Digital Wellness

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(Revised: January 23, 2020)

Given the nature of today’s technology and how we engage with it, perhaps even more critical than teaching children about digital literacy and citizenship, they (all of us) need to learn about digital wellness! What is it, why do we all need it, and how do we achieve it?

Simply put, digital wellness has to do with how and how much we engage with digital technology. What is a healthy amount of screen time given all the other things we should be doing with our waking hours? How does our use of tech effect us individually, those around us, our relationships with our significant others, family, and friends? Given the necessary digital demands at home, school, and in the work place, how do we balance this with non-essential digital distractions, digital entertainment, and experiencing life and each other without screens? Are we comfortable with or enjoying our unplugged alone or together time, or are we feeling digital separation anxiety – remaining preoccupied or distracted by the pull of our tech habits and tech enabled  connections when we’re offline?

Perhaps more relevant than a set one-size-fits-all amount of screen time, we need to discover what makes sense for each of us and our individual circumstances:  Are we a child, teen, or adult? How might our individual psychology and personality effect how we engage with today’s popular yet often problematic technology? Do we tend towards compulsivity with messaging apps, social media, video games, or video streaming? Are we losing track of time, unaware of the hours we may be spending on screen? 

Along with individual characteristics and circumstances, we need to consider what kinds of digital technology and access are involved for whom (e.g. TV, streaming video, internet access, video games, social media, digital assistants, wearables, etc.)? For instance, social media and group messaging/sharing apps (e.g. facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, etc.) and according to Google, many of it’s products (e.g. Gmail, Google Search, YouTube, etc.) are generally not designed for children’s consumption, though large numbers of children use these products. What are the concerns, and what steps might we take to minimize risks and help children avoid or at least ameliorate how they engage with technology that is meant for adult use?

Given the captivating nature of today's popular and quickly *evolving digital pastimes, the absence of digital wellness is not always obvious. We might say, “Hey, I’m enjoying these digital activities; I need or want to be doing them more than other things; what’s wrong with that?” Maybe nothing, maybe a great deal; what do we need to know, and what questions do we need to ask ourselves? “What do I need to consider in order to determine which kinds, contexts, and how much tech and media are healthy and appropriate for me, a unique and impressionable human?”

*evolving technologically, but perhaps devolving our humanity (– our relationships; our discourse; family life, the parent-child bond, while amplifying the content, commercialization, and digital habits we expose children/students to at a young age, etc.

Understanding why we need to focus on digital wellness begins with an awareness of how access to various kinds of digital content and realms can effect our wellbeing, perceptions, and impose on us (seemingly) irresistible habits of consumption. Part of this awareness must include an understanding of how our most influential and popular digital technologies and media platforms have been designed to overwhelm our ability to use our technology intentionally and in balanced ways, which are healthy and appropriate for us and for a healthy society. This is in part exhibited by: the frequency we have been conditioned to reach for our technology (whether there is a need or not); its amplification effects – the speed and extremes of how quickly things can go wrong with how we use, abuse, or become victims of other's or our own use of technology; and the contexts we tend to consume it (– who, where, and how we engage). Over time, this loss of intentionality, self-regulation, and balance, can adversely effect: our health, relationships with others, reasoning, and our emotional wellbeing. For kids, unhealthy digital habits may also negatively impact their social development, cognition, learning, retention, mental health, and in general, interfere with a wholesome well-lived childhood.

While there are some general rules of thumb for the goals of digital wellness and how to achieve them, there are many factors involved and each of these may have its own nuanced interrelated set of circumstances, causes, and effects to consider. Generally speaking, digital wellness involves discovering and maintaining what constitutes healthy, age, and context appropriate digital engagement, which is in balance with the development and holistic needs of the individual and those around them.

The two main drivers for the urgency of this argument for why we need to vitally attend to our digital wellness are: 1) because of the exploitive design and presentation of today’s most popular technologies and media sources; and 2) because of the intrinsic frailty and vulnerability of the human mind and our collective humanity.

Below, is a growing list of topics and resources to help anyone interested in increasing their knowledge about the nature and appropriateness of what today’s most popular digital platforms have brought us and why this matters.

Additionally, I've been developing my own synthesis and sense-making of how all of this fits together, which is ongoing, but has already given me a wider perspective and has helped me to better understand why digital wellness is so vital. My focus is somewhat summarized in this introduction, but my own detailed writings are not yet included in the information below. In the meantime, I am happy to share any specifics or general rules of thumb I have gleamed from these resources and my own experience as a teacher, student, and technology consumer. Feel free to email me at the link below.

– David Long

mr.long.k6@gmail.com


*Recently posted: 6-28-2019
Podcast: Wired.com Gadget Lab: Weekly Tech News
Episode: Rebalancing Our Relationship with Tech

Wired Staff – Gear – 6-28-19
Interview with Aza Raskin begins at 18:50 and ends at 50:20 minutes. In 31 1/2 minutes, Aza articulates a treasure trove of insights; definitely worth a listen!


American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use
(Oct 2016)


Kids' Digital Well-Being Is Common Sense

Common Sense Media
*Recently posted: 5-7-2019
Humane: A New Agenda for Tech
Unveiled live to 300 technologists, press, partners, and other thought leaders; 4-23-19.
"The real problem of humanity is that we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”
– E. O. Wilson

Family Media Plan Tool

healthychildren.org

Zone In – Manage Technology with Healthy Living
Center for Humane Technology
(launched 2-5-18; the new home of the "Time Well Spent" movement)

"The purpose of being humane is to be considerate of human needs and responsive to human frailties. You start by understanding the frailties of human nature and you design to protect those things. That’s what it is to be humane in terms of designing technology."
– Jef Raskin
CalSTRS Statement Regarding Shareholder Letter to Apple Inc.
CalsTrs.com, 1-8-2018
Moving to Learn – Exploring the Effects of Technology on Children
*Recently posted: 5-6-2019
AlgoTransparency Project
"AlgoTransparency is an initiative dedicated to revealing how the YouTube recommendation engine can harm public discourse."
Founder, Dr. Guillaume Chaslot

If We Don't

First 5 California, 8-15-2016

About Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC)
*Recently posted: 5-27-2019
Google Transparency Project
"The Google Transparency Project is a research initiative of Campaign for Accountability, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, nonpartisan watchdog organization that uses research, litigation and aggressive communications to expose how decisions made behind the doors of corporate boardrooms and government offices impact American's lives."

Plug Back Into Life –

The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction

Dr. David Greenfield
(contains some clinical discussions meant for mature audiences)
 
"Tristan Harris: How better tech could protect us from distraction"
TEDxBrussels, December 2014
"What is Technology Doing to Us? – A Conversation with Tristan Harris"
Hosted by Sam Harris (Waking Up podcast, 4-14-2017)
"Could it be good business to get people to stop using their devices?"
Hosted by Molly Wood (Marketplace Tech podcast, 1-18-2018)
"Is Silicon Valley Making Its Own Monsters?
Hosted by Ira Flatow (Science Friday podcast, 1-19-2018)
"How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us"
By Ezra Klein (Vox Media, 2-19-2018)
"Digital Overload"
Hosted by Veronica Belmont (IRL: Online Life Is Real Life podcast, Mozilla, Jan 2018)
"Tap, Click, Commercialism"
By Kathy Kleckner (movingtolearn.ca, 11-17-2017)
"Building A More Ethical High-Tech Economy"
Hosted by Tom Ashbrook (On Point radio show/podcast 11-3-2016)
 

*Recently posted: 8-13-2019
Parents are taking back their children’s childhood
from big tech, media, & advertising companies. Local parent groups are forming to support each other in helping their children avoid problematic tech use. The more parents ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

"Turning Life On – Keep Tech in Check"


of their children's peer groups and schoolmates who mutually agree with each other to delay purchasing their children a smartphone until 8th grade or later,  means there are fewer of their children's peers who have smartphones, which   means there is less FOMO, fewer friendships withered due to ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

 


smartphone haves and have nots, and less social pressure to have them in general – resulting in a healthier childhood, and social interactions that aren't commercialized and monetized by caustic adult oriented social media and messaging platforms.
*Recently posted: 5-12-2019
"Study looks at the impact of screen time on children"
A compelling look at how parent's screen time can effect young children.
Reported by Diane Sawyer,
ABC News, 2:29 video, 5-3-19
*Recently posted: 7-9-2019
"Now Some Families Are Hiring Coaches to Help Them Raise Phone-Free Children
– Screen consultants are here to help you remember life before smartphones and tablets."

Article by Nellie Bowles,
New York Times, Style, 7-6-19

"Screen Time for Kids:

3 Questions You Should Be Asking"

By Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
(Savvy Psychologist podcast, 9-15-2017)
"This Is What Screen Time Really Does to Kids' Brains"
By Liraz Margalit Ph.D.
(Psychology Today, 4-17-2016)
"Managing Balance Between Technology and Healthy Living"
By Chris Rowan
(Tech Talks Webinars, Zone'in, 9-15-2015)
Podcast: "Their Own Devices"
– MTV Parents Raising YouTube Kids"
with Marc Groman & Dr. David Reitman
(They address issues with teens and their smart devices from a parent's and kid's perspective.)

"What's the right age for parents to get their kids a cell phone?"

CommonSenseMedia.org
See Dr. Richard Fareed's book,
"The WIRED CHILD: Reclaiming Childhood in the Digital Age")

"Hashing Out Screen Rules with My Brother Made Our Kids Safer, and Brought Us Closer"
By Merve Lapus
(CommonsenseMedia.org, 8-8-2018)
"We Stopped Letting Our Kid Listen to Digital Music. You Should Too"
– Sometimes you have to go old-school
By Ryan Britt (fatherly.com, 1-14-2019)
*Recently posted: 10-8-2019
"YouTube isn't fun for parents trying to shield their kids from scary stuff"
YouTube is the "No. 1 Pain Point" for many parents.
Podcast by Jed Kim (Marketplace Tech, 10-7-2019)
   

 

The Efficacy of Digital Learning The Relationship Between Google and Public Schools Schools That Value Technology Differently The Intersection of Society, Schools, and Technology
*Recently posted: 10-8-2019
"It's not a given that tech in the classroom improves learning"
By Jed Kim (Marketplace Tech podcast, 9/9/2019)

"How Google Took Over the Classroom"

By Natasha Singer (NYT, 5-13-2017)
This article examines how in just 6 years, Google's Education platform went from nothing to being used in 2/3rds of U.S. schools.


"A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute"
By Matt Richtel (NYT, 10-22-2011)


"The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected"

By Nellie Bowles (NYT, 10-26-2018)

"Ten reasons to NOT use technology in schools for children under the age of 12 years"
By Chris Rowan (Moving to Learn – Exploring the Effects of Technology on Children, 1/1/2014)


"Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax"

By Dr. Nicholas Kardaras (Time Magazine 8/31/2016)
Though a minority point of view, some sources have begun to question the trade off from having screens in schools.

 

*Recently posted: 7-3-2019
"Mobile phones to be banned in state primary and secondary schools"
By Henrietta Cook (The Age, news article, 6-25-2019)


"Rewarding Students with Screens – Pros and cons for best practice in schools"
By Chris Rowan (Moving to Learn – Exploring the Effects of Technology on Children, 1/24/2018)

     


"A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop"
By Cindi May (Scientific American, 6-3-2014)

     
Recently posted: 6-23-2019
Podcast: “Why’d You Push That Button?”
Episode: “Would quitting Instagram make
us happier? – Why people quit the app and
how they felt afterward

Ashley Carman & Kaitlyn Tiffany
(The Verge, 6-5-2019)

"13, right now?"
By Jessica Contrera
(The Washington Post, 5-25-2016)
"13, right now?", or
"10, right now?"
Giving your 5th grader a smartphone and access to social media is transformational –  not necessarily for the better.
*Recently posted: 4-1-2019
Podcast: "Their Own Devices"
Episode 18: The Social Media Generation

with Marc Groman & Dr. David Reitman, 3-28-19
Three high school researchers discuss their findings and opinions of teens and their own use of social media
.
*Recently posted: 4-1-2019
"Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal
Their Experiences (2018)"

(CommonSenseMedia.org, 9-10-18)
Read this nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 kids age 13 to 17, which tracks changes since 2012.
   
"Fortnite – What Parents Need To Know"
By David Chapman
(CommonSenseMedia.org, 7-18-2017)
"What should I know about Fortnite – is it ok for kids to play?"
Answered by The Mediatrician:
Dr. Michael Rich, MD, MPH, Pediatrician
(Center on Media and Child Health, 5-22-2018)
 
*Recently posted: 10-8-2019
"Podcast: YouTube isn't fun for parents trying to shield their kids from scary stuff"
Jed Kim (Marketplace Tech, 10-7-2019)

*Recently posted: 6-19-2019
"Article: YouTube Has Kid Troubles Because Kids Are a Core Audience"
Paris Martineau
(Wired, 6-7-2019; podcast)
Is YouTube safe or appropriate for your children/students? Perhaps not if we attempt to normalize it simply as a useful tool or harmless entertainment, and then leave it to kids to upload or explore freely on their own.

"The nightmare videos of children's YouTube — and what's wrong with the internet today"

James Bridle (TED2018 video, April 2018)
"WIRED CHILD: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age"
By Dr. Richard Freed (book published 3-12-2015)
(Discusses the digital myths and conflicting messages we hear about kids’ use of entertainment technology.)
"The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age"
By Catherine Steiner-Adair (8-13-2013)
(contains some content geared towards mature audiences)
"Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now"
By Jaron Lanier (5-31-2018)
(contains mild profanity)
"Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked"
By Adam Alter (3-7-2017)
(contains some content geared towards mature audiences)
"iGen – Why Today's Kids are Growing up Less…"
By Jean M. Twenge PhD (8-22-2017)
(contains some content geared towards mature audiences)
"Hyperfocus – How to be More Productive in a World of Distraction"
By Chris Bailey (8-28-2018)
  *Recently posted 4-9-2019
"Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age"
By Sherry Turkle (published 2015)

"Bored and Brilliant"

By Manoush Zamorodi (9-5-2017)

 

*Recently posted: 7-9-2019
"Turning Life On – Keep Tech in Check"
This is an organization that was formed by parents to help other parents come together in their local communities to share resources, get advice, and help one another with healthy and sensible measures for helping plan their children’s use and guide their future use of technology. One initiative that is readily catching on is parents pledging to one another that they will delay giving their child a smartphone until at least 8th grade. Many excellent resources are available at their website.

"How Boredom Can
Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas"

By Manoush Zomorodi
(TED2017, April 2017)

Child's Brain Development
First 5 California, Learning Center
"Groundbreaking study examines effects
of screen time on kids"

Correspondent: Anderson Cooper
(60 Minutes, CBS News, 12-9-2018)
"How addiction hijacks the brain"
(Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, July 2011)
reSTART – Connect with LIFE not your device – Residential Treatment for Problematic Use
netaddictionrecovery.com
"We Need Software to Help UsSlow Down, Not Speed Up"
By Clive Thompson
(WIRED.com Business, 8-25-2018)
"Who's Responsible for Your Bad Tech Habits? It's Complicated"
By Robbie Gonzalez (WIRED.com Science, 8-6-2018)
 

*Recently posted: 12-4-2019
"I Ditched Google for DuckDuckGo. Here's Why You Should Too – Most Interesting  Thing in Tech"
By James Temperton, (Wired – UK, 12-1-2019)
Google has many great products and services, but they come at significant cost to user's privacy. If you want to try a search engine that respects your privacy and is not trying to onboard you to other products.


"Microsoft Wants To Stop AI's Race to the Bottom'"

By Nitasha Tiku
(Wired.com, 12-6-2018)
*Recently posted: 12-4-2019
"Think Twice Before Giving Gifts With a Microphone or Camera"
By Lily Hay Newman, (Wired – Security, 11-27-2019)
Having an open mic in one's home has privacy and management implications for those living in the home that are both challenging and perhaps concerning. Thus this makes gifts like smart voice assistants potentially problematic; especially if there are children in the home who are too young to know what's potentially at stake for them and why this is important.
"Never-Googlers: Web users take the ultimate step to guard their data"
As reports surface regarding how the online advertising giant tracks consumers, some try to reclaim their online footsteps.
By Greg Bensinger (Washington Post, 7-23-2019)
Here's the presentation cited in the Wired.com article above…
"Facial recognition: Coming to a street corner near you"
(Presentation by Brad Smith, CEO of Microsoft; moderated by Darrell M. West; The Brookings Institution, 12-6-2018)
"How tech companies deceive you into giving up your data and privacy"
By Finn Myrstadat (TED Salon: Samsung, Sep 2018)
  Video and full transcript of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s Keynote Address about Data Privacy Responsibility, Principles, & Guidelines at the International Conference of Data Protection & Privacy Commissioner’s (IDCPPC) 40th Conference on Ethics, Data Protection and Privacy.
By Jonny Evans
Computerworld.com, 10-24-2018
 

 

"Battelle for Kids"
Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) is now under the "Battelle for Kids" brand

"Sources of Hope for Education Technology in 2018"
By Matt Greenfield (EdSurge, 1-27-2018)
"Against the 3A’s of EdTech: AI, Analytics, and Adaptive Technologies in Education"
By Maha Bali (ProfHacker – Teaching, tech, and productivity, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11-29-2017)
Family Online Safety Institute    

 


(Revised 10/16/19)

This forward, written by Neil Postman for his book, "Amusing Ourselves To Death" in 1985, was brought to my attention by Tristan Harris during a podcast interview with Tim Ferris (9/10/19). It looks as if Postman's analysis was spot on for what we're seeing with our consumption of technology 34 years later.

"We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies (Instagram), the orgy porgy (Facebook), and the centrifugal bumblepuppy (YouTube). As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire (love) will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right."

Huxley observed that the tyranny we should be concerned about is that which is born out of our "infinite appetite for distractions." Today's digital technologies and entertainment/social media offer us essentially infinite distractions, which are manufactured and produced by private corporations and millions of individuals (not the government, though they aid this process through insufficient protections for children, privacy, and the digital and real world social commons). Our seemingly insatiable appetite for the consumption of the irrelevant and the trivial is probably beyond what even Huxley could have imagined. We are distracting each other for many reasons, but commonly for profit and/or ego, and the fear of missing out. The unhealthy amplification and frequency of these digital distractions are largely due to intentional manipulation through persuasive design, smart technologies, and A.I.s. This tech industry generated (and self imposed) habituation has generated its own attention economy; is this our brave new world?

(italicized terms are also from Tristan Harris)