Digital Wellness in the Time of COVID

digital-wellness

Photo Dimitri Karastelev

 “CoronaVirus ended the screen time debate. Screens won,” Nellie Bowles, New York Times.

In Lockdown Again

It is the end of November 2020 and many of us just started another stretch of isolation as lockdown rules were newly imposed.  On top of that, winter is beginning in Canada. Sitting or eating outside is a bit chilly.  Believe me, I tried having a birthday breakfast with a friend and we lasted about 30 minutes, despite blankets and coffee!

This means we are back to our indoor, home offices with screens looming and Zoom meetings beckoning.  Some researchers are reporting that screen addiction has become the third-largest epidemic in the past 50 years, following closely behind sugar and smoking addiction. But just because a New York Times article said that screens are winning over humans, does not mean this has to be true.  

We can do something about this and become the masters of our tools again.  Welcome to the world of digital wellbeing and digital wellness.  There is a wide array of new products and services available and new developments are growing.

What is Digital Wellbeing or Digital Wellness?

Six years after the launch of the first iPhone, the term digital detox appeared in the Cambridge dictionary.  Their definition is,

a period of time during which you do not use mobile phones, computers, etc., because you usually use these devices too much.”

Digital wellbeing does not appear to be in a dictionary….. yet.  It is a Google program, an Android app, and a TikTok feature. 

Dr. Paul Marsden, psychologist at the University of the Arts London, UK, defined it as

a state of personal wellbeing experienced through the healthy use of digital technology.”

Digital wellness is defined in various ways:

“Digital wellness is all about keeping a balance between your online life and your real life. You have to maintain both online and offline connections to satisfy all your psycho-social needs.” – Jason M. Kingdon, Boldfish

“Digital wellness refers to the state of one’s physical and mental health in the Digital Age. More specifically, digital wellness refers to preventative measures aimed at regulating and improving the healthy use of technology.  Reducing one’s activity on Facebook or monitoring time spent on a smartphone are just two examples of improving one’s digital wellness.” – Novel Co-working

Digital wellness is emerging as a new industry. This is evidenced by new organizations and initiatives including

  • The National Institute for Digital Health and Wellness
  • The Digital Wellness Institute 
  • The Global Wellness Institute’s Digital Wellness Initiative
  • BBC Digital Wellbeing Initiative

“We aim to develop a framework to understand how core human values, underpinned by psychological drivers and innate needs, are prioritised by people across different stages of their lives. In doing so, we hope to help the BBC create experiences that are relevant to audiences across these changing situations and contexts.” – BBC

The 2020 Digital Wellness Report

Bagby.co, a U.S. based digital wellness company, creates products that increase human connection by reducing screen time.  These include phone sleeping bags, non-digital alarm clocks, phone parking lots, and more.

Bagby launched a Digital Wellness Collaborative Report in 2019.  The 2020 report was recently released and includes 37 digital wellness experts from diverse professional backgrounds and 12 nationalities. MindEQuity is pleased to be a contributor, the only one from Canada, on page 20.

michelle-m-moore-canada-toronto

The report summarizes the perspectives of the pioneering leaders of this new industry.  Each contributor serves specific audiences and areas of expertise, giving rise to some interesting digital wellness industry trends:

Digital Wellness for Specific Audiences

  1. 33% primarily serve families (including teens, children, and couples).  
  2. 28% primarily serve corporations or entrepreneurs
  3. 20% primarily serve policymakers, universities, or schools
  4. 12% primarily serve professionals, individuals, or women
  5. 7% primarily serve knowledge workers, technology professionals, or other

Digital Wellness Areas of Expertise

  1. 24% help solve productivity challenges
  2. 23% contribute to mental health improvement
  3. 15% offer digital detox events or retreats
  4. 15% support parents and their kids with digital wellness solutions
  5. 14% create humane technology or support digital citizenship
  6. 10% help solve sleep issues

Improve Your Digital Wellness Today

What is the state of your digital wellness?

You can begin noticing the quality of your relationship with technology today.  If you have only a short amount of time,  please checkout previous MindEQuity insights which give you quick, practical tips to implement today.

If you have more time, download the Bagby Digital Wellness Collaborative Report where you will find 37 useful tips to help you get through this lockdown.

Quick Wins to Reduce Screen Overload

the-social-dilema

Attention Leaders

If you lead a team or an organization, please pay attention to the film, The Social Dilemma (on Netflix).

Why? People you work with are impacted by the issues raised in this documentary. That means that your team is facing growing risks of

  1. eroding wellbeing
  2. decreased ability to innovate and
  3. declining effectiveness.

The Social Dilemma, a documentary released in the fall of 2020, highlights what we already know. Social media platforms are as addictive as slot machines and any other pastimes that deliver efficient dopamine hits.  

On the flip side, these tools continue to enable positive cross border, human connection, and knowledge sharing at scale.  Further, I don’t believe the developers and designers intended the negative consequences of this tech.  However,

“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,” wrote Sophocles.

The film’s narrative is compelling. It is delivered via interviews with former leaders from Facebook, Instagram, Google, Youtube, Firefox, Twitter, Pinterest, and other experts.

They highlight an existential threat to humanity. This threat is caused by the negative consequences which continue to rapidly multiply.  These include:

  1. Increased mental health problems
  2. Addiction to electronic devices
  3. Increased isolation
  4. Fake news spurring negative behaviors
  5. Rise in unnecessary plastic surgery (due to body dysmorphia)
  6. Surveillance capitalism (loss of privacy)
  7. Increased disinformation and polarization
  8. Democracy at risk, elections hacked
  9. Erosion of our positive social fabric on how society works

These threats are detrimental to individuals. From a team and organizational standpoint, imagine the decline in collective employee wellbeing, innovation, and effectiveness.

There are only two industries that call their customers users….illegal drugs and software,” Edward Tufte, Yale University

Quick Wins to Reduce Screen Overload

While we can certainly blame the business models for creating addictive technology, those models will not change quickly.  Let’s hope that regulations to protect our wellbeing may eventually be put into place.  

In the meantime, to protect ourselves, our families, and the wellbeing of our employees, we must take action as leaders and as people who care about human wellbeing.

Implement These To Do’s Today

(Source: humanetech.com/take-control)

  1. Turn off all notifications, on every app and email account.
  2. Remove apps from your phone that profit off of addiction, distraction, outrage, polarization, and misinformation (Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram).
  3. Download helpful tools such as FluxMomentNews Feed EradicatorFlipdInsight Timer.
  4. Eliminate outrage from your diet.
    a. Use iUnfollow to clean up outrage-chasing voices on Twitter.
    b. Unfollow outrage driven Facebook Groups.
    c. Remove sharply polarized media outlets, MSNBC & FOXNews, from your feed.
  5. Follow voices you disagree with.  Try allsides.com;
  6. Be compassionate.  Pause. Apply genuine curiosity and a desire to understand.
  7. Set boundaries.
    b. Block times morning & evenings to be tech-free.
    c. Have device-free dinners.
    d. Create a shared charging station at home away from bedrooms overnight.‍
    e. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock and wake up phone free.
  8. Fully disconnect one day per week.
  9. Remember the positive. Cultivate gratitude and share positive messages with others.
  10. Find your local newspapers and support them via the USNPL.com directory.

In closing, it is helpful to remember that addictive technology is not a tool. A tool, such as a banking app, a hammer, or bicycle is generally just sitting there. The tool waits patiently to be used.

If something is not a tool, it is demanding things from you (notifications), seducing (likes), manipulating (directing you elsewhere.)

“We no longer have a tools based environment, we have a manipulation based technology environment.

Social media is not a tool, it has its own goals and its own means of pursuing them by using your psychology against you.”

– Quotes from the film, The Social Dilemma

 

Notice which pieces of technology are your tools, and which are not.

Highlights from True North 2019

Collaboration, a Declaration & a Problem

True North is an annual tech conference held in Kitchener – Waterloo. This is a Canadian technology corridor that is among the top 20 in the world. Communitech curated the June 2019 conference.

I attended the conference with ET Group (ETG) to explore the state of tech and expand on the following three highlights of interest below.

  1. Barriers to Organizational Collaboration
  2. The Tech for Good Declaration
  3. The Technology Business Model Problem

Barriers to Collaboration – Legacy Systems & Culture 

The conference kicked off with Manulife’s CEO, Roy Gori. He stated that transformation is possible when purpose, capability and passion exist. Unfortunately, barriers to change exist as well.

True North ConferenceWe agree with Roy that major barriers to change are due to legacy systems and culture. Legacy systems are often not customer centric.  Further, they are rarely designed to keep pace with the digital revolution. Culture can be a larger barrier because it is human nature to resist change.  People believe that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, thus losing out on successful collaboration.

At ETG, we have an up close look of legacy technological systems and culture in the organizations we serve.  Both systems and culture limit organizational collaboration. Often, organizations invest in technology, thinking that new tech will solve all problems.  Then comes the surprise. Tech adoption is minimal, rendering a low return on the tech investment.

User adoption of technology is dependent on culture, human mindsets and behaviours.   Organizations lose opportunities when they fail to focus on these human aspects. Investing in people and culture  yields better collaboration, higher productivity, innovation and engagement. Thus, purpose, capability and passion are key on any technology project intended to improve organizational collaboration as well.

The Tech for Good Declaration

I participated in the working session on Canada’s Tech for Good Declaration when it launched at True North in May 2018. As of today, 58 Canadian companies & 56 individuals signed it. It includes six major commitments about:

  • trust & respect,
  • transparency & choice,
  • re-skilling,
  • leaving no one behind,
  • inclusion and
  • collaborative governance.

Tech For Good DeclarationThis popular phrase, Tech for Good, means different things to different stakeholders.  The Declaration has its own version as articulated in the six commitments above. Others say that it is “a community of people, making tech that addresses social, economic and environmental challenges. Further,  building that tech in a collaborative, user-led way with an end result that’s ethically right-on.” (Joe Roberson, Tech for Good, Medium, May 17, 2018)

ETG is a signatory to the Tech for Good Declaration. Further, we have contributed perspectives on Tech for Good for the University of Waterloo study, “Cultivating Ethos in the Tech Sector”.  The results will foster dialogue between business, government and users. The goal of this study is to overcome ethical challenges posed by technological innovation. The study will also inform knowledge exchange on ethics, inclusion and equity in the tech sector.

Tarot Cards of Tech at True North 2019

Tarot Cards of TechAt True North 2019, conference participants shared feedback on the latest Declaration. We utilized the  Tarot Cards of Tech.   The cards are a set of provocations designed to help reflect on important questions:

  • Are we considering the full impact of technology?
  • Do we see the unintended consequences of the tech we recommend, design or implement?
  • What opportunities for positive change does this technology create?
  • Are we applying human centred design to build technology solutions?

At ETG, cross-functional, inclusive, human centred design is front and centre.  It is exciting to introduce the Tarot Cards of Tech on the next project. The cards will enable holistic dialogue about collaboration technology in the workplace.

A Problematic Technology Business Model

Signatories to the Declaration make six commitments (noted above).  This is all well and good. Yet, there is a glaring omission in this Declaration around company business models.  I agree with the findings of the Center for Humane Technology. Many technology companies make money on the extraction of our attention.  Our attention provides data to fuel their profits.

Shoshana Zuboff also exposes the problematic tech business model in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capital also reveals this problem. Companies want to automate humans for profit.

Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

Thus, the Canadian Declaration must include a seventh commitment on the business model.  Signatories should promise value creation for consumers and society as a whole. Attention extraction, which serves only investors, must be left behind.

True North ConferenceThe problematic technology business model was also mentioned by Kara Swisher, renowned journalist and editor of Recode. She stated that all problems link to the race to capture human attention by tech giants.  Kara detailed these problems during her summary the state of technology in the context of the following topics:

  • AI: Anything that can be digitized will be digitized
  • The robots are not killers (they don’t have to kill us to win)
  • There is still no privacy
  • The never-ending revolution (populism, lack of unity, social issues, etc.)
  • No one is responsible (for breaking rules)

The day ended at the Shopify happy hour in the original barrel storage area for Seagram’s Whiskey.