Practice Digital Wellbeing for a Healthier You

It’s a slippery slope from information overload to digital burnout – and we pay the price with our health.

By Xische Editorial, June 18, 2019

Source: Zentangle/ Shutterstock

Source: Zentangle/Shutterstock

From the moment we wake up until the time we turn over our phones for the night, most of us are constantly connected. Our days are defined by a stream of emails, news alerts, social media notifications, and random Google searches. If life feels more exhausting than ever, our oversaturated digital lives are a likely culprit.

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 last 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.

The UAE has a long history of public awareness campaigns on issues related to health and happiness. From the Minister of Happiness to government-led efforts to get residents fit and healthy, the country’s leadership has made wellbeing a central priority. The thinking here is easy to understand: happy and healthy citizens build better societies. As the country continues to develop its knowledge economy, ensuring that residents and citizens are in their best mental and physical shape is key to further innovation.

But how can the government encourage and support digital wellness? Unlike traditional physical health challenges such as diabetes and heart disease, digital wellbeing doesn’t have an easy workout and diet formula. Furthermore, we have only been living with smartphones for just over a decade, so we are still trying to understand their negative effects and ways to curb them.  

Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and the author of the widely popular book Deep Work, directly addresses this issue in his new book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. In it, Newport lays out strategies designed to help people take back control over their screen time and their wellbeing. He doesn’t view technology (or time-sapping social media platforms) as negative. Instead, technology is a tool and some forms of it are best used in moderation. He compares social media platforms such as Facebook to junk food. While you wouldn’t want to eat potato chips for every meal, having a bag of crisps now and then is certainly no big deal. If we think about Facebook as potato chips, we can take back our time and attention by using the platform on occasion rather than all the time.

With regard to The National Strategy for Wellbeing, Newport’s 30-day challenge is a great blueprint for a government-led campaign. The challenge is simple: review your technology use to find non-essential technologies that you use too much or steal too much of your attention. For some, this might be Facebook or Instagram and for others, it could be a crossword puzzle application. For 30 days, take a break from those optional technologies.

While you are on the 30-day break, Newport encourages people to explore and rediscover activities and behaviours that have meaning. Spend more time with your children or start taking evening walks with your partner. When the 30 days are up, reintroduce the optional technologies into your life. You will find, Newport asserts, that you have more control over these technologies and won't likely slide back to a negative relationship with them.

Newport’s motivation for the 30-day challenge is to encourage digital minimalism as a solution to our collective information overload. He writes that digital minimalism is a “philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” Digital minimalism is needed now more than ever for three primary reasons: Clutter is costly, optimization is important, and intentionality is satisfying.

As the UAE embarks on its ambitious plans to encourage, assist, and facilitate wellbeing, the concept of digital minimalism can inform solutions to digital wellbeing. A nationwide 30-day campaign is a great way to get people to consider their relationship to technology and how it affects their wellbeing.

Even if the majority of residents don’t follow the entire 30-day challenge, getting people thinking about their smartphone and internet usage is a critical first step to any wellbeing initiative in our modern age. That is one reason why leading technology companies like Apple and Google have introduced screen time monitoring applications that provide breakdowns of how much time you spend on your phone. It is time for the government’s helping hand and proven track record in health to spearhead new efforts at promoting our wellbeing. If we are successful today, future generations will reap the benefits of a more balanced and happier life.