How Does Digital Life Affect Our Overall Well-Being?

As digital technology continues to evolve and expand, it opens up countless new opportunities for connection, commerce, work and play.

Our mobile devices are so integrated into our lives that it’s hard to imagine how we did anything – run businesses, order food, fight boredom, date – without them. But despite all the benefits we receive from technology, we also have to cope with the downsides: stress, divisiveness, information overload and attention deficits, to name a few.

Last week, we explored the idea that technology and well-being can coexist – that we can actually use mobile apps to further our mental and physical health goals. A few days ago, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center published a report on a complementary topic: The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World.

In a non-scientific canvassing, the organizations asked 1,150 scholars, technology experts and health specialists this question: “Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?”

The responses are wide-ranging and fascinating. The principal takeaway is that technology is a good servant but a bad master. Here are some of the most interesting highlights from the report:

More Help than Harm

Around 47% of respondents believe that people’s well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life over the next 10 years; 32% predict well-being will be more harmed than helped. And the other 21% say there won’t be much change in individuals’ well-being compared to the present. 

Those in the “more help than harm” camp, discussed these benefits:

  • Connection – to other people, information and entertainment
  • Commerce, government and society – opportunities in civic, business, consumer and personal ways
  • Crucial intelligence – resources and services for health, safety and science
  • Contentment – tools to improve or enhance people’s lives
  • Continuation toward quality – results that will continue to be useful to humanity 

And the “more harm than help” folks brought up these drawbacks:

  • Digital deficits – challenges to people’s cognitive skills, including creativity, reflection and focus
  • Digital addiction – tools designed to hook people 
  • Digital distrust/divisiveness – heated emotions are weaponized online to create divisions
  • Digital duress – information overload and lack of in-person connection takes a mental health toll
  • Digital dangers – threats to security, democracy, privacy, etc.

Possible Solutions

The experts surveyed – even many who believe digital life will do more harm than good – suggested interventions to help alleviate the negative side of technology. These include:

  • Reimagining systems to be more transparent, regulated and beneficial to both companies and end users
  • Reinventing technology to make them more human-centered and aligned with goals and objectives (including using artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) tools)
  • Regulating technology companies to protect users, including passing laws, rules and codes of conduct
  • Redesigning media literacy to educate people of all ages about how to use technology in a healthy, safe way 
  • Recalibrating expectations to accept that progress has a price, and these drawbacks are part of digital advances

One thing everyone agrees on: there’s no turning back the clock. We need to figure out a smart and balanced approach forward. 

Read MtoM’s take on the intersection of self-care and technology.

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