How often does it happen that before you walk out of your home every morning, you mentally check whether you have your phone with you? It may sound ridiculous, but most of us would feel so lost without our devices for just a few hours, let alone an entire day. Technology plays an important part in our lives these days, and as such, there is growing research around technology usage and how it affects us physically, psychologically and behaviourally.
What is digital wellbeing?
Digital wellbeing can be defined as “incorporating all aspects of a person’s wellbeing with regard to information technologies, including but not limited to: their propensity to search for health-related information online, their online security and privacy cognitions, attitudes and behaviours, their use of and level of attachment to their devices, their impulsivity in responding to device notifications, their multitasking patterns, cross-platform and device behaviours, their screen time duration, their posture and so on”.1 Essentially this means how healthy a person is, both physically and mentally with regard to digital technology.
It is about whether technology serves us and moves us towards our goals, or whether it distracts us, interrupting us, or getting in the way of being productive.
All manner of technology surrounds us, from our personal computers/laptops, tablets, smartphones, and behind-the-scenes technology that furthers science, medicine and education. Technology in itself is not bad as it has the possibility to improve lives. However, in other cases, it has the possibility to affect lives negatively. Negative effects of technology have been found to include emotional problems, eye strain, sleep problems and musculoskeletal problems. On the other hand, positive effects include access to goods and services, access to information and online education, global communication and improved healthcare. As a result of both the positive and negative effects of technology, our relationship with technology could be a challenging one.
We, therefore, have to ask ourselves questions about the quality of time we spend online, how much of it is well spent and how much of it adds value to our lives?
Becoming aware of your technology use
Raising self-awareness of our online digital habits is the first essential step we can take to monitor, change and improve our relationship with technology where necessary. This will look different for everyone as we answer these questions to better understand our online presence:
- How do I spend my time online and how does it make me feel?
- What value does it add to my life?
- What happens when I stop or reduce my time online?
- Find out from friends and family what my technology habits are like.
- What role would I like technology to have in my life?
- Are there parts of my life that I want to keep device free?
- Use an objective measure to monitor your screen time, such as an App.
Once we have complete information about how we spend our time on our devices, we will be able to form an opinion about our digital wellbeing. From then on, we can make small changes where needed in order to get the benefits that technology allows us while minimising negative effects. In this way we get to enjoy a healthy relationship with technology.
- Mc Mahon, C. & Aiken, M. (2015). Introducing digital wellness: Bringing cyber psychological balance to health care and information technology.
Silindokuhle is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist registered with the HPCSA. She holds a Master’s degree from UKZN and runs an independent practice specialising in psychological assessments, training and wellbeing.