Digital well-being: a journey towards a healthier digital life

Virginia Rispoli en Youngsil Lee

Well-being is becoming more and more a hot topic in the digital industry. However, this term has only recently emerged, and it is still quite ambiguous when referring to the digital world. That’s why we introduce a series of blog posts about wellbeing in the digital world and explore the implications and practices together, by reflecting on our personal and professional experience with digital technologies. Especially in these times, it’s more important than ever to understand what digital well-being means. How does this impact our professional and personal lives and how do we become better at it?

As Interaction Designers at Mirabeau, a Cognizant Digital Business, we will be researching, writing and sharing about digital well-being with you in the upcoming months. We will share ideas, tips, and best practices from outside and inside by creating articles, blog posts and presentations related to the topic. We will also engage you in small exercises and will ask your feedback and experiences, to create an approach to design with users’ health and happiness in mind beyond the best digital experience.

DW Virginia and Youngsil Cover Meet: Virginia Rispoli and Youngsil Lee

So, what is digital well-being?

Back in 2012, Google aggressively promoted the 'Digital Well-being' movement after launching a new collection of apps and features for monitoring, understanding, and limiting technology use. Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and founder of Time Well Spent, was the leader of the movement. He discovered that many digital products - including Google - bring negative impact on users with attention-grabbing business models. So, he presented “Call to Minimise Distraction & Respect User’s Attention” and it reached thousands of employees of Google.

When we heard about digital well-being for the first time, we assumed that it was all about how to avoid using smartphones and computers, and prevent them to become an addiction. But that is definitely not all. As Ulrik Lyngs (cognitive psychologist and computer scientist at the University of Oxford) mentions in his paper, the concept of digital well-being is described as “experiencing self-control over how people use their digital devices, with the added constraint that use must be well aligned with their personal, valued, longterm goals.” So, improving our digital well-being is more than being disconnected from the digital world, and is way more than just reducing our daily screen time. Regarding that, many tech companies are designing new tools to help users to measure their habitual usage of digital devices as the first step to improve self-control. “But, it is still unknown what best practices in designing for ‘digital well-being’ would look like,” says Lyngs.

Google surveyed over 9,000 people across six countries to understand how people perceive their own wellbeing with digital technology. The most interesting insight is that most of the people spend time on activities which they believe harm their own wellbeing. For example, checking the phone for notifications, passively scrolling through social media, looking at the content before going to sleep and so on. We can see that these activities are what people are likely to do impulsively and aimlessly.

During our interaction with today’s world, we are constantly engaged in diverse digital activities. In order to stay mentally and physically healthy, it is important for us to be able to choose the right activities and interactions with technology, and control how we use it in a balanced way. In that sense, people can start to observe their digital activities and find a way to manage the positive and negative impacts of them, so to improve their wellbeing and get back in control.

Digital product designers and digital creators can play an important role in making the right digital products and services to help people to improve their wellbeing. Like Tristan Harris says: “Up until now, the tech’s industry attitude has been ‘Have a problem? It’s your responsibility to use it differently. Now it is our responsibility to design technology in a way that cares about people first. Whether the issues are fake news, mental health, loneliness, or addiction, this moment marks that a tide is turning.”

DW blog - image 1 Created by EMILY WAITE

What is happening outside?

To illustrate how companies are dealing with Digital Wellbeing in the digital world, we collected some examples below:

  1. Google kept on creating new features and services to help Android phone users tracking their wellbeing when using technology (https://wellbeing.google). The Android Dashboard gives an overview that can track how many hours a user spends on different apps or websites to help people understand more about how they use their phones. This can be used to limit or track average use. Like Google Shush, a feature which stops users from being disturbed switching the device to "do not disturb" mode whenever it is placed screen down. Or Google Wind Down, a feature which prevents users from going to bed late by spending time on their phone, by alerting them of the selected bedtime and making the screen switch to greyscale.

DW Blog image 2 Dashboard, Shush and Wind down - Digital Well-being features from Google

  1. Like Google, Apple also developed Screen Time features to help users to have a better balance between technologies and life. It provides a weekly report of your usage habits, helps you set timers for specific apps, and makes sure you have enough time off from your phone before going to sleep.

DW Blog Image 3 Screen Time features from Apple

  1. YouTube added a feature that helps users to take a break after long videos consuming. This is interesting as it helps users to stay aware of their screen consumption, and prevents the mindless act of going to one video to another and loosing track of time.

DW Blog Image 4 YouTube Take A Break Reminder

  1. Cold Turkey and BlockSite are just two examples of the many website blockers available around. These allow users to block specific websites, either at all times or during certain time intervals, to decrease distraction and increase productivity.

DW Blog Image Blockers Block lists can include websites, applications and exceptions

  1. Forest is one of the leading apps that uses a gamification to measure how much time users spend on their phones. Instead of creating unhealthy behavioural patterns or habits, Forest tries to replace them with healthy ones, reinforcing healthy behaviour by using gamification.

DW Blog Image 7

If you’re interested in how other companies are keeping themselves busy around this topic, many more examples can be found in the article Google and the rise of digital wellbeing.

How does digital well-being relate to our current situation?

If we look back at our life in January, we never would have expected to experience something like we are living now, like the amount of digital interaction we have now would be possible in our day to day life. All the things that we called normal are gone or significantly changed. We work remotely. There are no parties anymore. Sports events have to be streamed. We have birthday parties, weddings and funerals on Skype or Zoom. We’ve adapted, and discovered things about ourselves we never thought of. Many people had to break their normal pattern. But it also lead them to re-evaluate their priorities in life, which can be a silver lining during this digital revolution. With the new normal, many interactions became digital, whether we want to or not. The initiatives of digital well-being are suddenly much more relevant, and we expect them to become much more important. Understanding how this will evolve in the new normal, will be our goal. Because we have to start rebuilding and adapting to these new activities and tasks that we are discovering or reinventing now.

We have seen that our digital devices gave us tools to feel more connected during the lock-down, but we have also started to feel more overwhelmed by this feeling of being always connected. We are able to connect with anyone, everyday, every hour, yet we feel more and more disconnected and alone. Digital should enhance human connections, provide tools for it, but can not replace them. Clearly, we’re still learning and experimenting how to do this. “As powerful digital devices have become ubiquitous, understanding how to, by design, support user self-control and thereby digital well-being has become exceedingly important. Challenging researchers, industry, and end-users to discuss what ‘digital well-being’ looks like, is an appropriate starting point,” says Lyngs. As he mentioned, only by doing this together we will get better and better!

And you, what do you think about it?

As a group of digital creators, we might all have slightly different understanding and opinions about this topic. This is why we’d like to hear your thoughts and values, to better understand the view of the industry itself and create an open conversation about the topic.

So, what is your definition of Digital Well-Being? Which digital activities make you feel less happy and healthy recently? And what are the practices you do to keep your digital life healthy? Share your experiences with us, we’re happy to hear them and get better together!

If you want to know more…

We added a goodie-bag with interesting articles, a podcast and a website to check out. So, it should be enough food for thought till our next article will be published.

Articles

Podcast An episode of a very nice podcast that explains the science behind happiness, and in this specific episode the author and professor Dr Laurie Santos has a chat with Catherine Price, a science journalist, author of the book How to Break Up With Your Phone.

Website HumaneTech.com is a website from a nonprofit company leading a movement to stop tech companies from hijacking and manipulating people’s minds.

That’s it for today, we hope you enjoyed it. More will follow, so stay tuned and (digitally) healthy!

If you have questions or just wat to have a talk with us regarding this topic, send us Virginia Rispoli or Youngsil Lee a message.