If you follow the science around the impact of technology on our lives, you're likely to end up very, very confused.
Smartphones are destroying a generation, blares one article. Simmer down, replies the next study: Screens are about as dangerous as potatoes (this is a real conclusion). Social media is melting our brains, tech insiders fret. No, wait, say other experts: The real problem is your phone is ruining your relationships (and your vacations). Hold on, interject the political scientists: Facebook and elections are not proving to be a great mix.
If you're a non-specialist, it's enough to leave your head spinning. Are we in the midst of the same hysterical, misguided panic that's greeted every big invention since, well, the written word? (Plato was concerned it would destroy our memories.) Or are there real reasons to think that screens are truly terrible for our well-being?
The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in the middle. Most of us don't need academics to tell us that social media can be a huge time suck, envying people on Insta is lousy for our mental health, and kids really do need to get off their screens more. On the other hand, as humanity rolls through its second decade of having supercomputers in our pockets, most of us are figuring out how to integrate these devices into our lives in healthier ways.
Have you achieved "digital flourishing"?
Whether you should worry needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. So how are you doing personally in your battle to maintain a healthy relationship with your tech? On UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center's website recently, Digital Wellness Institute co-founder Amy Blankson offered a handy checklist to help you find out. "Assessing your digital wellness is not just a matter of adding up screen time," she writes. "Rather, it's a holistic assessment that takes into consideration numerous factors," including feelings of guilt around constant connectivity, tech-related aches and pains, and positive benefits we get from our devices.
You'll know you're experiencing "digital flourishing" when you can honestly answer yes to all eight questions below:
Can you find focus and flow in work?
Do you live in harmony with both your physical and digital environments?
Do you connect in meaningful ways with others?
Do you enjoy strong relationships online and offline?
Have you built healthy physical and digital practices?
Do you embrace mindfulness and self-care through intentional technology use?
Do you understand how to manage your digital data and privacy?
Do you contribute to a positive digital community in your networks?
Few of us will be able to offer a wholehearted yes to every question on this list, but that shouldn't be cause for angst. Instead, think of each "eh, maybe" as a flag pointing to an area of your digital life to improve. Small efforts in these areas are likely to yield big benefits in terms of better digital health.
Looking for ideas to tune up your relationship with your tech? The complete post offers advice on how to improve how your tech impacts your productivity, relationships, mental health, and other areas of life.