For a long time I would ignore such questions as I wrongly concluded that they only applied to those who lacked some form of self-discipline but in reality, our ability to ‘manage’ what, for many, is a digital deluge is a challenge we all face whether young or old.
The way we approach our digital lives can have a direct impact on our overall well-being, for example, one survey found that we pick up our phone 10,000 times a year or 28 times a day. If that’s 5 minutes a ‘check’ that works out at about 2 hours a day just checking your phone for possible updates, replies and new photos shared!
The truth is that for many this ‘checking’ has become a habit. Habit formation is characterised by the feeling of something being easy to do or becoming second nature over time and can actually lead to compulsive behaviour.
There’s no question that the requirement for all apps and technology, where users are concerned, is focussed first and foremost on ‘ease of use’ otherwise we would simply lose interest.
The point here is around our choice to allow the habit to continue or replace it with a more controlled approach.
Worth The Reward?
As is often the case, when a habit is formed it usually involves the release of dopamine, the brains feel-good chemical that generates a sense of reward. Now there is nothing wrong with dopamine as it gives us a sense of accomplishment and success, for example completing a simple to-do list can result in a sense of achievement and satisfaction due to the release of dopamine. Funnily enough, having shared that example I do know people who are obsessed with to-do lists so maybe they have formed a habit based on the reward!
The problem here is that our ability to manage our digital well-being could be hindered by both the habit formed and the sense of reward we enjoy reading our latest Twitter replies or comments on our Instagram post.
‘I Think I Have Nomophobia…’
Nomophobia is a contraction being proposed to describe ‘no-mobile-phone phobia’. As the name suggests this is a phobia of not having your mobile phone and the resulting anxiety and fear this might cause at missing our updates. A study reported that of the 2,163 people sampled, about 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from the phobia.
So, it’s worth taking stock and putting ourselves to the test. What if you only checked your phone a few times a day? would your world fall apart? Would you fail to lead a happy and fulfilling life if you turned your phone off for a few hours?
These are questions I have asked of myself (Still work in progress) and there is a sense of achievement in knowing that you have command and control over the digital deluge. No longer passively reacting to every update but being balanced and managing them as you would with any other aspect of your life, for example, I don’t check the letterbox every five minutes because I know the mail arrives at 11am every day, and not surprisingly, if I miss it I am certain it will still be there when I get round to collecting it…
Where to Stop?
It can be a challenge working out where to start or perhaps where to stop in this case.
Being a 'techy' I like finding solutions to problems and while this may seem somewhat ironic a really good place to start is to download an app!
There’s a great app called ‘Moment — Screen Time Tracker’ that will help you to use your phone less by telling you how much time you spend on your phone.
So, in summary, take a command and control approach by managing your digital life. Take a balanced approach to how often you really need to check your updates and be aware you may find this a struggle at first. Ultimately, though, you will be in control and have a sense of satisfaction in knowing you have finally beaten the digital deluge…
Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP is Head of Technology for the National Institute for Health Research - Clinical Research Network. Gareth is a chartered fellow of BCS The Chartered Institute for IT and vice chair of the BCS Health and Care Executive who promote good-practice in Health IT. Gareth is also a published author and regularly writes on topics spanning Health IT on leadership and adoption as well as technical good-practice. In addition, Gareth is also a Chartered and FED-IP assessor and SFIAplus reviewer.