New kid on the block: Digital Wellbeing

First of all, let me start by attributing the title, the article and any resulting thoughts to the original article and creative work by Helen Beetham, that you can find here, and that you should read before going any further down my analysis. Actually, you must! Really! Go. Read it…!

Done?

I read the article once and then once more. And then I started breaking it down to its components as thoughts came rushing in my mind, drawing examples from my professional career and life. It’s one of those moments when someone comes along and says something that you have been thinking – feeling actually – for such a long time and that you haven’t had the ability to “theorize”. And you just go like “That’s it! That’s exactly it! How did I miss it? It’s too obvious!”. And then it’s not.

IMG_2026
Best representation of our digital self, ever! Taken from here

Digital wellbeing can be a variety of things on the list that was taken from Helen Beetham’s blog and even more. That’s why it’s open-ended, for you to add your own thoughts.

To care for our ‘digital wellbeing’ is to:

  1. look after personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings; 
  2. act safely and responsibly in digital environments; 
  3. manage digital stress, workload and distraction; 
  4. use digital media to participate in political and community actions;
  5. use personal digital data for wellbeing benefits;
  6. act with concern for the human and natural environment when using digital tools; 
  7. balance digital with real-world interactions appropriately in relationships;
  8. …”

Reading the list, I was like…

  1. I don’t usually balance work-life in digital settings, they just mix and match, resulting in some wins and some disasters along the way,
  2. In a general sense, I do act safely and responsibly in digital environments but there are cases when I don’t,
  3. I am challenged when trying to manage digital stress and it has also been quite challenging in the past to manage distraction,
  4. I use digital media to participate in political and community actions and then I end up fighting online, with friends and colleagues. Fights that have ended with a few of them unfriending/unfollowing me, (their loss, I know!) 😉
  5. I do use personal digital data for wellbeing benefits but then I am not quite set on where I draw the line on using personal data,
  6. I do feel that I act with concern for the environment when using digital tools but I don’t think that we collectively do this to the proper extent,
  7. I surely do not balance real-world interactions with digital ones when it comes to my relationships. It’s actually really biased on the digital side with effects that I am still trying to grasp. I mean, what’s really an online friend? When an offline friend becomes an online one and when does the online one stops being a friend altogether?

And then I kept on reading realizing more and more how our digital identities are not different from who we really are. They can’t be. They just blend. They coincide with parts from our physical self and then they come back to shape parts of our physical self just like our physical self affects who we are online. It’s a two-way street, clearly, with impacts that we are just starting to see around us. The mass digitization of ourselves has just recently began with the members of online communities skyrocketing even for age groups that one would not think that would be affected that much. And through the wide adoption of these technologies, we see our interpersonal relationships changing and being re-shaped. For better or for worse, we’ll have to wait and see I guess. Or maybe not…

Maybe we should be a bit more concerned, each one from their own standpoint, about digital wellbeing or in general all those capabilities that enable an individual to thrive (live, learn and work) in a digital society as Helen Beetham defined for JISC in 2010. This affects education, work, our lives in ways that we can only start to imagine. We live in a society where borders are relevant. Knowledge workers (if I may use the term) move from one continent to the next virtually, and more and more people are drawn to careers that are not linked to an office or a postal code. For these people, digital wellbeing is already an issue they are trying to face, even if they have not defined it as such yet.

And what happens in education? I work in a field that’s all about bringing technological innovation within the classroom, in real-life settings. We actually push technology into the classroom, constantly. But is this informed by the caring for the well-being of the students? In our case it is, cause we work closely with teachers and parents in the entire process. But is this true for everyone? Or, are there any side-effects that we also have overlooked and that will come to haunt us when it will be too late to do anything about them? On this topic, someone could also look at evolutionary aspects of our own brain. Not that a new kind of “homo informaticus” can rise in such a short time, but to look at how these new technologies and interfaces actually “interface” with our brains and their workings.

On the other hand, there are these digital skills, or the digital literacy that do play an important role in our professional lives more than anything else. And these are skills that can be accurately described in many many CVs around the world, but are they really measured and assessed appropriately? And how many of us are actually ICT-literate or information-literate or whatever else you may call it? In Greece, not so many. On the contrary, most of the knowledge workers are having difficulties in performing simple tasks with a personal computer (this thought really got me back to my days as an ECDL instructor). It’s the paradox of going into Digital Wellbeing discussion while the next person is not capable of formatting a paragraph in a text editor. On this topic, I really liked this representation of digital skills, knowledge and attributes so I decided to share it as well.

All Aboard.jpg
This amazing graphic was taken from here

To put a full stop at some point, I guess that my major concern with all of this comes down to the realization that we are a generation of people that has been immersed in technology starting from our everyday lives to our professional ones. And we have merely started to scrape the surface of what this technology has brought upon us (or we have brought upon ourselves). With this in mind, the title of a presentation of the late Erik Duval came to mind, “From Scarcity to Abundance“, in title but also in content this presentation is also about the problem of having too much information in our hands. Too much information that if not handled correctly, it can threaten our digital wellbeing.

Further reading:

 

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