Friday, 1 March 2019

Digital not-being?

I did FutureLearn's Digital Wellbeing course a little while ago.  Doing it made me reflect on the following areas related to this topic...

Humankind > digital technology

Like many in this digital age, I am a constant user of social media and internet browsing via my mobile and my laptop.  However, the impact that digital technology has on our private lives is a very serious matter, one that I should take more time to understand.  Me personally, I want to understand more about how digital technologies have an impact on human (primal) emotions, relationships, and general sense of self.  In an old brief blog post 'Evolutionary not revolutionary?', I talked about how digital technology is both a good thing and bad thing for humanity and that eventually humankind will collapse in on itself through digital technology - if not managed effectively both personally and professionally.  Is digital technology devolution or evolution of human beings?  That's a wider debate.

Attention vs. priority

We all know that feeling when we're online more than we should be, do we?  But for some this may not be as apparent.  During the FutureLearn course there was a good journal, an Excel spreadsheet where it calculates how long you spend on screen.  It can help you see and understand patterns and things you spend time on most.  I am quite interested in how much time I spend online and using my devices (mobile and laptop) and learning if it is too much, ok, or little (very rare).  Me and my partner Gary are frequent device users and I am afraid to admit I am the 'nagger' to tell him to put his phone down - not that it works 😂.  Sometimes I can feel the face-to-face connection somewhat reducing a little between us, but not taking over us.

I've said in last few years that TV now caters for those that so-called 'binge'.  However, I often see friends put something on and be on their mobile at the same time.  That's not bringing, it's not paying attention...  It's scientifically proven that we cannot multitask.  Our brains can only engage at one thing at a time - apparently (I've no reference to give).  People seem to be getting less committed both in time and attention.  Shorter episodes, seasons, even shorter songs are becoming popular again.  Perhaps that's why streaming is favoured over albums now because people just can't commit to listening to a whole album?  Not me, I love to listen and watch as whole.  I've said a similar thing with dating.  Singletons can get sex on demand, just like catch up TV.  So why should they commit to a relationship when they can say "hey, I'm up for fun tonight, come around."

Dealing with negative attention can just be as challenging, for example 'picture or it didn't happen' vs. the overused phrase 'who cares'.  We can get roped into things we don't necessarily want to, or just via compliance again.  And handling those that simply don't care but make it known by saying they don't. 🙄  In terms of professional identity, I wrote a short piece for inTuition, Society for Education and Training (SET) on 'Safeguarding Your Digital Reputation' for their Winter 2018 EdTech Supplement - relatable useful tips.

Digital technologies, more so in my context of online browsing and social media engagement can strengthen our sense of self but be damaging in the sense that it can obstruct our lives from living them the way we want, e.g.: avoidance; procrastination; stress; self-sabotaging.  However, it is positive too in that it brings connectedness and openness with others around the world as well as locally.  Moreover, increasing mental health awareness by people actively talking about it and promoting it.

Mental wellbeing and health

Mental wellbeing and mental health are related but have individual meanings:

  • Mental wellbeing - our sense of self, living positively and developing strong relationships with others and fulfilling our lives the way we want
  • Mental health - specific signs and symptoms that cause us emotional distress/harm that affects our sense of self

Earlier last year, I assessed my digital capabilities and one of the elements was digital wellbeing, in which I cam out as 75%.  Quite a high score and shows I am highly aware of the implications of using digital technology.  But what else does it tell me?  How can I improve?  I'd like to explore ways in which I can switch off and me more mindful of my own use of digital technology.

Breaking a habit of a lifetime

During the course, I was invited to log my screen time to identify my digital habits.  It felt like it was a 'you are what you eat' and laying out all of my weeks indulgence!  Over the course of a week, I logged my screen time (computer, mobile, or using any other kind of digital technology).  I could include television and radio in that category, but I was advised to count each type of technology separately.  For me, I wasn't only just interested in how much time I was spending on screen, but what am I doing on it and makes that so important than face-to-face at that particular time.  Besides the addiction to Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and comparing yourself to others lives through social media, what makes me think of going on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc?  Boredom?  Connectedness at my finger tips?  I think the culture of social compliance has some major involvement here.  We all see each other on our mobiles and doing what others do, so some of us do as a result.

Changing a habit is hard - but stick with it and try to make small changes.  Here's some things I recommend to try learning to know when to switch off...

  • Do you need to be online now?  If no, then do other non digital-related things instead
  • Take a break/step back from being online - participate in activities that do not involve digital technology, i.e. a walk in the woods, coast etc
  • Find non-tech solutions that are less intrusive, a notepad for example over a note taking app
  • Set boundaries for a digital technology free zone or times in your home
  • Set a goal to put your phone down or look up from your tablet/computer immediately when friends or family walks into the room (active listening and participation).  You want to show them that they are the most important thing to you at that moment
    • Stop or reduce mobile phone use in bed.  White light can stimulate your brain which is not helpful winding down
  • Be mutual with others.  Whilst you don't want to set boundaries on leisure and freedom, it's good to be on the same page as your partner/peers on this issue as it could eventually distance you both
  • Don't be afraid to delete your social media accounts - people will still talk to you...  Old school text or dare I say, telephone call
  • Search on apps that help you track your screen time usage, there are many inbuilt ones on devices
  • Set restrictions on your devices to avoid you checking them
  • Turn off notifications and sounds (work and home, apps/homeware) to reduce distraction to maintain focus on specific tasks
  • Don't respond if you say your unavailable/'out of office' as inclines you are contactable
  • Make the internet/app a positive experience, don't be one of those that make it a scary thing or corrupt it - it's a gift available to us all (who have internet access)

Sending emails and messages are not always the right tool for the job.  In fact, I think we choose these automatically without thinking - sending emails when the person you need to speak to is a desk behind you.  I do this and need to remind myself to get up more and speak to people.  But it does comes down to what the communication it relates to.  If it's confidential or to do with a big project then an email may be best as it's more information to digest and not to just drop an information bomb on someone - I wouldn't be keen on that.

I receive a lot of emails in my job (project and university related) and it is a ridiculous amount of information being sent through, most of which I need to retain/keep up to date on.  Hence me sending this out recently "What's your coping strategies of handling and retaining information across multiple projects and provisions whilst keeping informed of all things #highered? 🤔 #altc".  Work and life is stressful as it is and cognitive overload makes it worse.

Presence and availability

A little thought I tease myself with is imaging when I was a kid and my mum taking loads of selfies/videos of me and not so much unconditional love, would I be the same person today?  Whilst we may be physically present, we may not be present emotionally for our loved ones.  If you have seen Arkangel episode in Black Mirror Season 4, this gives a traumatising window into what could happen to a child.  Do you think that you spend too much time using digital technology/online?  Is this a bad thing?  You could say it's our new modern way of life, surely this is what we have evolved to become?

A main thing that I thought of was, how much time are we wasting scrolling through stuff we have no purpose for?  It can be a mindless thing and quite an addiction really.  Plus, the rise of 'fake news' can lure you in - another time waster, I talked about this in a previous post with some guidelines, the topic also features in my book.  However, it's also being mindful of what data/information you are accumulating about yourself that either the service you are using or other companies can take, use and sell.  As well as algorithms that can potentially manipulate results and make us see things based on what I have 'liked' etc - influence through the results of my own interactions.

When we look at digital technologies we always look for the efficiencies it will help with our tasks.  No only should we carry on to do this, but we must now look at the opportunities that allow as to turn it off.  Like notifications, alerts, sounds and more importantly manage our behaviours.  Any reasons to log back on.  Ironically, there are many apps and digital tools to help you with digital wellbeing.  But nothing will beat pure, clear meditation to silence and focus your mind.

Scott Hibberson shares further observations in his blog post 'How much is too much?'.

EDIT:  had a chat with a friend on some stuff relating to this topic...

Friend - "...I want to get less dependent on it.  I feel like most of it is full of b******t...I worry I spend so much time recording things and not enough experiencing it.  Or doing it to show other people.  When actually it's for us isn't it?"

Me - "Well there's time on devices/social media and then there's content - what are you getting from it?  You have control to unlike irrelevant/corrupt content and unfriend negative people.

At beginning of 2016 I changed way I approach personal side of social media, Facebook.  I stopped sharing random videos, memes etc.  I only share meaningful stuff to me, my life, if others don't like it I want them to remove me.  I don't want people connected to me if they don't like me.  Sharp but critically fair.  It's like most things in life, finding a balance.  Time for you with no technology, time with loved ones and on technology/online browsing and socialising.  I try to balance stuff, like when I go to concerts and holidays.  A bit of 'media memories' like taking pictures and videos for myself/us and then rest is in my own memory.  You can't live your live through technology, it has a limit and that's your mental health.

I reflected on this stuff on my blog other week."

Friend - " Totally, that's the kind of thing 🙂

But for me it's a cut down! Want to get back into the things that make me happy. 🙂"

Me - "Yeh, I'm doing things but some I have to question if they're actually making me happy.  I'd like to read more, but it's getting myself to do it lol.  Need to break routines on some stuff.  Have a shake up.  Gary is too on stuff."

Further reading: