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The era of digital wellbeing

Social media - friend or foe?

Social media and the internet were supposed to liberate us by allowing us to connect with people all over the world, to build relationships, to make information-sharing easier and to have a voice. However, it’s rise in popularity has resulted in both positive and negative outcomes, with the latter increasing bullying, depression and anxiety the world over.

In the UK alone mental health illnesses cost the NHS an estimated £41.8 billion per annum in England1, and while there are many contributing factors to mental health illnesses, social media consumption plays a significant role.

A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal suggests that teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to develop mental health problems including depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behaviour.2

Tech companies appear to be very aware of the rising backlash against technology and are starting to see how consumers are seeking better solutions that are more aligned with their personal wellbeing goals.

But what are these tech giants doing to try and improve the negative impact of their platforms on mental health?

Google has launched a digital wellbeing platform, wellbeing.google/, that looks to ‘fine-tune your tech habits to achieve your personal digital wellbeing goals’. They provide tips on how to reduce phone distractions, such as managing apps and notifications better, as well as using Google Assistant to improve your bedtime routine. Google has also launched the new Android Dashboard which has been designed to make your phone a little less addictive too, with features such as an App Timer that allows you to set limits on how long you can spend on specific apps. Others include, “Shush,” which switches your phone into Do Not Disturb when you place your phone facedown and “Wind Down” that changes your screen to grayscale as soon as it’s bedtime.

Facebook and Instagram are conducting tests in several countries which are investigating the option of hiding the number of likes that a post receives. The account holder would still be able to see the number of likes on their pages, but they would no longer be visible to the public, which hopes to eliminate the pressures associated with ‘counting likes’.

A Brooklyn-based start-up, Light, are developing phones designed to discourage overuse. Whether you need a break from your smartphone or looking to move on for good, the Light Phone II is a simple phone with only a few essential tools for getting things done. You can call, text and set alarms; there is no browser, social media, adverts, news or email. It is set to be launched in October, and with a 50,000-person waiting list, it looks like this could be something of a new dawn in the technology space.

Technology companies seem to be realising that in their pursuit to expand their self-interests, it is becoming more and more critical to ensure that they are not overly disruptive to their user’s wellbeing. More tech companies will look to Digital Wellness experts to oversee the development of new products going forward.

While I believe that it is incredibly important for tech companies to be socially responsible when it comes to digital wellbeing, should it not also be the responsibility of us as individuals (and families) to manage our own consumption wherever possible, and ensure that our mental health is maintained? After all, where there is no demand, there is no supply.

  1. National Mental Health Development Unit – Factfile 3: Burden of Mental Illness
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2749480

14th October 2019

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