers are now used as a digital baby sitters. Frequently you see a small child merrily playing a game on an old phone, and the only movement they are making is with their thumb.
As discussed in previous blogs, light has a big impact on how we feel and how awake we are. Phones have been referred to as sleep’s worst enemy as the brightness wakes us up when we should be winding down at night and the content keeps us scrolling.
Constant scrolling is also addictive, it has been attributed to internet addiction which correlates with high levels of anxiety, ADHD, depression, poor time management and impulsiveness. In fact, studies show that the neurotransmitter dopamine, which manages our brain’s reward and pleasure centres, rushes through our bodies whenever we receive a text, like or email. This is also linked to FOMO, the fear of missing out. You constantly want an update on what is happening socially, so you are up to speed and not missing out. That is part of why we love our phones so much and feel we can’t live without them.
One of the most recent and worrying developments has come from Silicon Valley, where the people who invented most of our technology reside. Journalist Nellie Bowles, has been investigating technology and internet culture. She has seen a rise in parents in Silicon Valley banning their children from using devices. Interesting that this is coming from the very people who designed them in the first place. Perhaps they know something we don’t know or are they being overly cautious?
On the flip side
Where there are negatives, there are always positives and although technology has made our lives more sedentary there are now a plethora of apps and fitness trackers which encourage us to move more. Some vibrate every hour and suggest walking 250 steps, Couch to 5K helps you build up your running distance, while others hurl irreverent abuse at you while you are carrying out a seven minute work out (not one that I would prefer).
The sleep issue can also be resolved with technology and apps too. Many phones now have a screen contrast which you can have come on at a certain time of night. This automatically dims your screen and softens the light from a blue white to an amber warm tone, which is easier on the eyes and healthier for the mind. You can also turn off notifications, so you don’t have noise and vibrations disturbing your sleep during the night.
There is also a wealth of apps which will aid sleep and relaxation. Headspace provides sleep packs to help you relax ready for sleep, or help you to fall asleep again if you are disturbed. Relax Melodies lets you select soothing sounds and tunes to help you prepare for rest. And then there is Happify which is simply there to help you to be happy and relaxed.
Another area where tech is actually proving to be a positive is in connecting the disconnected people. In the UK loneliness is costing the economy £1.8 billion, and that is only looking at the over 50s demographic. Older people who are lonely are three times more likely to develop depression and twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Vodafone have actually developed their own wristband which is designed to support independent living for the elderly. By using the mobile network and the wristband, people can go about their lives but summon help if they need it. It also alerts relatives if they should have a fall.
Now the dreaded screen time question. Is it having a negative impact on us and our children? Reports on the subject are a real mixed bag and this recent study suggests that there is little evidence of a link between screen time to general wellbeing. In fact, Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, is more concerned about the damaging content that children can access online rather than the overall amount of time spent on a device.
That said, they still recommend not using a phone for at least one hour before bed and also encourage the dinner table to be a phone free zone.
Fusion Spaces’ thoughts
As with many things, moderation is key, and it’s important to know what a healthy dose of connectedness is for you, personally. Aim to create boundaries around time and exposure, stop and take breaks if you feel anxious or overwhelmed.
By putting your phone down, you can spend more quality time with your friends and family. Staying in touch on social media is useful, but it doesn’t compare to seeing people face-to-face. Let people know you’re switching off, remember it’s ok to disconnect.
Putting your phone away before bedtime will help you sleep better as it stops you over stimulating your brain when you are trying to wind down.
Putting your phone down and just being in the moment, looking around you and simply being present aids mindfulness and reminds you of your surroundings.
As you can see there are benefits in stepping away from your phone and not allowing it to dominate so many aspects of your life. It’s time to disconnect our phones and reconnect with who and what matters and most importantly ourselves.