Issue 11: Wellbeing in the Digital Age

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Welcome to Backstory, a weekly newsletter turning global technology shifts into a three-minute read. This week we’re thinking about health, wellbeing, and happiness. With so many new devices around us, we need new ways of safeguarding our wellbeing. – Joseph Dana, Senior Editor


Wellbeing in the Digital Age


Let’s face it: we spend too much time staring at screens. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for all the time-sapping websites, applications, and platforms that steal our attention. It’s a slippery slope from information overload to digital burnout and we pay the price with our health. That’s one reason the UAE announced The National Strategy for Wellbeing 2031 this week. The ambitious programme aims to position the country as a leader in quality of life by launching a range of projects designed to improve the physical, psychological, and digital health of future generations.

Health and innovation: Digital wellbeing is about much more than simply ignoring technology. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, compares some aspects of contemporary tech to junk food. Think of Instagram or Facebook as potato chips, you wouldn’t eat potato chips all day but it’s fine to indulge every so often. Striking a balance by exercising moderation is the key.

30-Day Challenge: Initiatives such as The National Strategy for Wellbeing are a critical part of urging the public to adopt better digital habits. One such measure Newport recommends is the 30-day challenge whereby people give up one time-sapping social media platform for 30 days to see if they’re able to focus on the things that really matter. A nationwide 30-day challenge would be a fun way to get people thinking about their digital wellbeing. A healthy relationship with tech will ultimately result in a more productive and happier society – and happy people are the key to innovation.


“Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools."

Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.



Time for an upgrade: Smart city trends highlight how wealthy cities strive to keep up with the latest technology to deliver the best experiences for their citizens and residents. While the competition for smart city bragging rights may sound frivolous, we seldom consider what happens when cities are unable to incorporate new technologies or even upgrade their existing systems to current software standards. The results can be disastrous. This week, we investigate how the EternalBlue cyberattack on Baltimore reveals deep fault lines in the global smart city debate.

GDPR’s first anniversary: It’s been one year since the European Union made into law one of the most ambitious pieces of data legislation in the history of the internet. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect with a bang in late May 2018. It started a trend that will only become stronger in Western capitals. We explore how strong consumer protections already exist in countries like China but come at the expense of public and private separation. To keep the internet open and thriving, smart regulation is needed now more than ever.



The city of the future: In celebration of its tenth anniversary of digital business and entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa, Arabnet will hold its annual conference in Beirut this week. Xische CEO Danish Farhan will be on hand to moderate a panel on the city of the future. With panelists like Beirut’s mayor Jamal Itani, the discussion will be a deep dive into the challenges facing smart cities in the Middle East and beyond.

Owning the stream: Apple announced several key updates at its developer conference last week including the death of iTunes. While it might not seem like a big deal, the demise of iTunes reveals a shift in how we approach media. We don’t own anything anymore. Instead of buying an album or a movie for ten bucks, we now stream. We have access to virtually every song in the world but it feels like we have lost something tangible. The National has more thoughts on the matter.


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