Tilburg, 15 june – Technological developments have transformed our lives in a way we had never imagined. With a single click we are now able to connect to people all around the world and access all mankind’s knowledge. Social networks undoubtedly play an important role in our lives. On average, young people spend more than an hour daily on social networks, and for some people, this time raise up to 3 hours. Social networks are used for entertainment, taking rest after work, and connecting with friends. But the question is: do they help us relax, or, on the opposite, increase anxiety, procrastination, and decrease concentration?
Researchers for a long time have been interested in how social media engagement influences individuals’ mental and physical health. In the research conducted by Buffalo University, the participants who have reported using social media on a daily basis were found to have higher levels of C-reactive protein. This protein is a biological marker of chronic inflammation that predicts serious illnesses such as diabetes, certain types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Not least important, social media can also influence our mental health. In many studies overuse of social media has been linked to lower productivity, lower self-esteem, and depression. Social media addiction has been discussed in line with other abuse behavior as it has similar symptoms: overuse, replacing other meaningful activities with it, difficulty to control, relapse after stopping. Addiction to gaming has been added to the list of mental disorders in the DSM-5 (Diagnosis and Statistical Manual is created by the American Psychiatric Association to define mental illnesses and is recognized all over the world). It is highly likely that the future versions of DSM would include social media or smartphone addiction as a mental illness.
The rising awareness of the negative effects of social media and technology on our well-being lead to the development of ‘Digital Health’ concept. Digital health is an overview of our well-being in connection to the digital world. Good digital health can be described as a balanced life between real and digital worlds. Digital health enthusiasts are concerned about the amount of time spent on the technology, its impact on the work and social lives, and maintaining good work-life balance. Bad digital health may be described as having unhealthy habits such as checking emails after work hours or mindless scrolling though social media when going to bed.
Smartphone providers and software developers seem to be the first to blame for the problems technology may cause. Acknowledging that, they introduced some innovations to help us maintain digital health. For example, Instagram has an option of setting up a reminder after a certain time spent on it. Both iOS and Android platforms allow you to track your screen time and help you analyze it. You can now set up focus times and manage notification settings to be less distracted by your phone. These features exist so the companies may report themselves being socially responsible, saying that they do care about our digital health. However, they are not in fact interested in you limiting the time spent on your phone. On the opposite, every mobile application has an aim and a KPI of the time an average user spends there. Companies nowadays invest more and more into attracting users to their platforms and increasing usage time for as much as possible. That is why it is so hard to reduce your screen time or switch off your phone before going to sleep. The powers we try to fight are usually much stronger.
The way to a healthier relationship with technological devices and social media applications starts with being mindful of your actions and the effects of them on your health. Do you think your phone deserves as much of your attention that it receives now? If the answer is no, then it is time to analyze your habits and bring some healthy routine in your life. When used with care, technology may bring us a lot of joy and help in our lives. But nobody has taught us what is right and what is wrong in the digital world.
One way to increase your knowledge in the sphere and help yourself to develop healthier digital habits is to participate in special trainings or workshops. Practical assignments and support from the group and the trainer may lead to you actually implementing new habits in life, not just thinking about it. Our intern Zoia Shakhova is working on making this type of training accessible to anyone interested.